Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone and hope you’re enjoying the holidays with your families. While we anxiously await for the playoffs and enjoy the Holidays, I figured I’d talk about the surprises of the NFL this season. There were quite a few surprises this year that really impacted the league.
Juju Smith-Schuster was picked in the second round with the 62nd pick. His talent and strength as a receiver was undeniable going into the draft, but a lot of people didn’t think he’d have much of an impact this season. On a team with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Le’Veon Bell, Smith-Schuster wasn’t expected to make many waves with such a strong receiving duo and receiving back. Smith-Schuster proved all the doubters wrong. Juju basically stepped in and acted almost as a second receiver in Pittsburgh this year. He made some strong plays, put up a couple 100 yard games, found the end zone 5 times, and was a solid crutch for Big Ben to lean on. He played like a veteran WR2, not like a rookie WR3. He put up very solid numbers and proved he belongs on that high-powered Steelers offense.
Case Keenum came into Minnesota’s offense as their 3rd string QB. He’s started before in his career, but hasn’t made any waves. He came into an offense with little expected fire power and wasn’t expected to do much at all. Well, those expectations proved to be dead wrong. He stepped in and played like a very talented, veteran QB. He propelled this team up to the top of the league, proved any doubters wrong, and made a name for himself. He displayed expert vision, expert arm strength, accuracy, and decision making. He looked very composed in the pocket and masterfully ran that offense. Case Keenum vaulted himself from an unreliable backup, to a solid starting QB. He helped rejuvenate Latavius Murray, brought the talents of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph to their peak, and just gave a new respect to this Vikings offense. He has done big things to help this team this season and it’s been nothing short of remarkable.
THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Before the start of the season everyone expected this Eagles team to finish under .500. They weren’t expected to do much at all and even were expected to finish 3rd or 4th in their division. Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson took a team that finished 7-9 and turned it all around to end up with a first round bye in the playoffs this year. Wentz put on a masterful performance before falling to injury and the defense has been just as impressive. We’ve seen Alston Jeffrey, Nelson Agholor, and Zach Ertz come to life in the passing attack. The Eagles also added Jay Ajayi to a committee backfield that all-around helped the passing attack open up very nicely. The Eagles went from a rough team to a very solid and dangerous team.
Cooper Kupp was drafted by a previously 4-12 Rams team with the 69th in the 3rd round. He wasn’t expected to do much of anything this season. He was joining a team with an offense that struggled mightily last season and few thought Goff could provide any promise for the rookie receiver out of Eastern Washington. Boy we’re we all wrong! Kupp came into the offense and, with Robert Woods’ help, turned this passing game into a very reliable force! Goff’s second year resurgence, and Gurley’s MVP-caliber performance were all tied together by the arrival of Cooper Kupp. Granted his numbers weren’t gaudy, but on a team that finished 4-12 in the previous season and being a rookie, his numbers are surprising and impressive for a 3rd round pick that wasn’t expected to do much. One of many bright spots on this sharp young team.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Some of the biggest surprises this season have been the turn around that some teams have made this year. The Los Angeles Rams are one of the biggest examples of that. Starting with the QB, Goff had a tough season last year. He struggled to show a solid pocket presence, failed to show good composure, and wasn’t making good decisions with the ball. He changed all of that this season. He was looking good in the pocket, making solid throws in tight spaces, and playing smart football. He looked like a solid, reliable QB this season. The man in the backfield has been a deadly force for the Rams. He had a bit of a rough season last year, as he failed to crack 900 yards and only had 6 touchdowns. He also turned everything around this season as he’s in the MVP debate having accrued 1300 yards and 13 touchdowns so far. He’s been running wild and has become a solid receiving back as well. Of course you can’t talk about this team without mentioning this young receiving group. Kupp has been a good rookie wideout, as he’s just 150 yards short of putting up 1,000 yards, Robert Woods has been very solid when healthy, and the addition of Sammy Watkins has paid off. This is a solid receiving group made up of young talented players. Goff has plenty of weapons that help him make this a very solid offense. The defense has just been lights out on the other side of the ball. They’ve been forcing turnovers, getting to the passer, and helping set this offense up. All in all they’ve completely shattered their preseason expectations and predictions and become a real force in the NFC. It’ll be exciting to see what they can do in the playoffs.
This Vikings team has been nothing short of spectacular. There were lots of questions at the quarterback position after losing Bridgewater and then Bradford. They were starting a rookie running back and a questionable Latavius Murray at back up. They were leaning on young receivers on the offense in Thielen and Diggs. The defense was expected to be stout but it wasn’t known just how stout they would be. This Vikings team is now as lethal as any team in the league. Keenum is rolling and doing things nobody would’ve ever expected of him. This team was expected to do really bad without Bradford or Bridgewater. Keenum just wasn’t able to prove any reliability as a starter during his time in LA. He came into this lineup and made the Vikings a force to be reckoned with. I see a strong, formidable Vikings team that is highly capable of making a strong playoff run.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The Saints aren’t a total surprise to do well enough to make the playoffs. Drew Brees is a great QB, Mark Ingram is a solid RB, and this receiving group is more than reliable. We expected to see a Saints team that has to air it out and put up gaudy numbers on offense to try to overshadow their mediocre defense. Boy were we wrong! The two-headed monster of Ingram and Kamara really helped bring this offense to life. Kamara burst into the scene as a solid runner and a deadly receiver out of the backfield. Ingram ran wild this season and showed that he is a very talented back. Drew Brees did what Drew Brees does, and that was even easier with Thomas and Ginn stepping up this season. The real turnaround for this team was the defense. The emergence of the rookie Lattimore helped power this defense. They were slowing down the run, stopping the passing game, forcing turnovers, and getting to the QB. This team proved this season that they could perform on both sides of the ball. The Saints also like a scary team to play in the playoffs.
