Each NFL team’s most surprising player this season
The 2017 regular season has been packed full of surprises. From a team perspective, the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants stand out for being so much better and so much worse than we expected, but it’s not just limited to those two organizations.
Yes, the Rams and Giants have gone in totally different directions than expected, but units like the New England Patriots defense have been worse than expected, and the the New York Jets have even found a way to open eyes.
But what players have contributed to all these surprises? Well, here’s a look at every NFL team’s most surprising player, good or bad, so far this season.
Arizona Cardinals – Adrian Peterson, RB
After appearing in only 20 games over his final three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, many believed the career of Adrian Peterson had reached its end. Even with another opportunity given to him by the New Orleans Saints, little changed for Peterson. He appeared in four games, gaining just 81 yards on 27 carries. Then came the trade to Arizona. Although he hasn’t exactly returned to Hall of Fame form, he has gained 369 yards in five games, providing the Cardinals with an unexpected spark on the ground.
Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan, QB
A year after winning the NFL MVP Award and leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl, Matt Ryan has hit a bit of a wall. He’s returned to 2015 form and seen his completion percentage, yards per game, touchdown to interception ratio, yards per attempt and quarterback rating all drop — some of those considerably. He threw for 38 touchdowns last season and has just 15 in 10 games this season. His passer rating has dropped from 117.1 to 95.7. To cap it off, the Falcons are 6-4 and are no shoo-in to make the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens – Alex Collins, RB
Who in the world is Alex Collins? Entering the 2017 regular season, many casual fans weren’t even aware of his existence. A 2016 fifth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, Collins did little in the Northwest and was released with little fanfare. He was signed by the Ravens somewhat under-the-radar, but people know about him now. Collins has erupted onto the scene with 675 all-purpose yards in nine games, including 570 yards rushing at an average of 5 yards per carry.
Buffalo Bills – LeSean McCoy, RB
It’s been a strange year in Buffalo all around and any number of players could fill this spot for the Bills, but it’s impossible to ignore the struggles of LeSean McCoy. Although his season rushing total (595) puts him in pace to eclipse 1,000 yards on the season, it’s going to take an unusual amount of carries for him to reach that number. He’s averaging a career-low 3.8 yards per carry and just 66.1 yards per game, which would be McCoy’s lowest total since his rookie season.
Carolina Panthers – Julius Peppers, DE
At 37 years old, Julius Peppers is nearing the end of his spectacular career, so it seemed appropriate that he returned to Carolina down the stretch. What no one saw coming was the sort of rejuvenation he’s showed. He’s recorded 7.5 sacks in 10 games as a reserve thus far. Peppers is on pace for 12 sacks, which would be his highest total since 2008 and the third-highest total of his career.
Chicago Bears – Adrian Amos, S
A fifth-round pick out of Penn State in 2015, Amos started all 16 games for the Bears in 2016, but the team was left unimpressed. Chicago signed veteran safety Quintin Demps to pair with Eddie Jackson, but once Demps went down in Week 3, Amos was thrust back into a starting role. Since then, he’s caught fire and the eye of NFL fans and experts everywhere. In 10 games (seven starts), Amos has 50 tackles, an interception returned for a touchdown, a and a fumble recovery. He has earned a 93.2 Pro Football Focus grade, which is the second-highest grade at safety in the league.
Cincinnati Bengals – Jeremy Hill, RB
Despite two rough seasons and the initial presence of rookie Joe Mixon, there was still some hope that Bengals running back Jeremy Hill would be able to right the ship in 2017. If nothing else, the belief was his performance wouldn’t suffer further. Neither of those things have proven true. Hill is in the midst of his worst season as a pro, averaging a mere 3.1 yards per carry and rushing for just 116 yards on the season. It’s been a sad fall from grace, highlighted by injury and public criticism courtesy of head coach Marvin Lewis.
Cleveland Browns – Jason McCourty, CB
Although the Browns are a winless team, Jason McCourty has never been shy about expressing his gratitude for how “wanted” they’ve made him feel since Day 1. He’s rewarded them with locker-room leadership and some of the best football of his career to date. Considered an under-performer with a bad contract as a member of the Tennessee Titans, McCourty has erupted with the Browns. He has 28 tackles, three interceptions, one touchdown, two forced fumbles and 10 passes defensed this season. He is also the highest-graded cornerback in the NFL, courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Dallas Cowboys – DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
Entering the 2017 regular season, DeMarcus Lawrence had recorded nine total sacks over his first three years in the league. Expectations weren’t too high and the hope was he’d be able to help what was otherwise considered a below average defensive line. In response, Lawrence has recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks in 10 games this season — tied for the league lead with Calais Campbell. He also has forced three fumbles and recovered two. All that production has Pro Football Focus grading him out as “elite” this season.
Denver Broncos – Domata Peko, NT
When the Broncos signed Domata Peko to a two-year, $7.5 million deal this offseason, the reaction was rather ho-hum. There was nothing specifically that stood out about Peko, good or bad, so there were no real expectations. Now 11 weeks into the season, while the Broncos are under-performing, Peko has established himself as a rock in the middle of the defense. He hasn’t exactly been on the extreme end like most players on this list, but he’s performed better than anyone really anticipated. He has a solid 29 tackles this season — five for a loss. A dull choice perhaps, but it’s been a rather dull season for Denver.
Detroit Lions – Jamal Agnew, CB
You never really know what to expect from any rookie, let alone a 5th-round pick like Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew. And while he hasn’t done much on the defensive side of the ball, it’s taken him only 11 weeks to establish himself as the league’s premier return man. Agnew averages a league-leading 16.8 yards per punt return and has returned two of those for a touchdown. The rest of the league combined has four. Agnew can also be tossed into the offensive scheme due to his explosiveness, and even covers punt returns. He’s a Swiss Army Knife.
Green Bay Packers – Ty Montgomery, RB
Thrust into an unexpected role a season ago, Ty Montgomery became a hidden gem for the Packers, tallying 805 yards from scrimmage and averaging 5.9 yards per carry. That was enough to earn him a starting role in 2017, but thus far, Montgomery has been unable to carry that success over. Battling a serious rib injury since early in the season, Montgomery has only been able to average 3.8 yards per carry and hasn’t been nearly explosive as he was a year ago. That left Green Bay with somewhat of a hole at running back that they’ve turned to Aaron Jones to fill.