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Just Arrived
September 04, 2006
They are the next generation of NFL superstars, nine players coming off big years in which they revealed extraordinary talent that has placed them among the elite
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September 04, 2006

Just Arrived

They are the next generation of NFL superstars, nine players coming off big years in which they revealed extraordinary talent that has placed them among the elite

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Breakout Players

Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin
ARIZONA CARDINALS
WIDE RECEIVERS

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Playing a full season together for the first time in 2005, Fitzgerald (far left, 103 receptions for 1,409 yards) and Boldin (102 for 1,402 yards) matched each other catch for catch. Only once before had two teammates had more than 100 receptions and 1,400 yards each ( Herman Moore and Brett Perriman of the Lions, in 1995). "Q and I talk about being the best in the league and going down in history," says Fitzgerald, 23, the former All-America at Pitt who was chosen third in the 2004 draft. "That's what we want to do, but you have to do it year in and year out." Boldin expects that he and Fitzgerald will be even better in '06. "I haven't been playing receiver that long," says Boldin, 25, a high school quarterback who switched positions at Florida State and was snapped up in the second round in '03. "We still have room to grow. That's the scary part."

Jason Witten
DALLAS COWBOYS
TIGHT END

Bill Parcells has never been fond of playing guys right out of college, preferring the steady vet over the untested neophyte. So the most telling stat about Witten, a 2003 third-round pick out of Tennessee who excels as a blocker and a receiver, isn't that he averaged 63 catches over his first three seasons or that he signed a six-year, $28 million deal this summer, but rather that he has 38 starts and just turned 24. Witten has repaid the coach for his trust with two straight trips to the Pro Bowl.

Nick Hardwick
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
CENTER

Talk about a quick study. The 6'4", 295-pound Hardwick was focused on wrestling in high school, walked on to the football team at Purdue and now commands one of the NFL's best offensive lines. "He does a great job communicating calls," says coach Marty Schottenheimer of the 2004 third-round pick. "It's clear to players where he's going and where they need to go." In June the Chargers locked up the 24-year-old Hardwick through 2011 with a contract extension.

Osi Umenyiora
NEW YORK GIANTS
DEFENSIVE END

When he joined the Giants in 2003 as a second-rounder out of Troy, Umenyiora turned down invitations from All-Pro end Michael Strahan to work out together. "Then I'd watch him in games," says Umenyiora, 24, "and wonder why he was able to do all that stuff." The kid wised up, joined the veteran in training and film study and last year started putting up Strahan-like numbers--including an NFC-leading 14 1/2 sacks. Now Giants opponents are getting it from both ends.

Willis McGahee
BUFFALO BILLS
RUNNING BACK

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