Surprises at NFL’s quarter mark: Jordan Cameron, Terrelle Pryor and more
With the 2013 NFL season one quarter in the books, Audibles’ Chris Burke and Doug Farrar assess where things stand. Below, a look at the league’s 15 most surprising players to date.
1. Jordan Cameron, TE, Browns: There was an expectation that the arrivals of new head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner would play to Cameron’s strengths. But this has been more than just a subtle breakthrough for Cameron. The 2011 fourth-round pick leads all NFL tight ends in catches with 30, is third in receiving yards (360) and second only to Jimmy Graham in TDs with five.
2. Fred Jackson, RB, Bills: Jackson’s best days seemed to be in the past. The 32-year-old back is enjoying a resurgence in 2013, though, outperforming C.J. Spiller to this point. Jackson has 26 more yards rushing than Spiller (256 to 230), despite getting 18 fewer carries, his 5.3 yards-per-attempt average is in the top 10 in the league and he’s chipped in 13 receptions to boot.
3. Terrelle Pryor, QB, Raiders: In only three starts, Pryor has given himself a chance to be deemed the Raiders’ QB of the future. He nearly pulled off an upset win at Indianapolis in Week 1, then downed the Jaguars in Week 2. Oakland saw just how much it needs him in the lineup on Sunday, when a shaky Matt Flynn let a victory over the Redskins slip through his fingers.
4. Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots: It’s hardly a surprise anymore when the Patriots dust off another diamond in the rough. This year, Edelman has been joined in the passing attack by undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins and fellow rookie Aaron Dobson. What you may not realize is that Edelman currently sits tied for the league lead in catches (34, three short of his career-high) with Houston’s Andre Johnson.
5. Sean McGrath, TE, Chiefs: The Chiefs plucked McGrath off the waiver wire in an extremely ho-hum move in early September. A few weeks later, he’s in the starting lineup. McGrath has taken advantage of his opportunities, too, catching 11 passes and a touchdown while proving himself to be a solid blocker. Oh, and he has arguably the NFL’s best beard.
6. Kyle Long, G/Jordan Mills, OT, Bears: There is a significant learning curve that comes with starting two rookies next to each other on the O-line — Mills has surrendered 15 QB hurries (fourth-most in the league) and Long struggled mightily against Ndamukong Suh on Sunday. Still, this duo has held its own admirably so far, and that’s especially true for Long.
7. George Selvie, DE, Cowboys: After bouncing around four teams in three years, Selvie finally found his chance on an injury-depleted Cowboys front. He has not let it fall by the wayside. Selvie racked up three sacks in an impressive preseason; he has matched that total in four starts during the regular season.
8. Alterraun Verner, CB, Titans: Verner is on season No. 4 in the Titans’ secondary, so he’s hardly a new face. But he has never performed at the level he’s been at through four weeks. Verner already has a career-high four interceptions, one of which he took back for a TD. He also currently sits atop Pro Football Focus’ cornerback rankings — QBs have a rating of 12.9 when throwing his direction, per PFF, nearly half of the next-closest cornerback, Aqib Talib (24.8).
9. Danny Trevathan, LB, Broncos: With Elvis Dumervil now in Baltimore and Von Miller still suspended, the Broncos needed someone to step up and help the linebacking corps. Enter Trevathan, a second-year player who served as a backup in 2012. The ex-Kentucky Wildcat has exceeded expectations early, chalking up 30 tackles and holding up well against the run. His biggest mistake thus far? Dropping the football before getting to the goal line on a near pick-six in Week 1.
10. Jerome Simpson, WR, Vikings: No one is going to confuse Simpson with Percy Harvin or Brandon Marshall. And yet, he’s been irreplaceable for the Vikings in 2013, leading the team in both receptions (19) and yards receiving (342). He is on pace to shatter his career-highs in those categories of 50 and 725, respectively. Simpson may be even more important with Matt Cassel now under center — Cassel targeted him on 11 of his 24 pass attempts Sunday.
11. Larry Warford, G, Lions: Not sure anyone realizes it, but the Lions offensive line has been sensational through four weeks. Case in point: Matthew Stafford has taken just three sacks, least in the league. Warford, a third-round pick, has been instrumental in that turnaround. Holding down the right guard spot, Warford has allowed only one QB hurry, while helping to pave the way for Reggie Bush and Joique Bell on the ground.
12. Bilal Powell, RB, Jets: The Jets traded for Chris Ivory this offseason, but his inability to stay healthy early in 2013 has dropped the run-game onus back on Powell. He was decent last season in rushing for 437 yards and four touchdowns. He’s been better this year: 292 yards and a 4.4 yards-per-carry average over the Jets’ first four games.
13. Cory Redding, DE, Colts: Indianapolis’ defense has been unexpectedly stout, with Redding serving a critical role. He already has 1.5 sacks in 2013, just a half-sack off the total he collected in 13 starts last year. The 32-year-old veteran also has eight QB hurries and rates as the fourth-best 3-4 defensive end in Pro Football Focus’ metrics.
14. Akeem Spence, DT, Buccaneers: Spence’s decision to skip his senior year at Illinois and enter the 2013 draft caught people off-guard. So, too, did Tampa Bay’s decision to trade up for him in Round 4. Both moves paid off in September. Spence was a bright spot for the Buccaneers during their disastrous 0-4 start, pushing his way into the starting lineup. He does not look like he has any intention of coughing that spot up, either.
15. James Ihedigbo, S, Ravens: The departures of Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard left the defending champions scrambling a bit this offseason. The Ravens countered by drafting Matt Elam and signing ex-Raider Michael Huff. Their best replacement for the Reed-Pollard duo, though, has come from in-house. This is only Ihedigbo’s second real opportunity as a full-time starter (he had 12 starts for New England in 2011), and he seems much more prepared this time around. He was arguably the Ravens’ best defender during a 2-2 start.