Immediate-impact rookies are hard to come by in the NFL. Even second-year players are given plenty of leeway, particularly at highly important positions like quarterback, left tackle and wide receiver. But when a player hits his third year as a professional, leeway vanishes, and the expectation that a prospect reach his full potential becomes an infinitely more pressing matter.
The Buffalo Bills employ seven key players entering their third professional seasons - four on offense, three on defense. Quarterback Brian Brohm hasn't been with the team for a full calendar year, but has a shot at winning the starting QB job after leaving Green Bay. Two receivers, James Hardy and Steve Johnson, will compete for playing time in a highly unproven receiving corps. Though he's been recovering from injury, Demetrius Bell will still be afforded a great opportunity to lock down the left tackle job he was handed prior to the 2009 season.
Defensively, Chris Ellis is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker, where he'll compete for reps on the strong side. Two cornerbacks, Leodis McKelvin and Reggie Corner, help comprise a deep and versatile secondary, and both will see significant playing time - McKelvin as a possible starter, and Corner as a possible nickel or dime back.
Some of these players have been useful; others have been anonymous. The question is simple: which of these players has the best shot to emerge as a legitimately excellent professional football player in 2010?