Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/11/12

10. K David Akers, San Francisco 49ers : Yes, he's just a kicker, but the guy broke the record for most field goals in a single season and is a very important piece in the 49ers' offense.

9. MLB Nick Barnett, Buffalo Bills: Barnett left Green Bay after an injury-riddled season and performed extremely well for the Bills. He accumulated 130 tackles, 3 INTs, and 3 sacks during the regular season. The stats speak for themselves. The Bills took a shot on an injury-prone, aging player, and got more than they had hoped.

8. DT Cullen Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles : Cullen Jenkins has always been quite a force for the Packers throughout his career, but his problem has been staying on the field. Last offseason he left the Packers and played all 16 games for the Eagles.

7. QB Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans: Hasselbeck's last few years in Seattle were frustrating. He hadn't finished a season with a passer rating above 80 since 2007. This year, Hasselbeck found it again. He finished the year with 82.4 passer rating, tossing for 18 TDs and 3,571 yards. Also, he almost led Tennessee to the Playoffs after only having six wins last season.

6. FB Vonta Leach, Baltimore Ravens : He's the NFL's best fullback. He opened holes for Arian Foster last year and now he's doing it for Ray Rice. Rice has gone from a 4.0 rushing average in 2010 to a 4.7 in 2011. He also has seven more rushing touchdowns. Say thanks to Vonta, Ray.

5. RB Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos: Mcgahee has filled in nicely for the injured Knowshon Moreno. To be honest, they are better off with McGahee anyway. He ran for 1,199 yards with 4.8 yards per carry average and 4 TDs. He played through injuries a majority of the season and was a big part of the Broncos' success.

4. DE Jason Babin, Philadelphia Eagles : Babin left Tennessee for the Eagles in 2011. He finished third in sacks this season with 18. He sits only behind Jared Allen and Demarcus Ware, two of the game's most dangerous pass rushers. That's good company. The only reason I do not have Babin higher on this list is because of his struggles against the run. Still, the Eagles struck gold with this signing.

3. CB Carlos Rogers, San Francisco 49ers : Rogers had six INTs for the 49ers this season after never having more than two in his career. He was a big part of the 49ers' defensive dominance. Whether it was the scheme, coaching, or just Rogers getting better, he is now a Pro Bowl cornerback.

2. RB Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints : After some decent seasons in San Diego with a minimal role, Sproles had a fantastic season with the Saints. Sproles was a threat both running and receiving the football, posting 1,313 yards combined. Oh, and when adding in his return totals, he set the NFL record for all-purpose yards. Enough said.

1. CB Johnathan Joseph, Houston Texans: Joseph helped turn a Houston defense that was last against the pass in 2010 all the way up to third in 2011. Part of the success is credited to Wade Phillips, but Joseph was a huge part of it. The Texans have been aching for a good cornerback for a while now, and they got their man in 2011. After an offseason of headlines about Nnamdi Asomugha, Joseph stepped up and gave the league new headlines. Joseph didn't have as many interceptions as Rogers, or a breakout season like Sproles and Babin. The reason he is No. 1 is because he made the biggest impact for his team and is most likely to do it all again next year. He was 2011's best free agent signing.

Honorable Mentions: Brian Waters, Stephen Tulloch, Andre Carter

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