Vet on the hot seat: Willie Parker

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

There are numerous reasons why Pittsburgh Steelers starting running back Willie Parker finds himself on the hot seat for 2009. Let's start with the fact that he's had back-to-back injury-plagued seasons.

A broken leg derailed Parker's otherwise stellar 2007 campaign, and he battled shoulder and knee ailments in 2008, when he rushed for just 791 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Those were Parker's lowest totals since becoming a full-time starter.

In a physical AFC North division, Parker has never been the biggest tailback at 5-foot-10, 209 pounds. Add in the fact that he's turning 29 in November, and Parker now has to deal with the age and durability questions in Pittsburgh.

Parker is in the final year of his contract, and all signs point to the Steelers letting him walk after the season. To date, there haven't been any serious discussions of extending Parker's contract before the start of the regular season, and the Steelers drafted tailback Rashard Mendenhall in the first round in 2008 to be his eventual replacement.

But a big year from Parker has the potential to change the landscape for his future in Pittsburgh and silence his critics.

Honorable mention: Similar to Parker, Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ocho Cinco had one of his worst seasons in 2008. He recorded just 53 receptions for 540 yards last year, which are well below his career averages. At 31 and coming off injuries to his shoulder and ankle the past two seasons, Ocho Cinco has to prove he still has it. The Bengals certainly hope he does, because they desperately need the deep ball to return to their offense in 2009.