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The Agony And The Ecstasy: Busts And Breakouts Of 2012

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Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In the NFL, individual opportunity can strike in any number of ways. Some players take advantage of a change in coaching or scheme, others rise up the depth chart due to the declining play of an aging veteran and yet others become starters when the player in front of them suffers a season-ending injury.

Inevitably, every year bears witness to a player that “came out of nowhere” to become a factor for his team just as  every season produces at least one player that fails to live up to his hype or expectations. The 2012 Bengals were no different, so let’s look back at four players from the past year – one on offense and defense that “broke out” and one on each side that “busted”.

Breakouts

WR Andrew Hawkins – An undrafted 5-7, 180-pound receiver out of Toledo, Hawkins performed well enough in spot duty during the 2011 season to stick around despite his obvious lack of size in an offense that typically calls for big and physical receivers. The former CFL standout removed himself from the roster bubble with a solid training camp and made slot receiver Jordan Shipley expendable when his recovery from ACL surgery did not progress as quickly as hoped. Hawkins wasted little time rewarding the Bengals for their faith in him, catching eight passes for 86 yards in Week 1 against the Ravens. Despite being subjected to a part-time role (56.6 percent of the team’s offensive snaps), Hawkins finished with 51 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns.

OLB Vontaze Burfict – Dogged by questions surrounding his work ethic and maturity, Burfict went from a 2010 first-team All-American linebacker to undrafted rookie free agent in less than a year after a lackluster final season in college. Even though he cost the team next to nothing, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was not a fan of the Arizona State product – at first. However, Burfict followed up a stellar training camp – in which he lost weight and quickly picked up the playbook – and emerged as the starter at weakside linebacker once Thomas Howard was lost for the season. Despite not seeing a snap in the season opener and moving from his college position of middle linebacker during the season, Burfict posted a team-high 127 tackles.

Honorable mention: RT Andre Smith

Busts

RB Bernard Scott – After three seasons in a part-time role thanks to concerns about his durability, Scott was poised to be the speedy complement to free agent signee BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2012. Unfortunately, Scott proved his doubters right in his one – and likely only – shot at substantial playing time with the Bengals. Scott missed the first two weeks of the season and saw limited time in Week 3 before sitting out Week 4 with an ankle injury. His season came to an end the following week against Miami when he tore his ACL, leaving the injury-riddled back with season totals of eight carries and 35 yards.

MLB Rey Maualuga – The four-year veteran registered a career-high 122 tackles last season, but don’t be fooled. With players like DT Geno Atkins eating up blockers in front of him and the overall talent base around him improving, it was hoped that Maualuga would show the promise that made him a second-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Although his statistics have improved each season, he graded out as one of the worst inside linebackers in the league in 2012. Out of the 35 inside linebackers who played half of their teams’ run snaps, Maualuga graded out 28th in run stop percentage, 31st in overall tackle efficiency and 30th in coverage snaps per reception per Pro Football Focus.

Honorable mention: WR Armon Binns