Of course we can’t talk about this Saints team without mentioning their big surprise in Kamara. He was getting some comparisons and praise coming into the season, but he wasn’t expected to do anything spectacular. He came out and put on a show in his rookie season. Even though he shared a backfield with Mark Ingram, the rookie running back still put up 1,300 yards total from scrimmage. He’s an elusive and speedy running back that can really do spectacular things catching out of the backfield. He has this quickness and vision that is just unmatched. He makes something big out of nothing. He’s helped push this Saints offense over the top and just really did some great things for this team. If Kamara can keep playing at this level in the playoffs, the Saints will be a very tough team to beat.
This young team finished their 2016 season at 3-13. They looked young, inexperienced and a long ways away from even resembling a good team. What a hell of a turnaround! This season, they’re currently 10-5, they’ve won their division, and they have the top defense in the league. Bortles wasn’t embarrassed or awful this season, and has even been a solid quarterback. They force tons of turnovers, pressure the QB, and they make good of those opportunities on the offensive side. They’re going to be a tough playoff team and it’s just very weird to say that about the Jaguars. They’ve established a solid pass game with Bortles and the young receivers in Cole, Westbrook, and Horns. They have their first 1,000 yard rusher since 2011 in Fournette. They have a very talented and lockdown defense led by star corners Bouye and Ramsey. They simply have the pieces to make a decent playoff run. I still can’t believe it’s the Jaguars I’m talking about like this!
JARED GOFF AND CARSON WENTZ
Of course I have to talk about these two together. They were drafted 1 and 2 in 2016, they both didn’t stand out much in their rookie seasons, and they’re both proving the doubters wrong in their second seasons. Wentz was putting up MVP caliber numbers before his injury and really made this Eagles team look untouchable. He showed so much poise, confidence, and QB IQ. He looked like a veteran quarterback and put himself front and center as the future of the quarterback position. Pederson did a great job of setting up a very solid team around him and Wentz rewarded him by playing great football. Goff has been very impressive as well. Gurley overshadows some of Goffs success as Gurley has had the numbers this season to put him right in the middle of the MVP conversation. We still have to acknowledge that Goff has played very well. He has help bring this team from the basement of the NFC to the top. Among the league leaders Goff is 4th in TDs, 8th in yards, and 5th in QBR. He literally has the numbers that made him a top 10 QB this year. He’s helped lead this team and helps make them the #1 offense that they are. He’s proven that it’s time to start talking about Jared Goff.
Despite sharing a backfield on a team with a mediocre offense, Alex Collins has done so much better than anyone expected. The Ravens scooped Collins from Seattle having shown little to no signs of being a reliable running back. On a team with a subpar offense in a committee backfield, he wasn’t expected to standout much in Baltimore. He really proved a lot of doubters wrong. He came into this season expected to share the load with various Ravens backs and to not do very much. He ended up rushing for just short of 1,000 yards and 6 TDs. He helped the Ravens out a lot this year and made plenty of big plays. Having fallen short of the playoffs, we won’t get to see what kind of playoff magic he’s capable of. Hopefully he’ll be just as good, or even better next season. He’s a special player and proved that he’s not a lost cause at Running back.
Deshaun Watson’s season wasn’t very long but boy was it exciting. He was expected to step in and start. He just wasn’t expected to play so prolifically. He was putting up phenomenal numbers and making the Texans offense look deadly. With the Miller, Fiedorowicz, Fuller, and Hopkins, this offense was looking unbeatable with Watson at the helm. In only 7 games, he had 1,700 yards and 19 TDs. He looked composed, talented, and smart as a QB. Often times he looked like he already had played a few years in the league. He has all the talent and IQ that a quarterback needs to succeed. I can’t imagine how things would’ve played out, had he not gotten hurt. Hopefully next year we can see the same production from him. When Watson is behind center, the Texans offense is just as entertaining as they are skilled.
The Saints defense last season was bad. The defense was just full of holes and mediocre play. They were getting out passed and out ran. They put up great offensive numbers, but they still couldn’t do enough to overcome their sloppy defense. This year was a whole different story. The defense stepped it up and it got a nice boost from rookie corner Marshon Lattimore. He blanketed receivers, shutdown plays, and just was a great corner all-around. He was the definition of a shutdown corner and was chosen to play in the Pro Bowl. He wasn’t just good, he played great. He covered guys like Brandon Cooks, Devante Adams, Mike Evans, and Julio Jones. He didn’t just cover those guys, he practically shut them down in those games. He played great and he more than deserves his pro bowl invitation.
KAREEM HUNT AND TYREEK HILL
The Chiefs’ rookie and sophomore took the NFL by storm early this season. Prior to this season, the Chiefs were a very slow-paced and low risk offense. Hunt and Hill completely revitalized this offense this season. Hunt and Hill started off with a historic first half of the season and then came back to earth in the second half of the season. Hunt won the rushing title, tallying up 1,300 yards and Hill finished 7th in receiving in a league where there are plenty of talented receivers. They just looked extremely explosive and elusive. This slow and lackluster offense just came to life and balled out when they caught fire in the first 6 or 7 games. It’ll be very interesting to see how they play next season with Mahomes at the helm instead of Smith.
In a season full of craziness, fantasy busts/sleepers, playoff droughts ended, a winless season from Cleveland, and injuries left and right, we witnessed so many surprises. Rookies took over and put up solid numbers, teams turned things around and silenced the haters, and others recovered from iffy rookie years to put up great second years. This season was great to watch and I really can’t wait for the playoffs. The NFL is always full of surprises, Cinderella stories, upsets, and excitement and I can’t wait to see what next year brings! Happy New Year and thanks for reading!