It was a good week for some of the league’s teams that are winning but not getting much respect. On the Week 8 list of standouts, we found four players from the Chiefs, four from the Lions, two from the Jaguars, two from the Bucs, two from the 49ers and two from the Rams.
Talk about things you wouldn’t have seen in 2009.
But it’s a different season, and it’s clear that for all of the stability at the top of the league, there’s plenty of growth being shown by last year’s also-rans.
Quarterback — David Garrard, Jacksonville (+6.6)
That’s how you silence the critics. Granted, the Cowboys seemed intent on helping him, but let’s not take anything away from Garrard, who completed 81 percent of his passes at 12.4 yards per attempt for four touchdowns.
Running Back — Jamaal Charles, Kansas City (+4.6)
There are some who still doubt the elite ability of Charles. There are some who should watch him more. He had 8 yards per carry, with 3.5 of those coming after contact and a burst of speed that was just too much for most defenders. A joy to watch.
Fullback — Michael Sellers, Washington (+0.8)
Not a great week for fullbacks (or a great year, either). Sellers made some nice blocks but he won this spot by default as much as anything.
Tight End — Jacob Tamme, Indianapolis (+3.0)
He’ll do well to keep up this level of performance but Tamme avoided making mistakes and looked a more-than-serviceable blocker, which gets him the nod over the excellent Antonio Gates.
Wide Receiver — Mike Sims-Walker, Jacksonville (+6.1)
About as good a grade as we’ll ever give a receiver. Catching eight of the nine balls thrown his way, MSW even had the audacity to put in the highest run-blocking grade from any receiver this week.
Wide Receiver — Calvin Johnson, Detroit (+4.8)
Just on the three touchdowns alone. If he stays healthy (and that’s no guarantee, given some of the hits he absorbs), he’s about as imposing as any receiver and he’s on course for his best season so far.
Left Tackle — Joe Staley, San Francisco (+2.9)
Just gave up the one pressure. Not a bad day at all in that respect, but it should be noted he made a number of good blocks in the run game.
Left Guard — Richie Incognito, Miami (+5.2)
Utterly dominated the Bengals’ interior (especially Domata Peko) as he showed what his ill discipline often hides: exceptional talent.
Center — Chris Myers, Houston (+5.0)
That’s how Myers started the season off. He was always going to relish going against a team lacking talented interior linemen like the Colts, and so it proved.
Right Guard — Antoine Caldwell, Houston (+3.8)
Caldwell is coming along nicely and was this week’s top-ranked run-blocking guard outside of Incognito.
Right Tackle — Gosder Cherilus, Detroit (+2.9)
One of his best days as a pro. Was faced at times with Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo and allowed just one quarterback hit. Can he keep it up?
4-3 Defensive Front
Defensive End — Cliff Avril, Detroit (+4.8)
While all the credit went to Ndamukong Suh, it shouldn’t have gone unnoticed how good Avril was. He dominated both Redskins right tackles to finish the day with two sacks and six pressures.
Defensive Tackle — Kyle Williams, Buffalo (+6.9)
As good a defensive tackle performance you’ll see and one that you could spend a whole article waxing lyrical about. The two sacks will get him noticed, but his best work was in run defense, where he picked up four defensive stops and was too much for the Chiefs’ interior. Pro Bowl season.
Defensive Tackle — Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay (+4.2)
We haven’t seen McCoy play like that since Week 1. Was superb, and while Suh picks up the sacks, you have to like the disciplined play of McCoy. May not be as flashy but he’s not leaving his teammates exposed. Still picked up a hit and three pressures.
Defensive End — Chris Long, St. Louis (+4.4)
A real breakout year that gets better and better for Long. A sack is always good for contract negotiations, but it’s the extra seven pressures that are helping the Rams pick up wins.
Outside Linebacker — Geno Hayes, Tampa Bay (+6.3)
Talk about making some plays. Hayes broke up a pass and returned another for a touchdown. He added a further four defensive stops and is turning into one of the league’s most promising outside linebackers.
Middle Linebacker — James Laurinaitis, St. Louis (+2.7)
Channeling my youth as a wrestling fan, what a rush! Keeps making plays and has gone from a streaky player to one of the league’s best middle linebackers. Complete player.
Outside Linebacker — James Anderson, Carolina (+5.6)
What is it with the NFC South and outside linebackers at the moment? Anderson was all over the field again with a sack and all of his six tackles ending up as defensive stops. Making himself a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
3-4 Defensive Front
Defensive End — Albert Haynesworth, Washington (+5.1)
Used primarily on the right side of a three-man line, Haynesworth is still a phenom when he’s on the field. Destroyed the interior of the Lions’ defensive line with four defensive tackles, one of which was a sack to go with his two quarterback pressures. Can’t question what he does on the field.
Nose Tackle — Ron Edwards, Kansas City (+2.9)
Who are these impostors, and what have you done with the real Chiefs? When even Ron Edwards is winning his battles, you know something is up.
Defensive End — Calais Campbell, Arizona (+4.3)
After a sluggish start to the year it was nice to see Campbell find his 2009 form. Four quarterback pressures is a good tally, but he did a lot of good work in run defense (perhaps more so than rushing).
Outside Linebacker — Tamba Hali, Kansas City (+5.7)
It’s getting boring. Hali makes the list. Again. Two sacks, one hit and seven pressures. Unstoppable right now.
Inside Linebacker — Bart Scott, NY Jets (+5.6)
Scott may not have the greatest stats to come out of a game, but so what. Just watch him on every play: how he attacks would-be blockers and what he enables those around him to do. Playing superbly right now and a dark horse for Defensive Player of the Year.
Inside Linebacker — Patrick Willis, San Francisco (+5.0)
Reports of a down year have been silenced and Willis was back to his best in London. Ended with seven stops and displayed an ability in coverage to prevent big plays (five receptions allowed but for only 22 yards).
Outside Linebacker — James Harrison, Pittsburgh (+4.6)
The helmet-hit controversy seems to have reignited Harrison, who is playing some of his best football of the season. Four times he hit Drew Brees (one being a sack) and he is almost as big an asset in run defense.
Cornerback — Devin McCourty, New England (+4.2)
Thrown at five times by a future Hall of Famer, McCourty broke up two passes and intercepted another. Keep waiting for him to get exposed for the rookie he is, but yet to see it.
Safety — LaRon Landry, Washington (+4.1)
Landry has received a lot of praise (and forgiveness for his disastrous 2009) on the back of some excellent blitzing. We’re more impressed with this game, in which his coverage abilities started to show with two pass deflections.
Safety — Eric Berry, Kansas City (+3.3)
Playing like a guy with top-five talent right now at the safety spot. Berry always had the look of a playmaker about him, but now he’s cutting out the mistakes and is excellent coming up to help in run support.
Cornerback — Chris Houston, Detroit (+3.2)
Surprise entrant from the former Falcons defender who only allowed 10 yards despite being thrown at seven times. Tight coverage throughout.