NFL at halfway point: Surprises, disappointments abound
It’s not difficult to pinpoint the teams that have unexpectedly prospered or just as stunningly plummeted halfway through the 2016 season.
Yep, we’re looking at you, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals. Last January, you played for a spot in the Super Bowl. Right now, you’re hanging with the mediocrities (or worse) of the NFL.
Nor is it hard to spot the surprisingly successful teams putting themselves in the championship mix, from the Dallas Cowboys to the Oakland Raiders.
But what about the individuals who are rising or flopping? The Associated Press sports writers who cover the 16 NFC teams suggest the following.
Surprise: CB Marcus Cooper. Having all kinds of problems at the cornerback spot opposite Patrick Peterson, they traded for Cooper, who intercepted two passes in his first start, returning one for a touchdown.
Disappointment: WR Michael Floyd has struggled mightily in his contract year and fallen behind J.J. Nelson as the No. 2 receiver.
Surprise: LB Vic Beasley Jr. Whispers were that he was a draft bust, but the 2015 first-rounder has emerged with 7½ sacks.
Disappointment: RB Devonta Freeman, last season’s breakout dual-threat star, has only one game with 100 yards rushing and only one with at least 50 yards receiving as Tevin Coleman has taken some of the workload.
Surprise: TE Greg Olsen has always been productive, but the 10-year veteran is in the midst of his best season with 45 receptions for 673 yards through eight games.
Disappointment: DE Kony Ealy has one sack after getting three in the Super Bowl in February.
Surprise: RB Jordan Howard, a fifth-round draft pick, has become the main man running the ball, averaging 5.1 yards a carry.
Disappointment: WR Kevin White, who missed his 2015 rookie season with a left leg injury and is back on injured reserve with another leg problem.
Surprise: QB Dak Prescott, no questions asked. The Cowboys could have been looking at a repeat of 2015 without Tony Romo, but the fourth-round pick stepped in and they are 7-1.
Disappointment: Owner Jerry Jones taking so long to set aside his allegiance to Romo and accept Prescott as the starting QB.
Surprise: QB Matthew Stafford, playing without star WR Calvin Johnson for the first time, has the highest passer rating in his eight-year career.
Disappointment: DE Ziggy Ansah, coming off a 14½-sack season, has either been ineffective or injured this season.
Surprise: LB Nick Perry in his fifth season is finally living up to being a 2012 first-rounder. Slowed by various injuries, he came into the 2016 season healthy, and it’s paying off.
Disappointment: RB Eddie Lacy, who looked trimmer after tweaking his training routine in the offseason, then wound up on injured reserve.
Surprise: WR Kenny Britt, has resurrected his career after problems on and off the field, and has become a downfield threat.
Disappointment: QB Jared Goff, the top overall draft pick, hasn’t come close to getting on the field behind journeyman Case Keenum.
Surprise: WR Cordarrelle Patterson was relegated to a kickoff return role for the past two years. He’s improved enough as a receiver to factor in as a complementary pass catcher, also excels as the outside coverage man on the punt team.
Disappointment: LG Alex Boone, although the entire offensive line ought to qualify for this dishonor. Boone was the big-money addition to a group that needed a boost, but the Vikings have been struggling badly up front.
Surprise: LB Craig Robertson came in unheralded as a likely backup to James Laurinaitis or 2015 first-rounder Stephone Anthony. Instead he’s starting and reliable.
Disappointment: RB Mark Ingram had no 100-yard games thru seven weeks, but produced a 158-yard outing Sunday. Still, he has been turnover prone and not the factor New Orleans expects.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Surprise: S Landon Collins, the second-round draft pick in 2015, has been the best player on the team after struggling as a rookie.
Disappointment: The entire offense, which has added WRs Victor Cruz, back from injury, and rookie Sterling Shepard. It was one of the best in the league last season.
Surprise: Rookie Carson Wentz was elevated from No. 3 QB to starter eight days before the season opener after only playing part of the first preseason game. He led the Eagles to a 3-0 record, and he’s played well despite four losses in five games since.
Disappointment: WR Nelson Agholor, a first-round pick in 2015, is moving closer toward being a bust with each unproductive game.
Surprise: WR Jeremy Kerley, picked up in a trade from Detroit just before the start of the season, leads the team as a pass catcher.
Disappointment: On the contrary, WR Torrey Smith, San Francisco’s big free-agent acquisition in 2015, has had little impact and has struggled to get open consistently.
Surprise: C Justin Britt started his career as a right tackle, moved to left guard and this season took over at center.
Disappointment: RBs Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael. Seattle’s once-vaunted run game is broken. Rawls had a breakout 2015 before he broke his ankle, and has been injury prone this season. Michael has shown flashes, but not enough consistency.
Surprise: RB Jacquizz Rodgers, who had career-best performances filling in for injured Doug Martin until Rodgers himself got hurt.
Disappointment: K Roberto Aguayo, for whom the Bucs traded up in the second round, saying he was the best kicker in college football history. He’s been inconsistent at best.
Surprise: OLB Trent Murphy looked likely to be a backup DE, but Junior Galette tore his Achilles tendon. Murphy molded himself into a pass-rushing LB and he’s been terrific.
Disappointment: WR Josh Doctson, a first-round pick, was practically invisible, played in only two games, and eventually went on IR.
So, what about the AFC? The AP sports writers who cover the 16 AFC teams suggest the following.
Surprise: LB Zachary Orr leads the team in tackles as a third-year player.
Disappointment: QB Joe Flacco has looked tentative in the pocket and has more interceptions than TDs. Granted, the Ravens have no running game and the left side of the O-Line has been injured, but still ...
Surprise: LB Lorenzo Alexander, maybe the most pleasant development in the NFL this season. The free-agent addition, a journeyman in his 10th season, is among the league leaders in sacks.
Disappointment: WR Sammy Watkins (left foot) is hobbled by injury for the third straight season and is on IR, though he could return this month.
Surprise: WR A.J. Green was leading the NFL in receptions when Cincinnati went on its bye despite being the focus of opposing defenses on every passing play.
Disappointment: DT Geno Smith had 42 tackles and 11 sacks last season. Through eight games, he has only 16 tackles and 3½ sacks, and the Bengals are 3-4-1.
Surprise: WR Terrelle Pryor only made the conversion from quarterback last season and has quickly developed into a playmaker. Through the first nine games, Pryor had 46 catches and four touchdowns.
Disappointment: QB Robert Griffin III. Not his fault, but he broke a bone in his shoulder in the season opener that deprived him of a chance at a comeback and the Browns from seeing if he could be their long-term answer.
Surprise: QB Trevor Siemian was an afterthought when Peyton Manning retired. Now he's the starting QB on a playoff contender.
Disappointment; OT Russell Okung, who went through a stretch of five holding calls in three games and gave up a sack-strip.
Surprise: DE Jadeveon Clowney, finally healthy after two injury-filled years. His move from outside linebacker has helped the Texans make up for the loss of J.J. Watt.
Disappointment: QB Brock Osweiler got a $72 million contract and has thrown the same number of interceptions (nine) as touchdowns. Houston's passing game ranks among the worst in the league.
Surprise: TE Jack Doyle, claimed off waivers from Tennessee in 2013, has steadily progressed each season and already surpassed his previous career totals in yards and TD catches.
Disappointment: Coach Chuck Pagano. After signing a four-year deal, being given more authority over some decisions and armed with a healthy Andrew Luck, it looked as if Pagano would take his second chance and run with it. Instead, the Colts have gotten stuck in neutral.
Surprise: DE Yannick Ngakoue, a third-round pick from Maryland who has four sacks and three forced fumbles and has replaced Dante Fowler in the starting lineup.
Disappointment: QB Blake Bortles has been so inaccurate and inconsistent that he brought in a mechanics coach for a two-day refresher course, a last-ditch effort to turn his season around.
Surprise: WR Tyreek Hill, a fifth-round pick expected to be primarily a kick returner, already has 19 catches for 223 yards and four touchdowns.
Disappointment: OLB Tamba Hali signed a three-year, $21 million contract when the Chiefs realized they would be without Justin Houston most of the season, but he's aging before their eyes.
Surprise: RB Jay Ajayi has turned a weak ground game into a strength by averaging 6.0 yards per play and has six TDs.
Disappointment: WR DeVante Parker, a 2015 first-rounder, has done little to establish himself as a complement to top target Jarvis Landry.
Surprise: RB LeGarrette Blount, whose production over the first four games coming off hip injury last season helped take the pressure off Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.
Disappointment: CB Cyrus Jones, a second-rounder, has struggled in his limited action returning punts, was ejected at Cleveland and hasn't played since.
NEW YORK JETS
Surprise: WR Quincy Enunwa, a sixth-rounder in 2014, has blossomed into a legitimate playmaker in Chan Gailey's offense. With Eric Decker out, Enunwa has stepped up as the No. 2 receiver behind Brandon Marshall.
Disappointment: CB Darrelle Revis, a former shutdown defender, has looked mostly mediocre this season, no longer resembling the guy who left opposing teams' best receivers stranded on "Revis Island."
Surprise: RB Jalen Richard, an undrafted free agent, has helped provide depth behind Latavius Murray.
Disappointment: CB Sean Smith, a major free agent addition who got benched in the opener and struggled earlier in the season before showing some improvement of late.
Surprise: WR Sammie Coates led the league in yards per reception (21.3) before injuring his left index finger. He's been a long-distance threat.
Disappointment: LB James Harrison is hardly the only disappointment on an underwhelming defense, but the 38-year-old got his first two sacks of the season this past weekend. He's seen his playing time slowly decrease.
Surprise: Top draft pick DE Joey Bosa. After a holdout and hamstring injury that cost him four games, he has become a force on the Chargers' defense, particularly in opposing backfields.
Disappointment: That the team couldn't get the rookie defensive end signed in time for training camp. A squabble over money he was due and offset language caused the No. 3 overall pick to miss camp. After signing, Bosa pulled the hamstring and the Chargers went 1-3 without him.
Surprise: RB DeMarco Murray. For a player who looked washed up in Chip Kelly's offense in Philadelphia last season and cost the Titans only swapping 13 spots in the fourth round of the draft, what a bargain.
Disappointment: Rookie LB Kevin Dodd, the 33rd pick overall, has been a minimal contributor. The Titans could use more pressure from someone who had 12 sacks and 23½ tackles for loss last season at Clemson.
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