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.
- Adrian Amos, Adrian Peterson, Alex Collins, Alex Smith, Alvin Kamara, Calais Campbell, Carson Wentz, Case Keenum, Chris McCain, Demar Dotson, Demarcus Lawrence, Deshaun Watson, Domato Peko, Eddie Lacy, Jamal Agnew, Jared Goff, Jason McCourty, Jay Ajayi, Jeremy Hill, Josh McCown, Julius Peppers, Kevin Byard, Landon Collins, LeSean McCoy, Marquise Goodwin, Marshawn Lynch, Martavis Bryant, Matt Ryan, Rashaan Melvin, Stephon Gilmore, Terrelle Pryor, Ty Montgomery
Through the first six weeks of the NFL season, several popular names still lead the fray when it comes to defensive production. However, key injuries to superstars like J.J. Watt have created a void that has been filled by some surprising players, many of whom are having career years.
Here’s a look at each NFL team’s best defensive player so far in 2017.
Arizona Cardinals — Tyvon Branch, S
There are a lot of talented defenders on Arizona’s roster, but through six weeks, it’s hard to argue that Tyvon Branch — who has been called a “wolverine” complement to the “honey badger” — isn’t the very best. He not only leads the team and is tied for the league lead with 55 tackles, but he’s also defended four passes, forced a fumble and was named to the Pro Football Focus First Quarter All-Pro Team. Branch getting the nod says a lot about his impact this season when you consider Arizona also has Chandler Jones and his six sacks.
Atlanta Falcons — Deion Jones, LB
Deion Jones has filled out the box score this year, leading the Falcons with 38 tackles. He’s also recorded a sack, three passes defended and an interception. Jones is also among Pro Football Focus’ top 15 graded linebackers this season, alongside teammate De’Vondre Campbell, who has also landed very high grades for Atlanta. Jones is blossoming well for Atlanta in his second NFL season.
- Akiem Hicks, Blake Martinez, Bobby Wagner, Brandon Graham, Brent Grimes, Calais Campbell, Cam Heyward, Cameron Jordan, CJ Mosley, Darius Slay, Deion Jones, Demarcus Lawrence, Geno Atkins, Harrison Smith, Jaquiski Tartt, Jason McCourty, John Simon, Johnathan Joseph, Jordan Poyer, Julius Peppers, Justin Houston, Khalil Mack, Landon Collins, Malcolm Butler, Mark Barron, Melvin Ingram, Morris Claiborne, Reshad Jones, Tyvon Branch, Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard, Zach Brown
Many players had standout performance in Week 1 of the NFL season. Things kicked off on Thursday night with the Kansas City Chiefs surprising many with a spectacular game against the Patriots, thanks largely to explosive performances from many players who find themselves on this list. A few teams that disappointed last season had great games on Sunday, and their top performers have made this list. So did quite a few youngsters making their NFL debut. Here’s a look at 15 standout performers from Week 1.
Antonio Brown, Steelers
After an offseason of rumors and drama, Brown opened the season by reminding us that he is simply one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers. On a day when Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant offered very little, Brown simply took over. He didn’t catch any touchdowns, but he didn’t need to. He had 11 receptions for 182 yards (on 11 targets), including a crucial late grab over Jason McCourty that gave the Steelers a much-needed first down to enable them to run out the clock on the Cleveland Browns. There is a reason that he may well be the NFL’s premier wide receiver.
Calais Campbell, Jaguars
There are lots of fun ways to look at Campbell’s performance. There is the obvious one — his 3.5 sacks had shattered the Jaguars’ franchise single-game record by halftime, and he added another half a sack in the second half to make it an even four. Another way? Campbell’s career high in sacks is nine, set in 2013 with the Arizona Cardinals, meaning that after just one week of action with Jacksonville, he is over a third of the way to matching his career high — and halfway to matching the eight he collected last season. That’s dominance. The Jaguars owned Houston up front all game, but Campbell was definitely the star of a unit that now refers to itself as “Sacksonville.”
Derek Carr, Raiders
Steady as it goes, Carr was his usual reliable self as the Raiders beat the Tennessee Titans. While there was nothing mindblowing about his showing, his numbers were quite gaudy: 22-32, 262 yards, two touchdowns, and a 114.3 QBR. This was his first meaningful action since breaking his leg at the tail end of last season. He didn’t look like he’d missed a beat, putting in a strong, confident performance that will have the Raiders thinking he’ll be every bit as good as he was in 2016, when he was a legitimate MVP candidate.
