Last season's Defensive Rookie of the Year is poised to become a superstar. Merriman has great speed and tenacity, and the Chargers think he could become an all-time great.
2 of 15Bob Rosato/SI
With Ricky Williams out of the way in Miami, Brown will be the only rushing option for the Dolphins. He should improve greatly on last year's 907-yard rushing total, and he's already proven to be a solid receiver out of the backfield.
3 of 15Heinz Kluetmeier/SI
He slowed after rushing for 434 yards in his first three NFL games, but he picked it up again toward the end of the season and finished with 1,178 yards. His durability was a question mark last year, but the Bucs plan to use Williams more wisely this season so he can stay strong throughout.
4 of 15AP
He had an excellent rookie season with eight sacks and should be even better now that the Cowboys are fully adjusted to a 3-4 defense. Ware also hit the weight room hard in the offseason and should be tougher for offenses to handle.
5 of 15Robert Beck/SI
He may not be the most physically gifted linebacker in the NFL, but he's a huge part of this Seahawks defense and a reason Seattle believes it can avoid the Super Bowl jinx. Tatupu does a great job of barking out orders on the field. He keeps the defense organized, and his energy is contagious.
6 of 15David Bergman/SI
He appears to be developing into quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's favorite target and could even have more catches than wide receiver Hines Ward. Miller has proved he can block, which is a huge plus for the ball-control Steelers.
7 of 15Damian Strohmeyer/SI
The Broncos' coaching staff can't stop raving about Williams (27), who is only 5-foot-5 but makes up for his lack of size with blazing speed and tenacity. Williams isn't afraid of any receiver, no matter how tall he may be. Paired with Champ Bailey, Williams could give the Broncos one of the top cornerback tandems in the NFL.
8 of 15David E. Klutho/SI
If not for his history of serious knee injuries, he might have been a No. 1 overall pick coming out of Miami. Nevertheless, he led the 49ers in rushing last year with 608 yards and was impressive enough in the preseason to allow the team to trade last year's starter, Kevan Barlow, to the Jets. San Francisco added Larry Allen to the offensive line, which means Gore could see some huge holes.
9 of 15Doug Benc/Getty Images
Even though he made some rookie mistakes last season, Barnes looks like he'll be bedrock at left tackle. His immense talent should help Jacksonville's offense improve and catch up with its impressive defense.
10 of 15Bill Frakes/SI
The Bucs have made it clear they're going to feature Smith this season. As a rookie he caught 41 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns. Tampa Bay will also play veteran tight end Anthony Becht, but coach Jon Gruden uses a lot of two-TE sets and Becht will be more of a blocker.
11 of 15Bill Frakes/SI
The Jags need someone to step up now that Jimmy Smith has retired, and Jones is a good candidate. The former quarterback had a somewhat rough transition to wide receiver last season, but he showed a lot of potential, catching 36 passes for 432 yards and five touchdowns. Although Jones has been slowed by a sprained ankle this preseason, Jacksonville's coaching staff thinks the 6-5 wideout will make a big jump.
12 of 15John Biever/SI
The Browns showed how much faith they have in Frye by making no attempt to bring in a veteran quarterback to compete for the starting job. So far, so good, as Frye seems to get more comfortable every day.
13 of 15Heinz Kluetmeier/SI
He worked his way into the starting lineup and had four sacks last year but never really got into the flow of the defense. The Vikings believe James will make a big jump in his second season. He was a sack machine at Wisconsin, and his quickness makes him difficult to block.
14 of 15Bill Frakes/SI
Last season he bounced around from linebacker to safety, but with the departures of Will Witherspoon and Brandon Short, the Panthers need Davis to be their full-time strongside linebacker. Playing one position should help the athletically gifted Davis become consistent. Carolina's defensive line creates so much pressure on the quarterback that Davis will be in great position to make big plays.
15 of 15Tom Dahlin/SI
He had 24 catches as a rookie, and with No. 1 receiver Koren Robinson out indefinitely with off-field problems, Williamson should be a bigger part of the offense. He has blazing speed but still needs to improve his hands to be a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver.
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