NFL

Same Faces, New Places: 5 Players Excelling At New Stops

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Everyone in the NFL is talented or else they wouldn’t playing at the highest level of football. With that being said, it takes more than just talent to be successful in the league.

Sometimes the most vital part of a player’s career is the fit. Where they’re drafted might not be the best fit for various of reasons. The system may not allow them to play to their full potential, the chemistry in the locker room may be off or maybe there’s just not much of an opportunity to play significant minutes.

That’s when a change scenery can do wonders for a player. These five professionals found out that the grass is indeed greener on the other side.

Sen’Derrick Marks, DT (Jaguars) – Expectations were high for the Auburn prospect after being selected in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

During his four-year stint in Tennessee, Marks only recorded three sacks. It appeared the 6-foot-2 defensive tackle was heading down the wrong path. Analysts and fans were labeling him a bust, but things quickly changed with a new location.

After his rookie contract expired, Marks signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. With his livelihood potentially on the line, Marks has shown the league what he’s capable of.

Through 31 games with Jacksonville, Marks has gathered 12.5 sacks, defended 11 passes and forced two fumbles. After his first season in Jacksonville, he agreed to a four-year, $22 million contract extension.

Marks isn’t done cashing checks in Florida, however. Last Thursday against his former team, Marks earned a $600,000 bonus after sacking Charlie Whitehurst on the final play of the Jaguars’ 21-13 victory. Marks’ contract called for the bonus if he had at least eight sacks this season.

Jerry Hughes, DE (Bills) – The Indianapolis Colts spent their 2010 first-round pick on Jerry Hughes. It would turn out to be a wasted pick, as Hughes only recorded one sack during his first two seasons. While he showed a little bit of life during his last season in Indy, when he had four sacks, it still wasn’t enough to warrant being a first round selection.

Indianapolis eventually decided to move on by trading Hughes to Buffalo, which has turned out to be the best thing to happen to Hughes during his young professional career.

During his first season in Buffalo, Hughes exploded for 10 sacks, two passes defended and two forced fumbles.

“They let me play, they let me see the field,” Hughes told Bills.com. “That was probably the biggest thing. That was probably the most snaps I’ve had in my entire career in the NFL, so I was able to kind of get out there on the field. I was able to kind of go and have fun.”

Even though Hughes never lacked confidence, even he couldn’t have imagined the early production with Buffalo.

“I knew that they were going to allow me to play early on in the year, but to predict everything that happened, no, I probably wouldn’t have been able to predict this at all,” Hughes said. “It’s a huge confidence boost on my part to have someone come out and seek me for a trade. Then to tell me when I get here they’re going allow me to play and then to see that happen through the entire season… it allowed me to kind of just get on the field and do what I’m able to do.”

This season, Hughes has 9.5 sacks to go along with four forced fumbles with one game remaining.

Rolando McClain, LB, (Cowboys) – There’s no one in the league that deserves “Comeback Player of the Year” more than Rolando McClain. The 25-year-old took the 2013 season off after signing with Baltimore. McClain was dealing with a divorce and a third arrest.

McClain was selected as the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft. The 6-foot-4 linebacker only had 6.5 sacks during his three years in Oakland.

This past summer, McClain decided to give the NFL another shot. After not playing one down in Baltimore, the team decided to trade him to Dallas and the move to the Cowboys has seemed to rejuvenate McClain.

“I feel like I’m playing football and having fun doing it,” McClain told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m just happy to be with the Dallas Cowboys. I’m happy with our success so far. I’m having fun with my teammates, having a good time, gelling together and playing some good ball.”

McClain has 81 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and two interceptions in 13 games.

Golden Tate, WR (Lions) – A lot of people were stunned when Golden Tate bolted Seattle for Detroit, but the Seahawks didn’t treat Tate like a top priority, according to the 5-foot-10 receiver. 

“It’s a business and I get it, but I felt I was undervalued a little bit considering all I had done,” Tate told KIRO-AM. “I’m going to miss the city of Seattle, but I really had no choice. I did my very best to stay in Seattle. I leave with my head high.”

Last season, Tate accumulated 64 catches for 898 yards to go along with five touchdowns. This season, however, Tate’s numbers have skyrocketed.

Tate has 96 catches for 1,286 yards to go along with four touchdowns. Detroit is more of a pass happy offense and with Calvin Johnson playing hurt, it’s opened up things for Tate.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR (Broncos) – After jilting Kansas City in off-season negotiations, Sanders decided to take his talents to the Mile High City.

This has turned out to be an excellent choice. Who wouldn’t rather receive passes from Peyton Manning than Alex Smith?

Sanders, 27, is in his fifth season and he’s having one of the best seasons of his career.

The 5-foot-11 receiver has career-highs in catches (89), yards (1,261) and touchdowns (seven).

 


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.