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, 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.

Houston Texans – Deshaun Watson, QB

Prior to suffering an unfortunate torn ACL, Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson was surprising the entire NFL on a weekly basis. After taking over for Tom Savage in the first game of the season, Watson looked like a seasoned pro, getting things done with both his arm and legs. He was completing nearly 62% of his passes with 19 touchdowns, and was averaging nearly 250 yards passing per game before his injury. Watson was well on his way to winning Rookie of the Year prior to being untimely derailed.

Indianapolis Colts – Rashaan Melvin, CB

This spot could have just as easily gone to quarterback Andrew Luck given that few expected him to miss the entire season, but Rashaan Melvin’s season has been too impressive to ignore. An undrafted rookie journeyman who has spent time with six different teams, Melvin was sort of a throw-in for the Colts to start the season. They liked what they saw in 2016, so they gave him more of an opportunity. Melvin has responded with 36 tackles, two interceptions, and 12 passes defensed this season. He has become the team’s lock-down corner and one of the highest-graded CBs in the league (No. 13 overall) courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Calais Campbell, DE

Many believed the career of 31-year-old Calais Campbell was nearing its end following his departure from the Arizona Cardinals, but he had other ideas. Joining a retooled Jaguars defense, the veteran has shown he has more than a little gas left in the tank. In 10 games this season, Campbell has recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks, which is currently tied for the league lead. He has been a leader of what has turned out to be the nastiest defense in the league. Pro Football Focus also has him graded out as the No. 4 edge rusher in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs – Alex Smith, QB

His poor performance against the New York Giants in Week 11 aside, Alex Smith has turned his “game-manager” label on its head in 2017. In 10 games this season, Smith is completing nearly 70% of his passes and has 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions (he had only one interception entering Week 11). He’s on pace for a career-high 4,200-plus yards to go along with a career-high quarterback rating of 107.6. If the high-powered Chiefs can get back on track, Smith warrants some MVP consideration — no matter how crazy that may seem to some.

Los Angeles Chargers – Chris McCain, Edge

Any time a role player on a bad team can make an impact, it’s worth noting. And while Chris McCain needs to round out his all-around game, there’s no denying the impact he’s had as a rotational edge rusher for the Chargers. In nine games (no starts), McCain has put relentless pressure on opposing quarterbacks and recorded a career-high five sacks in the process. More valuable than that is the rest he gives to Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, which keeps them fresh and playing dominant football.

Los Angeles Rams – Jared Goff, QB

Every single thing about the Rams in 2017 is a surprise, but perhaps nothing is more surprising than the play of quarterback Jared Goff. In his rookie season, Goff looked confused, over-matched and like potential bust material. However, he returned in 2017 more comfortable and confident in himself and it’s shown. Through 10 games this season, Goff is completing nearly 62% of his passes for 2,610 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Most impressive of all, Goff has led the Rams to a 7-3 record and first place in the NFC West.

Miami Dolphins – Jay Ajayi, RB

After a 1,271-yard, eight-touchdown season in 2016, expectations were high for Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi entering the year. However, seven games into the season, Ajayi was averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and it was clear he had fallen out of favor with head coach Adam Gase. With Miami’s offense struggling, the Dolphins pulled the plug, gave up on Ajayi and shockingly traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles. This was not at all the way fans in Miami saw the season going for Ajayi.

Minnesota Vikings – Case Keenum, QB

With Teddy Bridgewater (knee) still out to start the season and Sam Bradford being lost to a knee injury of his own, Case Keenum was thrust into the starting quarterback role for Minnesota. Oh no, right? Wrong. After four rough seasons with the Texans and Rams, Keenum found the right fit with the Vikings. In nine games, he’s completing nearly 66% of his passes for 2,194 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. Even more impressive, the Vikings are 6-2 in his starts (8-2 overall). As Mike Zimmer recently said, you can’t bench the guy when he’s playing this well.

New England Patriots – Stephon Gilmore, CB

Stephon Gilmore was a rare big-name signing for the Patriots this offseason, earning a five-year, $65 million deal. Coming off perhaps his best season, Gilmore established himself as one of the elite corners in the NFL and wasn’t shy about letting people know it. However, he’s been a bit of a letdown in 2017, as he’s dealt with an ankle injury and concussion, and even been benched at times. He’s graded out as the 68th-ranked cornerback in the league according to Pro Football Focus.

