News  

 

First-half superlatives: Rodgers, Newton at head of the class

Print

With nine weeks in the books, every team is at least halfway through its schedule. It's time to look at the 2011 class of NFL players through the spectrum of everybody's favorite yearbook feature -- the senior superlative.

Aaron Rodgers has been at the head of the class for the Packers this season.
Aaron Rodgers has been at the head of the class for the Packers this season. (NFL.com Illustration/)

BIG MAN ON CAMPUS: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay. It's not just the numbers, which are outrageous. It's the way Rodgers is doing it -- spreading the ball around, controlling the game like the conductor of a symphony orchestra. Green Bay probably won't go 16-0. But their quarterback, at this point in the season, is as close to perfect as it gets.

LIFE OF THE PARTY: Rob Ryan, Dallas. Yes, the Cowboys got shredded in Philly. But this Dallas defense looks like a whole different group than the lifeless unit of 2010. Ryan turned the talent loose, and Dallas ranks in the top 10 in takeaways and sacks per pass play. DeMarcus Ware has 12 sacks, young players like Anthony Spencer and Mike Jenkins have rebounded, and Ryan looks like a home-run hire for Jason Garrett.

MOST LIKELY TO BE PRESIDENT: Domonique Foxworth, Baltimore. Foxworth is still recovering from a knee injury suffered in July 2010 and is now out for the season after playing the first two games. But in light of what's happening in the NBA, everyone who follows the NFL should thank their lucky stars for guys like Foxworth, who became the voice that DeMaurice Smith needed to keep the players on board in the roller-coaster final weeks of labor talks and finish the new CBA.

TEACHER'S PET: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore. Surprising choice? Maybe. But working under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano seems to have taken Suggs' game to a new level. Suggs is flashing a more diversified array of pass-rush moves and more versatility as a playmaker. He has six sacks, two forced fumbles, two picks, and four passes defensed -- becoming the disruptive wild card Pagano wanted.

MOST LIKELY TO BE SUCCESSFUL: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati. He's not the rookie of the year. And he's not carrying the Bengals with his 85.0 quarterback rating. But what he is doing is showing why he went 34-3 the past three years at TCU -- Dalton knows how to put his team in a position to win. It almost looks like Tom Brady in 2001, before he became Tom Brady, just after he first took over for Drew Bledsoe.

Cam Newton has played it cool as a rookie for the Panthers.
Cam Newton has played it cool as a rookie for the Panthers. (NFL.com Illustration/)

BEST COUPLE: Cam Newton and Steve Smith, Carolina. Who'd have thought that the disgruntled Smith would find such harmony with a rookie quarterback? For portions of this season, the Panthers led the league in explosive pass plays (defined as 18 yards-plus), and it's because of Newton's ability to extend plays and get the ball downfield accurately on the move. That fits Smith's explosive skill set to a T.

MOST ARTISTIC: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia. On an already fast offense, McCoy looks supercharged, and he's done plenty to help the Eagles buy time to find the right mix along their line with his ability to make defenders miss and keep the opponent off-balance. His 892 yards from scrimmage rank just eighth in the NFL, but they've been important to keep Philly afloat through a transition period.

MOST ATHLETIC: Darrelle Revis, New York. For athletic feats rarely seen. Outside of the "Did that really just happen?" 52-yard bomb Stevie Johnson caught over his head Sunday, Revis has been near perfect doing a job with a degree of difficulty unlike anyone else's. In fact, few players in history have had to do what Revis has to week-in and week-out. Revis is playing cornerback like Rodgers is playing quarterback.

BEST PERSONALITY: Wade Phillips, Houston. Yup, this plays into the Coach Cupcake perception he carried in Dallas, but his affable nature and ability as a teacher have allowed for the Texans to become complete. The Texans have the league's No. 1 defense, ranking second against the pass and fourth against the run, despite having lost Mario Williams. Considering where they came from, that's positively stunning.

BIGGEST DRAMA QUEEN: Chris Johnson, Tennessee. Thanks to a holdout, the first six weeks after the lockout featured no Johnson. You could argue things haven't changed. The NFL's most recent 2,000-yard rusher finally got his season average over 3.0 yards per carry on Sunday, his best day of 2011, which yielded 110 scrimmage yards. His play validates internal questions about the shape he reported in.

MOST SCHOOL SPIRIT: Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco. The ex-Stanford man used his collegiate experience as a teacher, and in managing under time constraints, to creatively get through the post-lockout conditions that many thought would bury first-year coaches. And the enthusiasm he used to sell to recruits boiled over in one circumstance, something Lions coach Jim Schwartz responded to with similar vigor.

MOST SUPERSTITIOUS: Todd Haley, Kansas City. When Todd Haley's wife told him to go into Kansas City's game at San Diego with a 5 o'clock shadow, he shaved anyway. And after the Chiefs lost, he went "hobo" for Week 4. And Week 5. And Week 7. And Week 8. And Week 9. It worked, too, with the Chiefs in position to defend their AFC West crown after an 0-3 start, with Haley orchestrating the turnaround.

BIGGEST FLIRT: Indianapolis Colts. So maybe they aren't playing footsies with Andrew Luck. But it would surprise no one to catch the Colts sneaking peeks across the room at the belle of the 2012 draft ball. This has two big storylines tied into one: A prospect most scouts think is the best since Peyton Manning prompting the "Suck for Luck" concept, and the injury to Manning himself sending Indy into a tailspin.

Tom Brady's hair has been upstaged by his play this season.
Tom Brady's hair has been upstaged by his play this season. (NFL.com Illustration/)

BEST HAIR: Tom Brady, New England. How do we know? Well, when a dude gets a haircut, and it sends tremors through the news cycle, that tells you all you need to know. And really, Brady can do what he wants, particularly in New England. As the Patriots have struggled defensively, and even in spots on offense, Brady has lifted them up (2,703 yards, 20 TDs) to mitigate the problem areas.

MOST TALKATIVE: Ndamukong Suh, Detroit. He found himself an audience in Roger Goodell to discuss the rules limiting the pain that the Monsters of the Motor City can inflict on opposing quarterbacks. And he made it clear he has never viewed himself as a dirty player. But the Lions have embraced the tyrannical image that Jim Schwartz long instilled in his Titans defense. Results haven't been bad, either.

CLASS CLOWN: Stevie Johnson, Buffalo. Whether it's scoring touchdowns, shaving messages on the side of his head or eating sandwiches stuffed with cash, the Bills receiver represents everything his resurgent team is about. He came out of nowhere (seventh round), is productive (on pace for second straight 1,000-yard season), and is lighthearted and breezy enough to not be surprised by any of it.

DRESSED FOR SUCCESS: Mike Tomlin, Steelers. By Pittsburgh standards, 6-3 is nothing to throw a parade over. But Tomlin's team was eulogized after a Week 1 blowout in Baltimore, then reeled off six wins in seven weeks. Yes, the Steelers lost again to the Ravens but were inches from victory with a seriously wounded team. That's progress. What it adds up to: A group ramping up towards another January run.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop