We’re nearing the midpoint of the 2015 NFL campaign, and certain players are separating themselves from the pack with breakout seasons. While some players have seen their seasons derailed by injuries (the Cowboys’ Tony Romo and Dez Bryant) or are regressing in their play (the Lions’ Matthew Stafford and Eagles DeMarco Murray), other players are lighting it up out on the field. Whether rookies or veterans, certain football players are turning the 2015 season into one to remember and etching their name in the sports pages and record books. Here are 10 players who are going on a tear across the NFL in 2015.
10. John Brown – Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals
It is only his second year in the league, but wide receiver John Brown continues to make his presence felt for the Arizona Cardinals. Through seven games this season, John Brown has over 500 yards and three touchdowns – averaging 16.2 yards per catch from Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. He’s on pace to eclipse his impressive eight touchdown rookie campaign, and continues to look like a bright light in the dessert for his team. This is especially impressive given the rather small size of John Brown, as he stands just 5’10” and weighs less than 180 pounds. Yet he is quick and versatile and capable of burning defences as evidenced by the 62-yard run he ripped off against the Baltimore Ravens recently. This is one guy to keep an eye on for the rest of the 2015 season.
9. Andy Dalton – Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals
After he signed a six-year $115 million mega contract extension with the Bengals in 2014, critics came out in force against Andy Dalton. After all, the Cincinnati quarterback had never won a playoff game in his first three seasons in the league. He also seemed uncomfortable when not throwing the ball to his favourite target, wide receiver A.J. Green, and he was prone to making poor decisions in the pocket. Yet those same vocal critics have now been silenced by the fact that the Red Rifle, as Andy Dalton is known, has his team undefeated this season and sitting pretty at 6-0. So far this campaign, Andy Dalton has thrown for nearly 1,800 yards, 14 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. He also led his team to a thrilling comeback against the Seattle Seahawks in Week Five – erasing a 24-7 deficit in the fourth quarter and mounting a stunning 27-24 overtime win against the defense-driven Seahawks. Many people in Cincinnati now see Andy Dalton as the quarterback to lead their team to the Super Bowl promised land.
8. Adrian Peterson – Running Back, Minnesota Vikings
Despite sitting out most of the 2014 season following a suspension over charges of child abuse, running back Adrian Peterson is rounding back into form and showing flashes of his brilliant speed again. So far, Peterson has run for 530 yards and three scores – averaging 4.4 yards per carry – enroute to helping the Minnesota Vikings get to a 4-2 start and sitting behind only the Green Bay Packers (6-0) in the NFC North division. If the season ended today, the Vikings would have a Wild Card playoff spot. Peterson’s ability to run the ball and pick up valuable yards – especially in third down situations – helps to take the pressure off second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Look for Adrian Peterson’s running to pick up speed as the season progresses.
7. James Jones – Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers
When Green Bay Packers star wide receiver Jordy Nelson was lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered in a pre-season game, the entire state of Wisconsin held its breath. Enter James Jones. The former Packers wide receiver, who had left Green Bay in 2014 after seven productive seasons with the team, was brought back and instantly re-established his chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. To date this season, Jones has six touchdowns for the Packers and is a big reason the offense has continued to roll without Jordy Nelson. What’s even more remarkable is that James Jones was cut not once, but twice, by other teams over the past year. The Oakland Raiders let him go in May, and the New York Giants canned him in early September. Jones was out of the league when the Packers came calling. Now it looks as though James Jones never left Green Bay, and he is on his way to a career season with the Packers. Amazing!
6. The Denver Broncos Defense
Legendary quarterback Peyton Manning is having the worst season of his career in 2015. So far this season, the future Hall of Fame quarterback has thrown ten interceptions to seven touchdowns, and the Broncos offense is ranked near the bottom of the NFL’s 32 teams. So how is it that this team is undefeated and sitting at 6-0 coming out of a bye week and heading to face the Green Bay Packers in Week Eight? The answer is the team’s defense, which has literally saved this team so far this season. And it’s hard to single out one or two players on the defense. The whole unit has been playing lights out and saving Peyton Manning’s bacon in the process. Whether it’s cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, who have four interceptions between them this season, safety T.J. Ward ,who has been all over the field making plays, or reliable outside linebackers such as Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray, who have complimented veterans such as Von Miller and Demarcus Ware, the Denver Broncos defense has been the talk of the league week-to-week in 2015. The worse Peyton Manning and the offense plays, the better the defense seems to get. The question is: how long can this continue?
