Around the League  

 

Cameron Jordan tops midseason 'Making the Leap' list

The goal of our weekly "Making the Leap" watch is to highlight part-time players making the leap to difference-makers or unproven young talents ascending to key contributors. Once players have truly made the leap, they will graduate from this running list.

As part of our mid-season awards series, this week's list will highlight 10 young players who have made the biggest impact on the first half of the season.

Previous lists: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8.

Without further ado, here is the list of players making the leap in Week 9:

1. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints defensive end

2. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns tight end

The doppelganger connection has not only confused casual football fans, but also graduated to Pro Bowl form in 2013. Giving J.J. Watt a run for most dominant defensive lineman in the NFL, Jordan is at the heart of Rob Ryan's turnaround in New Orleans.

Among tight ends, Cameron's athleticism is rivaled only by Jordan's teammate Jimmy Graham. Despite obvious quarterback issues, Cameron's made a series of acrobatic catches down the sideline and in the red zone while leading his position in targets and receptions. The breakout star is on pace for 98 catches, 1,192 yards and 12 touchdowns as the best player on the Browns' roster.

3. Damon Harrison, New York Jets defensive tackle

4. Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle

5. Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle

NFL fans are witnessing a golden age of young defensive tackles, with Panthers rookie Star Lotulelei also in the mix. Harrison has been the NFL's premier run-plugger this season, leading a Jets defensive front that has been a brick wall to opposing ground attacks.

Casey plays like a young Geno Atkins, terrorizing interior linemen while putting heat on quarterbacks and stopping the run. Poe's relentless push up the middle has allowed bookend pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali to combine for the most sacks, hits and hurries in the league. The Chiefs are just the fourth team since the 1970 merger to allow 17 points or fewer in each of the first eight games of the season.

6. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers running back

7. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals running back

8. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears wide receiver

Lacy was named Rookie of the Month after leading the NFL in rushing during October. A Packers offense that was one-dimensional last season is now third in the NFL in rushing, making up for the injuries to Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and James Jones.

Knowshon Moreno, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch are the only running backs with more than Bernard's six touchdowns. Like a young Ray Rice, Bernard has proven capable of succeeding between the tackles while also adding big-play ability to the outside and pitching in as a mismatch in the passing game.

Jeffery has arguably outplayed Brandon Marshall this season, leading all NFL receivers in yards from scrimmage as the Bears entered the Week 8 bye. Jeffery's average completion of 13.5 yards through the air also leads the league, showing that he's a preeminent deep threat.

9. Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills linebacker

10. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals defensive back

Alonso topped this list in Week 5 after celebrating Defensive Rookie of the Month honors with the best game of his young career on national television versus the Browns. The athletic second-round draft pick is second only to the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict in tackles while becoming one of 15 linebackers in history to have intercepted four passes in a season.

The Cardinals are second in interceptions and third in passes defensed, in large part because Mathieu has made an instant impact as one of the best young ballhawks in football. After taking home the Defensive Rookie of the Month award for October, the "Honey Badger" is battling Alonso, Lotulelei and the Jets' Sheldon Richardson for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Cold list: Brandon Weeden, Blaine Gabbert, Bernard Pierce, Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball, Tavon Austin, Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Chris Givens, Kenbrell Thompkins, James Casey, Eric Fisher, Mike Adams, Lamar Holmes, Peter Konz, Gino Gradkowski, Da'Quan Bowers, Shea McClellin, Dee Milliner, Morris Claiborne

Watch list: Terrelle Pryor, Julius Thomas, Josh Gordon, T.Y. Hilton, Alterraun Verner, Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith, Eric Reid, Junior Galette, Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Zac Stacy, Andre Ellington, Kendall Wright, DeAndre Hopkins, Terrance Williams, Keenan Allen, Jordan Reed, Kyle Long, Cordy Glenn, David Bakhtiari, David DeCastro, Chandler Jones, Malik Jackson, DeMario Davis, Vontaze Burfict, Jamari Lattimore, Corey Lemonier, Sam Shields, Vontae Davis, Captain Munnerlyn, Marcus Cooper, Kenny Vaccaro

Trainer's room: Harrison Smith, David Wilson, Shane Vereen, EJ Manuel, Dwayne Allen, T.J. McDonald, Nick Perry, Ryan Broyles

We preview every Week 9 game in the latest "Around the League" Podcast.

Fan Discussion

NFL News
CONTENT
15