The abundance of Marquee Talent moving into offensive skill positions in recent years has created a crying need for some impact players to emerge on defense. So it's noteworthy that of the five players SI projects to have breakthrough seasons in 1992, four are defensive players.
1. Eric Turner, Browns, SS, second year. This guy's ready to challenge Ronnie Lott for the title of heavyweight champion among defensive backs. Even though he missed half of last year with a stress fracture in his left leg, Turner, the second pick in the 1991 draft, made his mark in the AFC Central. On his first tackle as a pro, he bent former Bengal running back James Brooks's face mask. He KO'd Oiler wideout Ernest Givins on a crushing tackle. "I just want people to know that if they come into my turf, they'll pay," says Turner.
2. Robert Jones, Cowboys, MLB, rookie. Despite the view of rival scouts that Dallas had too high an opinion of Jones, a 6'2", 236-pounder out of East Carolina, the Cowboys made him the 24th selection in the April draft with the expectation that he would become the dominant force that has been missing in the middle of their defense. "We watched the complete film of every game his junior and senior year, and our convictions were strengthened," says Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson. "We think he'll upgrade us significantly there." Jones will start opening night against the Redskins in place of Jack Del Rio, who accepted a Plan B offer from the Vikings after leading the Cowboys in tackles last year.
3. Johnny Mitchell, Jets, TE, rookie. Two things to remember here: 1) Jet coach Bruce Coslet, a former tight end himself, loves to throw to the tight end, and 2) the 6'3", 263-pound Mitchell has terrific speed, excellent hands and exceptional desire. He could be significantly better than Rodney Holman, the Pro Bowl tight end Coslet developed while an assistant with the Bengals.
4. Aeneas Williams, Cardinals, CB, second year. Nobody could believe the way Williams blanketed NFC receivers last season. "This guy could be a Hall of Famer before he leaves the game," says former Phoenix running back Ron Wolfley, now with the Browns. "His cover skills are exceptional, and he's such a competitor." Williams was all-rookie last year after tying for the NFC lead in interceptions with six. This year he could be All-Pro.
5. Bill Hawkins, Rams, DE, fourth year. In four seasons at the University of Miami, Hawkins had a total of 22 sacks while playing right end on lines with the likes of Jerome Brown, Cortez Kennedy and Russell Maryland. Now, after playing left end his first three years as a pro, he's back on the right side, and he's playing next to another potentially premier tackle, rookie Sean Gilbert. "I haven't even been close to being the player I could be since I've been here," Hawkins says.