So before all those accolades get handed out, we're here to take a look at those who have underachieved in 2007. These guys have something to prove in 2008, because they were easy choices for my first NFL All-Disappointment team:
Smith looked poised for a breakout year in his third NFL season, and conditions in San Francisco were thought to be conducive to him taking a great leap forward. But that was hardly the case for 2005's first-overall pick.
Smith started just seven games due to a right-shoulder separation that has now shut him down for the season, and his numbers were abysmal: a 48.7 completion percentage, two touchdowns, four interceptions, five lost fumbles, a 2-5 record and a 57.2 passer rating that was the second-worst in the league. And did we mention that the 49ers offense and passing game both rank last overall?
• Dishonorable mention:Philip Rivers, San Diego.
Johnson got that hefty six-year, $45 million contract in the nick of time. Because after a pair of dominating 1,700-yard rushing seasons in 2005-06, he hit the wall this year. In the eight games he played before injuring his right foot, he gained just 559 yards, topping 120 yards only once. He has averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per carry behind the Chiefs' struggling offensive line, and scored just four touchdowns, after totaling 40 the past two seasons combined.
Johnson's NFL-record 416 carries last season portended trouble this year, because that kind of workload has historically taken a toll the following season on such backs as Eric Dickerson, Jamal Anderson, Eddie George and James Wilder. Johnson's camp holdout and three carries in the preseason probably contributed to his slow start.
• Dishonorable mention:Cedric Benson, Chicago.
Oh, the humanity. Evans has been an utter disappointment to a fantasy football nation that was enthralled with him last year, when he posted 82 catches for 1,292 yards and eight touchdowns. But this season, his 47 receptions for 768 yards and four touchdowns hasn't gotten it done, especially since he had just two scores entering Buffalo's Week 14 home game with winless Miami.
To be sure, Buffalo's quarterback shuffle between veteran J.P. Losman (with whom he has great rapport) and rookie Trent Edwards hasn't helped Evans' productivity, but those are the breaks of the game. The really good ones don't seem to suffer.
• Dishonorable mention:Santana Moss, Washington.
A two-time Pro Bowl pick, Heap led the Ravens in receiving three times in the previous five years, and the past two seasons he has totaled 158 receptions, 1,620 yards and 13 touchdowns. But this year, injuries have limited him to six games, and he hasn't played since Week 10. His 23 catches for 239 yards and one touchdown would be his worst showing since his rookie season of 2001, when he was drafted in the first round out of Arizona State.
• Dishonorable mention:L.J. Smith, Philadelphia.
Maybe it's got something to do with the right knee injury Brown suffered at training camp in early August, but the New Orleans left tackle hasn't seemed as quick as last year, when he made All-Pro in his second season in the league. Speed rushers have been getting the best of him at times, and it was his man who disrupted that botched reverse that decided the Saints' key home loss to Tampa Bay two weeks ago.
• Dishonorable mention -- Marcus McNeill, San Diego.
We're having Waters take the hit for our offensive interior linemen, in part because he looks like he has lost some of the mobility in his once-stellar game. Having lost Willie Roaf and Will Shields to retirement in recent years, the Chiefs offensive line isn't the Great Wall it once was. That reality has had more than a little bit to do with K.C.'s struggling Larry Johnson-led running game and the Chiefs' problems with pass protection.
• Dishonorable mention -- Mike Wahle, Carolina.
Supposedly one of the game's premier pass rushers, Peppers has been MIA all season. His disappearance mirrors the Panthers' falling off the radar screen. Peppers has racked up 13, 10½ and 11 sacks the past three years, but this season he has just three -- and half of that total came in one game against Arizona. That's less than half of his sack total in his worst season ever (7 in 2003), and an astonishing 69 players in the league have more sacks than he does. That may be the single most mind-blowing statistic in the NFL this year.
• Dishonorable mention:Charles Grant, New Orleans.
How can someone so big come up so small? We know he's just a week away from his 35th birthday, but after his stellar comeback season of 2006 (10 sacks), Sapp had once again raised the bar of expectation. Maybe last year was the aberration and this year is the norm. Sapp has just two sacks and the Raiders run defense is being gouged for more than 150 yards per game, ranking them next-to-last in the league.
• Dishonorable mention -- Shaun Rogers, Detroit.
In 2006 Scott was a revelation and wound up playing in his first Pro Bowl. He had 135 tackles, 9½ sacks, two interceptions, nine passes defensed and forced a fumble for Baltimore's top-ranked defense. This year? Not so much. Scott has just 81 tackles, one sack and four passes defensed, as the Ravens defense has sunk to fifth in yards allowed (297.3), and 24th in points surrendered (24.2). And Scott didn't help his reputation with that embarrassing late-game meltdown against New England.
• Dishonorable mention:Adalius Thomas, New England.
Here's all you need to know about the guy the 49ers gave $80 million to: He hasn't been an impact player. The Niners rank 16th in pass defense, compared to 26th last year. They've given up 20 passing touchdowns (only eight teams have surrendered more), intercepted just 10 passes (only three teams have fewer), and opposing QBs have a 91.2 passer rating against them (that's the sixth-worst defensive showing in the league).
Clements has three interceptions, tying him for the team lead with cornerback Walt Harris. But you could make the case that free-agent safety Michael Lewis has made a bigger impact in San Francisco's secondary than Clements.
• Dishonorable mention:Jason David, New Orleans.
Polamalu is battling a knee injury and he's only been healthy enough to play in nine of the Steelers' 13 games this season. But the truth is, for a guy who is rightfully considered the game's best safety by many, he hasn't been impactful when he was active. In those nine games Polamalu has no sacks, no interceptions, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles, one recovered fumble, and 42 tackles. Those aren't the all-star numbers we've come to expect from him.
• Dishonorable mention -- Josh Bullocks, New Orleans.
Mare said he couldn't wait to get out of Miami, where he was sometimes forced to kick off the skin portion of the Marlins' baseball infield, and start booting them in the climate-controlled confines of the Superdome. But the Big O has been mostly a big zero, converting just 10-of-17 field goal attempts for a league-low 59-percent conversion rate.
• Dishonorable mention: Neil Rackers, Arizona.
Not only have the Jets fallen resoundingly back to earth at 3-10 after last year's 10-6 playoff season, Mangini's team has looked soft and not particularly resourceful. Those flaws point in his direction. New York's running game has been mediocre, and Chad Pennington and the passing game have failed to recapture their 2006 magic. After appearing to close the gap on New England late last year, it's back to a mile-wide chasm.
• Dishonorable mention -- Brian Billick, Baltimore.
Where to begin? He gave Joey Porter silly money in free agency, gave away Wes Welker to the reigning four-time division champs, signed a veteran quarterback (Trent Green) who obviously was one hard hit away from having his eggs scrambled for good, and bypassed Brady Quinn in the draft to take a kick returner (Ted Ginn Jr.) and a second-round quarterback (John Beck) who has looked like a deer in the headlights.
• Dishonorable mention -- Scot McCloughan, San Francisco.