New Orleans Saints – Alvin Kamara, RB

A third-round pick of the Saints in 2017, Alvin Kamara was expected to play behind Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson this season. However, Kamara’s all-around ability eventually made Peterson expendable and helped him snag some snaps away from Ingram. Through 10 games this season, the do-it-all Kamara is second on the team with 908 yards from scrimmage and first on the team with 1,026 all-purpose yards. He’s also second on the team with seven total touchdowns. How’s that for a surprise?

New York Giants – Landon Collins, S

Giants safety Landon Collins is not having a particularly bad year, but through 10 games, he’s been nothing close to the All-Pro he was a season ago. He leads the team with 71 tackles and has two interceptions, but he’s been a part of some ugly coverage busts this year. Even with a dominating Week 11 performance against the Chiefs, Collins’ overall performance has been a bit of a letdown for a Giants team that has been an equal letdown all season.

New York Jets – Josh McCown, QB

A spot-starting journeyman quarterback of 15 seasons, Josh McCown finally found a home with the Jets during what was expected to be a horrendous season. However, thanks in large part to his play, they’ve already exceeded expectations at 4-6. To top that off, McCown is having a career-best season, completing nearly 70% of his passes for 2,242 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The touchdown-to-interception ratio may not be great, but honestly, who saw McCown ever even approaching these kind of numbers on a weekly basis?

Oakland Raiders – Marshawn Lynch, RB

When the Raiders lured Marshawn Lynch out of retirement and acquired his rights from the Seattle Seahawks, they were expecting a bell-cow back who would pound away at opposing defenses and gain over 1,000 yards on the season. And while Lynch hasn’t been awful, averaging 4.0 yards per carry, he hasn’t exactly looked like his former self. He’s gained only 390 yards rushing on the season and, as usual, has been a bit of a distraction. He also drew a one-game suspension for contacting an official.

Philadelphia Eagles – Carson Wentz, QB

If the season ended right now, a strong case could be made for Carson Wentz as the league MVP. After an up-and-down rookie campaign, Wentz returned in 2017 firing on all cylinders. And while he could still work on improving his completion percentage, his 2,430 yards passing and 25 touchdowns to only five interceptions is impressive. So is the 9-1 record he’s navigated the Eagles to through 11 weeks of the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Martavis Bryant, WR

Martavis Bryant was expected to be a big-play talent for the Steelers, but 2017 has not gone that way at all. Bryant has been at odds with the team, trashed his teammates on social media, faced a suspension and fallen down the depth chart. When opportunities have come his way, he’s failed to capitalize. He could soon find himself on the way out of Pittsburgh, which is seemingly what he wants.

San Francisco 49ers – Marquise Goodwin, WR

Marquise Goodwin spent his first three seasons doing very little for the Bills, but maximized his opportunities in 2016. The 49ers saw that and wanted him to be a part of their rebuild. Still, no one could have anticipated just how well he’d play for one of the league’s worst teams. Although there are still some improvements to be made, Goodwin has gained a team-leading 500 yards through the air and is best in the league with 21.7 yards per reception (15 or more receptions).

Seattle Seahawks – Eddie Lacy, RB

The Seahawks really believed they had something in Eddie Lacy after he got himself into better shape, but to date, that hasn’t quite worked out. Not only has Lacy been dealing with injuries for much of the season, but he’s struggled when on the field. In seven games (three starts), Lacy has mustered only 130 yards at 2.5 yards per carry. He’s also not seen the end zone a single time and has been a healthy scratch a few times this season. His time in the NFL seems to be winding down.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Demar Dotson, OT

Demar Dotson joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted rookie free agent and worked his way up to a starter in 2012. Since then, Dotson has been solid but not spectacular. In 2017 however, that’s changed. Although aging, Dotson has pieced together one of the best seasons of his career and is among the most-efficient pass blocking offensive tackles in football. Pro Football Focus also has him graded out as the fourth-best overall tackle in the league through 11 weeks.

Tennessee Titans – Kevin Byard, S

Kevin Byard had a strong rookie campaign for the Titans, but no one could have expected a sophomore season quite like the one he’s pieced together thus far. Byard leads the league with six interceptions, is third in the league with 100 return yards off those interceptions, and has added a fumble recovery for good measure. Pro Football Focus has him graded out as the fourth-best safety in the game. He’s only getting better.

Washington Redskins – Terrelle Pryor, WR

After a breakout year with the Browns, the Redskins signed Terrelle Pryor to a one-year, $6 million deal in hopes of boosting their production at receiver. That did not at all come to fruition as Pryor never seemed to get the offense down. In nine games, Pryor managed only 20 receptions for 240 yards and one touchdown. Shortly after Week 11, he was lost for the season due to ankle surgery.

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This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports and was syndicated with permission.


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