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Ten players who surprised in season's first quarter

Believe it or not, the NFL's regular season has already reached its quarter pole. We figured it was as good a time as any to take a look at 10 players who surprised in a good way during September.

1. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

In an alternate universe -- one in which Peyton Manning shunned football for a life of Papa John's deliveries and Pantera mix tapes -- Philip Rivers would be seen as an NFL MVP front runner right now. Rivers turned back the clock in September, putting on a clinic week after week. It's funny, we don't see anything about Rivers' lack of arm strength anymore.

2. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions

It took eight seasons, but Bush has bloomed into a legit superstar with the Detroit Lions. If Bush can stay healthy -- he's already missed one game -- he could prove himself to be the Lions' most important playmaker. And no, we didn't forget about Calvin Johnson.

3. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers

Gates' yards-per-catch average dipped for three consecutive seasons as chronic foot injuries robbed the former basketball star of the special athleticism that made him so uncoverable in his mid-aughts heyday. Gates is moving much better this year, and Rivers' own resurgence has helped restore the pair as one of the NFL's top QB-TE combinations.

4. Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints

We had several Saints defenders to choose from, but we decided to spotlight Jordan as the face of Rob Ryan's surprise unit. As Chris Wesseling wrote about in his "Making The Leap" series, Jordan has combined his run-stuffing skills with a nose for the QB. Jordan has four sacks and 16 QB hurries -- three more than the mighty J.J. Watt.

5. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns

Cameron was widely believed to be an impact player this season, but no one predicted 30 catches for 360 yards and five TDs through four games. That's Jimmy Graham-like production. The only difference, of course, is Graham is catching passes from Drew Brees while Cameron is doing his damage with the help of Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer.

6. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders

Raise your hand if you predicted Pryor would be an impact player this season. That's what we thought. The second-year pro actually has made the Raiders compelling this season -- no small achievement given the roster around him. It's too early to be sold on the quarterback one way or the other, but he has our attention.

7. Damon Harrison, New York Jets

The Jets seemed to have major trouble on the interior of their defensive line after Kenrick Ellis went down with a back injury. Damon Harrison stepped in and immediately established himself as an elite run-stuffer. "Big Snacks" has been eating up lineman, freeing up Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson to do their thing on a talented Jets D-line.

8. Aqib Talib, New England Patriots

Talib is making himself a lot of money right now. The veteran cornerback has emerged as a star in New England's secondary. If you need convincing, go back and watch Bill Belichick put Talib on an island against Falcons wide receiver Roddy White with the game on the line Sunday night. Talib got the job done. This has been a recurring theme.

9. George Selvie, Dallas Cowboys

Selvie was a journeyman signed for depth purposes in July, but he's emerged as an impact player on the Cowboys' defensive line. It's a good thing, too: Anthony Spencer, the team's projected book end to DeMarcus Ware, underwent season-ending microfracture surgery Tuesday.

10. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills

Who could have predicted that Jackson, and not C.J. Spiller, would be the Bills' top running back through four games? Jackson looked a step slow during the preseason, but that's not the case now. His 5.3 yards-per-carry average tells us about a veteran who was prematurely buried.

*On Thursday, we'll examine 10 players who have disappointed through four weeks.

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