10 surprise performances from the 2016 NFL season

Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott are obvious surprise stars of the year, but which other players have earned mention?

| 2 months ago
Vikings QB Sam Bradford

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

10 surprise performances from the 2016 NFL season


The start of the 2016 season has been punctuated with surprise performances from nearly every roster. Most of them are already getting plenty of headlines (i.e. Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott), but others are flying more under the radar through five weeks of play.

Here are 10 biggest surprises of the 2016 season that should be getting more attention:

1. Sam Bradford, QB, Vikings

Sam Bradford’s best season came last year with the Eagles, but there was the question of whether that was due to his own improvement, or a result of the boost nearly every QB experiences in Chip Kelly’s system. While many didn’t see the trade for Bradford to Minnesota as an upgrade, his play for the Vikings this season has been fantastic, with a passer rating under pressure of 108.6.

2. Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos

Aqib Talib falling under the category of “elite” cornerback is no surprise, but Talib maintaining that form for an extended period is. He has always been capable of elite-level play, but over time, is typically far more boom-or-bust. This season, Talib has surrendered a passer rating of just 25.3 when targeted, having not allowed a reception longer than 20 yards all season (keep in mind that he faced Julio Jones in Week 5).

3. Tennessee Titans’ OTs

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Tennessee Titans now own one of the best offensive lines in the game, thanks to the performance of OTs Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin. Neither Lewan nor Conklin have allowed a sack or a hit this season, and the pair have combined for just 14 total QB hurries surrendered, with Lewan in particular dominating in the run game.

4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

Last season was supposed to be just an anomaly for Aaron Rodgers, and the return of WR Jordy Nelson would right everything ailing the Packers’ offense. There have been flashes of magic from Rodgers this year like any other, but the QB has yet to return to the consistently-excellent form of seasons past. For once, his 87.5 passer rating tells a pretty good story, and his overall grade of 75.5 ranks 19th in the league entering Week 6—one spot lower than Chiefs QB Alex Smith.

5. Cody Whitehair, C, Bears

Starting at center in the NFL is difficult enough for a rookie. Starting at center when you’re switching positions from college (Cody Whitehair was an OT at Kansas State) is pretty incredible, and playing well while doing so is scarcely believable. Right now, Whitehair is the sixth-highest graded center in the league, with an 83.2 overall mark, ahead of Ryan Kalil and Nick Mangold, among others. He has allowed six total pressures in 309 snaps of action, and has combined well with guards Josh Sitton and Kyle Long in the run game.

6. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings

Kyle Rudolph has always been one of the most athletically-gifted tight ends in the league. At his best, he can block well and be a force as a receiver. He is one of the few players at his position capable of playing like Rob Gronkowski, if not as well as Gronk, but to this point in his career, hasn’t lived up to his potential. This season, though, we’ve seen Rudolph start to climb that ladder, currently owning the fourth-best TE grade (82.2) in the league.

7. Terence Newman, CB, Vikings

High-level cornerback play should not be possible at 38 years old. Darrelle Revis is 31 and is slowing to the point that he can’t get it done anymore, but Terence Newman seems to be as good as ever for the Vikings. Last week, Newman held Texans rookie speedster Will Fuller without a catch when covering him, and didn’t give up a reception all game through six targets. He is currently the ninth-highest graded CB in the league entering Week 6, with an 84.6 mark.

8. Nick Perry, OLB, Packers

Nick Perry has come out of nowhere this season, suddenly becoming one of the league’s best edge defenders through the first five weeks of the season. His 86.5 overall grade represents a nearly 15-point jump from his 71.9 a season ago, which was no more than one point away from any other year of his career. Perry has five sacks and 24 total pressures so far this season.

9. Landon Collins, S, Giants

Landon Collins looked horrendous as a rookie, but moved closer to the line this season, and his play has been immeasurably better as a result—he simply looks like an impact player in the box. His run defense has remained strong, but by being used around the line of scrimmage, he can cover tight ends and running backs in a way he couldn’t do deep.

10. Adam Vinatieri, K, Colts

Adam Vinatieri was born in 1972. He is 43 years old, and will be 44 by the end of the season. And yet, he might be the best kicker in the league this season. Vinatieri has yet to miss on 13 attempted field goals—five of them have been from 50 or more yards.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • W1ReD

    And somehow the entire Falcon’s Offense wasn’t on this list?

    • MD_in_MD

      What’s so “surprising” about any of their players’ performances?

    • Rodrigo Campos Pedro

      An elite OL and capable running backs are good.
      A constantly top 10 QB can have elite stretches.
      A top 3 WR plays like a top 3 WR.

      • MD_in_MD

        Right. A good team, with players playing as they should. No surprises.

  • Danny

    PFF needs to change this lower section’s title from “Comments” to “Complaints”.

    • crosseyedlemon

      You’ve just earned a spot at the head of the line…lol.

  • crosseyedlemon

    If anyone deserves to wear the “Been There/Done That” T-shirt it would be Adam Vinatieri. The guy is simply amazing.

  • GBPFan12

    Not surprised by Perry or Rodgers.
    With Perry, he’d always look good healthy – then he’d get a wrist/ankle injury that’d limit him to just a “Set the edge against the run” guy. Now he’s finally healthy and has been kicking butt since last year’s wild card playoff game.

    Rodgers has been jittery, the offense has been predictable since 2014 with this no huddle gimmick.

    • Thomas Beck

      Green Bay has had it’s day. Vikings will be.beating them now and in the future.

  • Brandon Purdy

    Terrance Newman should be at 1. 38 and playing CB in the NFL is an accomplished but to do it at an elite level is unfathomable.

  • Jim Evans

    Um … Zac Brown?? Lorenzo Alexander leading the league in sacks? A little more thought into these “lists” would be appreciated #epicfail

    • Brad Barber

      Guna go ahead and say your a bills fan.

  • Nelson Cobb

    Nick Perry is balling now that he’s finally healthy, shame we don’t still have Casey Hayward, the 2nd round pick from that 2012 draft class who is also balling. I thought we should have let Peppers and his 10 mil go to keep the 10 years younger Hayward around, and right about now that looks like it would have been a great move. Peppers is barely needed with Perry, Fackrell and Jones all stepping up, and our secondary could use the experience with Shields career possibly ending and Damarious Randall having a rough start to his 2nd year. And the contract he signed was crazy low, basically a 1 year deal. Chargers can cut him next year with just a 1.66 mil dead cap hit. Letting Hayward go at that price, after he was becoming a leader on our defense, was a bad idea in my opinion. Good thing we didn’t let Perry go also.