It’s safe to say Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell is having an ideal debut for his new team.
Campbell racked up 3.5 sacks against the Houston Texans in the first half alone — which is not only a first half record, but actually breaks the Jacksonville single-game sack record.
Calais Campbell has 3.5 sacks in the first half. Franchise single-game record already. Advantage Duane Brown.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) September 10, 2017
Campbell took a significant leap of faith in signing with Jacksonville the way he did. It’s only been one half, to be clear, but he certainly won’t be regretting his decision to do so right now as his team makes a statement in the first half.
Calais Campbell really wanted to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
How badly? It turns out the defensive end signed with Jacksonville before he’d even spoken to vice president Tom Coughlin or coach Doug Marrone.
“I actually didn’t talk to [Coughlin] until after I already signed,” Campbell told Robert Klemko of the MMQB. “But I didn’t need to have a conversation with him because his résumé speaks for itself. It’s automatic. He’s a future Hall of Famer, so no conversation was needed.”
Campbell didn’t talk to Marrone, either, saying he preferred to check in with players who had played for him and his staff in the past.
“After I signed I talked to everybody. But before I signed I didn’t talk to anybody,” Campbell said. “I had talked to guys who played for them. I feel like that’s the way to do it. The one person that has given me good advice over the years is my [Cardinals] D-Line coach, Brentson Buckner. He gave me a lot of advice over the last couple months concerning schemes and coaching staffs and how they use players.”
Campbell surprised some by turning down the Denver Broncos to join a rebuilding Jaguars organization. He’s clearly a believer in the project, even if he didn’t even talk to the guys in charge of it before agreeing to terms.
Free agent defensive lineman Calais Campbell is headed back to the state where he played his college football career.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports on Thursday that Campbell will be signing a four-year, $60 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars with $30 million guaranteed after also considering the Denver Broncos.
After considering Denver, Calais Campbell is going to sign a 4-year, $60 million deal that includes $30M gtd with Jacksonville, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 9, 2017
The 30-year-old Campbell, who is actually a native of Denver but attended college at the University of Miami in Florida, started all 16 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016, recording 53 combined tackles, 8.0 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
Broncos cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib both posted tweets directed at Campbell on Thursday trying to recruit the two-time Pro Bowler to Denver, but apparently their efforts were unsuccessful.
@Campbell93 come play with some super dogs lol
— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisJr) March 9, 2017
— AqibTalib21 (@AqibTalib21) March 9, 2017
The Jaguars ranked just 19th in the NFL in rushing defense last season (per ESPN), so Campbell definitely fills a need for them. That $15 million average annual value will also put Campbell in near-elite territory for a defensive lineman, eclipsed only by Ndamukong Suh, Muhammad Wilkerson, Jason Pierre-Paul (who will be playing under the franchise tag in 2017), Marcell Dareus, Olivier Vernon, and now fellow Jaguar Malik Jackson. As for the Broncos, they would have offered him the better chance to compete for a Super Bowl, but perhaps this cheap shot they took at Campbell three seasons ago was enough to convince him to sign elsewhere.
Tom Brady’s four-game suspension from the NFL appears as if it will stand after an appeals court on Wednesday denied the quarterback’s attempt for a rehearing. That means the New England Patriots will more likely than not be relying on Jimmy Garoppolo to lead the team at quarterback for the first four games of the season. Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell can’t wait to face him.
Campbell appeared on “Tiki and Tierney on CBS Sports Radio” Wednesday and talked about his Cardinals facing the Patriots in Week 1 on “Sunday Night Football.”
“Licking my chops, man. You get a rookie quarterback, pretty much. It’s always exciting when you get a guy like that for his first game because he’s going to be nervous,” Campbell told the hosts. “He’s probably going to be sitting there holding the ball a little longer or trying to get rid of it quick, throwing bad balls. As a vet, we definitely pride ourselves on welcoming (inexperienced quarterbacks) the right way.”
Campbell was also asked about whether he felt Roger Goodell has too much power, an issue that has come up as it relates to suspensions.
“We’re trying to stick together and understand what the issues are around the NFL, but it’s a balance. You definitely understand (that) when things go wrong, there has to be discipline. You don’t want it to be too much (to) where one person can have all the power, but it’s just a process. There’s definitely some things we have to look for going into the next CBA that we have to address.”
The players will likely push for different rules when it comes to discipline in the next CBA talks.
In addition to the Cardinals, the Dolphins, Texans and Bills will all benefit from getting to face the Patriots without Brady. That is, unless Garoppolo proves to be a force as a backup.