The Around the NFL writers will look at some big questions as we hit midseason. First up: Who has already made the leap in 2014?
I see Arians for what he is: An emerging top-five coach in the NFL. People are quick to point to Jim Harbaugh and Marc Trestman as the league's premier quarterback whisperers, but Arians is their equal. He's churned out a 16-7 record over two seasons in Arizona with Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. He previously flipped the switch on Andrew Luck in Indy and Big Ben in Pittsburgh and even helped pull the Browns into the playoffs in 2002 with Kelly Holcomb at the wheel. The Cardinals have found a true gem.
- -- Marc Sessler*
The defensive lineman always possessed talent, but needed reps to unleash his skill. He's proven to be a perfect complement to Ndamukong Suh and the Lions' stout interior. Ansah leads Detroit's No. 1 defense with 4.5 sacks. He's utilized a brutally quick first step and improved hand mechanics to keep left tackles off him -- pop in the tape of the Week 6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings and watch him make Matt Kalil look silly. Ansah's pass rushing ability has been paramount to the Lions' early season success. Depending on the severity of Nick Fairley's knee injury, Ansah's importance could be magnified even more as we enter the second half of 2014.
- -- Kevin Patra*
If the coach can hold on to his thin lead in the NFC East, he deserves much more than a playoff berth. Navigating the relentless expectations that come with being head coach of the Dallas Cowboys is not an easy thing to do, especially for a young coach growing up in the spotlight. In that time, Garrett has learned to find his comfort zone, delegate tasks properly among a talented coaching staff and find the respect of his players in an easily-combustible locker room. Not bad.
- -- Conor Orr*
Von Miller is a two-time All-Pro and former Defensive Rookie of the Year. We're fully aware he already "made the leap" to star status. But that was before Miller's lost 2013, a season that included an extended drug suspension and the dreaded torn ACL. The Broncos are the class of the NFL and Miller's dominant return to form post-knee surgery is a major reason why. Miller's incredible ability as both a pass rusher and a run-stuffer puts him in the conversation with J.J. Watt as the NFL's most complete defender. He's Denver's most important player not named Peyton.
- -- Dan Hanzus*
Bell showed promise as a foundation back capable of playing all three downs but lacking big-play ability as a rookie. After dropping 15 pounds, he's been a playmaking machine this year. On pace for 2,172 yards from scrimmage, Bell is third in rushing yards and second among running backs in receptions and receiving yards. While DeMarco Murray has rightfully hogged the spotlight this season, NFL Media's LaDainian Tomlinson believes Bell has made the leap to the best running back in football. As Sunday's historic performance showed, the Steelers have the young talent to lead the league in offense the rest of the way.
- -- Chris Wesseling*
Who knew that Russell Wilson and Darrell Bevell were the ones holding Tate's star power down? Tate is third in both receptions and yards, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. Tate continually makes plays that aren't there for an otherwise moribund passing attack. Matthew Stafford has not played well this year without a healthy Calvin Johnson, so it's been up to Tate to carry an offense that also is struggling to run. Tate often makes difficult grabs off poor throws, and then he makes defenders miss. He's moving the chains with short passes and breaking off chunk plays. So many of Tate's plays were just great individual efforts in the ultimate team sport. For pure game-changing plays, there hasn't been a more valuable receiver in the entire league.
- -- Gregg Rosenthal*
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