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#pounditFriday, September 18, 2020

5 Surprising NFL players who are lighting it up this season

Gardner Minshew Uncle Rico

A quarter of the 2019 NFL regular season is officially in the books, and to say there were a few surprises over the first four weeks of season would be a drastic understatement. But which players who are lighting it up are the biggest surprises of the year? Let’s take a look.

5. Darren Waller, TE, Oakland Raiders

Unless you’re an Oakland Raiders fan or a hardcore NFL fan, you’ve probably never heard of Darren Waller. That’s because the 2015 sixth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens had never amassed more than 10 receptions or 85 yards in a single season. Until now, that is. Through the first quarter of the season, Waller has exploded onto the scene, hauling in 33 receptions for 320 yards, which is just 17 yards shy of the league lead. What makes Waller’s production all the more impressive is that he’s posting an incredible catch rate of 89.2, which leads the NFL (min. 30 targets). Could Waller be a superstar in the making? Maybe, or maybe he’s taking advantage of a perfect situation considering Derek Carr loves throwing to his tight ends.

4. Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants

The Giants appeared destined to grind through the 2019 season with Eli Manning under center, but after just two games, the team pulled the plug and inserted rookie Daniel Jones. After an entire offseason of being mocked, dismissed and generally made fun of, Jones has been handing out a heaping helping of crow pie with every pass he throws and athletic run he makes. Not only has Jones led the Giants to a .500 record for the first time since 2016, he’s demonstrated impressive poise, veteran footwork and surprising leadership. Completing just under 70 percent of his passes, Jones has been responsible for five touchdowns and has single-handedly revitalized New York’s struggling offense.

3. Shaq Barrett, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After years of being under-utilized in Denver, Shaq Barrett found his way to Tampa Bay this offseason, and in his first season with the Buccaneers, has erupted. There has been no one better at the linebacker position over the first quarter of the season. Barrett has recorded an impressive 9.0 sacks (at least 1.0 in every game) and became just the second player in NFL history to record 8.0 sacks over the first three weeks of the season. He’s on pace to shatter Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record (22.5) and opposing offensive coordinators are beginning to gameplan specifically for him. That’s legitimate and unexpected impact from a one-time undrafted free agent.

2. Kyle Allen, QB, Carolina Panthers

Stepping in to replace an injured Cam Newton, not much was expected of Kyle Allen other than to bridge the gap until Newton returned. What the Panthers got instead was a young quarterback — undrafted in 2018 — playing well above expectations and even creating a little debate in Carolina over who should be under center from here on out. A fumbling issue aside, Allen has kept the Panthers afloat with two very impressive games against the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals. In total, Allen has completed over 70 percent of his passes for 759 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Raise your hand if you predicted that … no hands? Didn’t think so.

1. Gardner Minshew, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

It’s been 15 long years since Uncle Rico discussed his ability to throw a football clear over the mountains, and now he’s under center for the Jacksonville Jaguars and taking the league by storm. Stepping in after a wildly unfortunate injury to Nick Foles, rookie Gardner Minshew looks like a man born for this role (no, not in “Napoleon Dynamite”). In four games (2-2) since taking over, Minshew has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 905 yards, seven touchdown and one interception. That extrapolates to 3,620 yards, 28 touchdowns and four interceptions — numbers that would be remarkable, if not historic, for a sixth-round pick who wasn’t expected to see a single snap in 2019.

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