5. Dion Lewis – Running Back, New England Patriots
There was much hand wringing in the Boston area when the New England Patriot’s lost running back Shane Vereen to the hated New York Giants this past offseason. Who will carry the load and run the ball – especially in those frigid January games at Gillette Stadium? Enter new star running back Dion Lewis, who, as it turns out, didn’t play in the NFL last season. You wouldn’t know it to look at him now, but Dion Lewis couldn’t find a team that wanted him in 2014. The frequently injured Lewis, who is tiny at only 5’8″ and 195 pounds and goes by the nickname “Jitterbug”, had bounced around the league with stops playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, and Cleveland Browns before sitting out the 2014 season. Now in New England, the Patriots have seemingly rehabilitated the diminutive running back and made a star out of a player that no other team saw potential in. This season, Lewis has rushed for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns – averaging five yards a carry. Go Jitterbug Go.
4. Jarvis Landry – Slot Receiver, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins may have gotten off to a woeful start this season, but the team’s offense has a bright spot in second year slot receiver Jarvis Landry. The former LSU star, now in his second NFL season, is showing his knack for explosive plays and ability to bob and weave around defenders. He was a key ingredient in the Dolphins torching the Houston Texans 44-26 in Week Seven. In that game, Landry turned heads with five receptions for 83-yards and two touchdowns. Equally impressive, Landry entered Week Seven with seven missed tackles as a receiver, tied for the ninth-most in the NFL. The league leaders (Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. and New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman) had 11 each. However, Landry notched six more missed tackles against the Texans to bring his score for the year up to 13. Now, people are looking to Jarvis Landry to become the number one slot receiver in the NFL.
3. Travis Kelce – Tight End, Kansas City Chiefs
“Zeus”, as Travis Kelce is known, is turning heads as a massive tight end who can actually run. Media pundits have dubbed Kelce “Gronk Lite,” but that does a disservice to the 6’5″, 260-pound player who already has 485 receiving yards and two touchdowns on the season. He can also block with the best in the league and has been a bright light in an otherwise dim Kansas City Chiefs offense. Most fantasy boards predict that Travis Kelce could end the 2015 campaign with 75 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s certainly given fans in Kansas City a reason for optimism despite the team’s pitiful 2-5 start to the 2015 season.
2. Devonta Freeman – Running Back, Atlanta Falcons
He’s been fast out of the gate and already Devonta Freeman has established himself as this year’s top running back and a breakout star in the league. During his 2014 rookie season, Devonta Freeman found himself sitting behind veteran runners Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rogers and accumulated just 248 rushing yards for the Falcons. However, Freeman got his first official NFL start on September 27th of this year against the Dallas Cowboys and took off. In that game, he ran for 141 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. The next week, he scored another three touchdowns for the Falcons, and he is now the NFL rushing leader through the first seven weeks of the 2015 season with 621 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. That’s right. Nine rushing touchdowns! There’s no question that Devonta Freeman has proven to be a missing piece for the Falcons offense and a key reason for the team’s resurgence this season. The Falcons now sit at 6-1 on the season. Thank you, Devonta Freeman.
1. Tom Brady – Quarterback, New England Patriots
It might seem like old news at this point, but props to 38-year-old Tom Brady for defying Father Time and his legion of critics and setting the league on fire in 2015. Leading the discussion for MVP this year, Brady, through six undefeated games, has thrown for more than 2,000 yards, 16 touchdowns and only one interception. And that interception was the result of a bobble by wide receiver Julian Edelman who had broken a finger on the previous play. Not even Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been able to match Tom Brady’s play so far this season. With ten regular season games left to play, Brady now has his team on pace to eclipse the Patriot’s record setting 2007 season when they went 16-0 on their way to the Super Bowl. While other quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are succumbing to the ravages of time, Tom Brady looks as good as he ever has and is proving that he didn’t need deflated footballs to win in the AFC Championship back in January. Last week, Brady told reporters that he plans to play in the NFL for 10 more years. At this point, would anyone doubt him?