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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Each NFL team’s best offensive skill player so far

Deshaun Watson

Through the first five weeks of the NFL season, some familiar names sit atop the offensive statistical categories. Quarterbacks like Rodgers and Brady lead many passing categories, while receivers like A.J. Green and Antonio Brown top many receiving categories. But there are some fresh faces in the league doing big things, as well as a few surprises emerging with their clubs.

Here’s a look at each NFL team’s best offensive skill player so far in 2017.

Arizona Cardinals — J.J. Nelson, WR

Larry Fitzgerald still has more catches and yardage, but in terms of big plays, it is Nelson who has paced the Cardinals this season. He has the highest yards per catch of any Arizona wide receiver, and his two touchdowns are tied with Fitzgerald for the team lead. It’s only a matter of time before he is the No. 1 receiver in Arizona. Nelson is already getting plaudits now — his five catch, 120 yard performance in Week 2 earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Atlanta Falcons — Devonta Freeman, RB

Impressively, Freeman alone has five touchdowns this season — as many as quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown for over the same amount of games. Those five touchdowns are good enough to tie him for the NFL lead with Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars. His yardage total doesn’t jump off the page — at 285 yards, he’s only 13th in the NFL — but he’s scoring touchdowns. That’s been huge for the Falcons in a year where Ryan hasn’t quite rediscovered his best form yet.

Baltimore Ravens — Mike Wallace, WR

Baltimore’s offense has not been good at all in 2017, but Wallace has been the closest thing they have to a big-play receiver. With 209 yards, he’s responsible for receiving about a quarter of Joe Flacco’s passing yards. And Wallace has done it on only 12 catches, good for an average of 17.4 yards per catch. He only has one touchdown, but that’s not necessarily his fault. The Ravens just need to find a way to get him more targets — which he hasn’t been afraid to point out.

Buffalo Bills — Charles Clay, TE

Clay has emerged as a key part of the Buffalo offense as he’s become one of Tyrod Taylor’s favorite targets. He has the second-most catches of any Bill and leads the team with 258 receiving yards. He’s the joint leader of the team in touchdowns, too, with two of the six that Taylor has thrown. Unfortunately for the Bills, they’ll be without him for a while — he left Sunday’s game with a knee injury that required surgery and will likely be out for at least a few weeks.

Carolina Panthers — Cam Newton, QB

Newton has been plagued by inconsistency — plus a controversy of his own making — but he’s showing signs of being the player that made him the league MVP two years ago. Against the Detroit Lions in Week 5, he threw for a season-high 355 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions to dampen the performance. That’s the sort of thing that made Newton elite. Can he do it consistently? It’s too early to say, but Carolina will go as far as Newton can take them. Despite the issues, he’s still been the best they have to offer.

Chicago Bears — Jordan Howard, RB

With rookie Tarik Cohen pushing for his job, Howard has stepped things up and shown that his rookie season a year ago was not a fluke. He has scored all four of the Bears’ rushing touchdowns, plus 328 yards on the ground — quite impressive when you consider that he’d only managed to tally up 59 through two games. As the Bears struggle at quarterback and the passing game flounders, the combination of Cohen and Howard has provided at least some stability for this rebuilding team.

Cincinnati Bengals — A.J. Green, WR

Only two players have more receptions than Green does this year, and only one — Antonio Brown of the Steelers — has more receiving yardage. After a bit of a slow start, partly due to quarterback Andy Dalton and the rest of the offense struggling immensely, Green has picked it up, culminating in a 189-yard performance in Week 5 against Buffalo. He’s also caught a touchdown pass in three consecutive games, and he has 32 catches for 504 yards and 3 touchdowns this season. There’s no reason to think the gaudy numbers won’t continue.

Cleveland Browns — Duke Johnson, RB

The Browns’ offense has been one giant struggle, but at least Johnson has consistently given them something throughout the team’s first five winless games. Though a running back, he has been consistently a pass-catching threat, leading the team with 270 receiving yards. He’s also accounted for three touchdowns — two coming on the ground. And while he hasn’t exactly been racking up the yardage there, he has been finding his way into the end zone with at least some regularity.

Dallas Cowboys — Dak Prescott, QB

Prescott’s second NFL season only looks like a disappointment in the context of his first. The quarterback has taken a slight step back, but he’s still near 1,200 yards passing through five games. He’s actually on pace to throw for more touchdowns this season — he has 11 in just 5 games so far after throwing 23 in 16 last season. The interceptions are slightly up — he’s already matched last year’s totals — but he has offered Dallas the most on offense so far during a season where Ezekiel Elliott has yet to break out.

Denver Broncos — C.J. Anderson, RB

It’s been a very methodical year offensively for the Broncos, but it’s Anderson who has picked up the bulk of their yardage as far as individual players go. He’s averaging 82.5 yards per game on the ground, more than any wide receiver’s per-game receiving yard total. His 330 total rushing yards is good for ninth in the NFL. He also has scored two TDs this season — one rushing and the other receiving. Anderson has been the linchpin of a solid, if unspectacular offensive attack that has been good enough to support the team’s elite defense.

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