Starting cornerback Ross Cockrell and his Pittsburgh Steelers are peaking at the right ...

Duke in the NFL: Weeks 15-17

With the regular season over and the playoffs beginning this weekend, a couple of former Blue Devils have begun their offseasons early, but another pair is still playing on.

Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington Redskins

Crowder and the Redskins suffered a disappointing finish to their season. As Washington lost two of its last three games to miss the playoffs, Crowder’s production dropped off. After registering a combined 232 receiving yards in three games in Weeks 11 to 13, the second-year wide receiver recorded just 43 receiving yards in his final three outings. He especially struggled against the Chicago Bears Dec. 24, hauling in just one catch for three yards, and with the Redskins needing a win to make the playoffs in the final week of the season, he caught just two passes for 16 yards in a 19-10 loss to the New York Giants Jan. 1.

In early December, Crowder was on pace to reach the 1,000-yard threshold by the end of the season. But with his quiet finish, the Monroe, N.C., native ended his second NFL season with 847 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 67 receptions. Still, 2016 was a breakout year for Crowder and should give him more confidence moving forward.

Vincent Rey, LB, Cincinnati Bengals

With the Bengals’ campaign over, Rey finished his season on a high note. The veteran linebacker recorded a combined 14 tackles and three pass deflections in Cincinnati’s final two games against the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans. Rey—who finished the season with 86 tackles—had previously seen his role diminish toward the beginning of December and registered just seven combined tackles in Weeks 12 to 14. But his strong finish can provide him with momentum heading into his eighth season next year.

Ross Cockrell, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Unlike Rey and Crowder, Cockrell has a chance to play deep into the playoffs with the Steelers slotted as the third seed in the AFC and set to face the Miami Dolphins Sunday. After seeing a dip in playing time earlier in the season, the third-year pro has bounced back and regained his position as a reliable starter. In his last three games, Cockrell has been a consistent defender in coverage, helping the Steelers limit opposing offenses to just 217 passing yards per game. The former fourth-round draft pick also showcased his physicality when he registered a season-high seven tackles against the Baltimore Ravens Dec. 25.

Cockrell and fellow starting cornerback Artie Burns could be key to the Steelers’ defensive success against Miami. Led by running back Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins feature one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. But a strong performance by the Steelers secondary could disrupt Miami's balance and ability to make plays through the air.

Laken Tomlinson, LG, Detroit Lions

After falling out of the Lions’ rotation midway into the season, Tomlinson began to see more playing time in late November. But the 2015 first round draft pick was briefly benched again in Detroit’s Dec. 26 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. After blowing a run block, Tomlinson was replaced by rookie Joe Dahl for 11 snaps, yet returned to play the entire second half against the Cowboys.

Despite losing their final three games of the season, the Lions squeezed into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and will face the Seattle Seahawks Saturday night. For Tomlinson, the meeting presents an opportunity to make up for his up-and-down season in his first career playoff appearance.  

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