Here are the rules: Players must be playing at a high level for the first time in their careers, which means no comeback player candidates (Sorry Sam Bradford and others). Rookies are also eligible, however, they have to have been drafted after the fourth round (We all knew who Ezekiel Elliot was and could be after the Cowboys drafted him no.4 overall).
1) Zach Brown, ILB, Buffalo Bills
Coming out of North Carolina scouts were impressed with Browns athleticism and his rare high-end speed for the position. However, many questioned his work habits; football IQ and most said he had many question marks entering the draft.
Zach Brown was a 2nd round selection for the Titans in 2012 going pick number 52. He started 14 games in his rookie season; 13 the following year in 2013. He then played in just 1 game in 2014 before starting 5 games in 2015. He recorded 3 interceptions and a forced fumble in his rookie season, however, regressed the following season.
The Buffalo Bills signed Brown to a one-year, $1.25million deal in April. Brown is currently enjoying a breakout season and is ranked 2nd by Pro Football Focus (PFF) behind only Luke Kuechly (92.2 rating). Brown is currently second in the League in tackles (39) only one behind Luke Kuechly, the perennial All-Pro. Brown also has one interception (same as Kuechly), however, Brown is tied second in the NFL with 2 forced fumbles. Brown’s two standout performances this season have been in Buffalos two hardest games as he helped shut down the Arizona Cardinals Offense and a New England Patriots Offense which despite being led by rookie Jacoby Brissett managed to put up 27 points against the Texans the week before.
Zach Brown’s incredible straight-line speed has been on display so far this season as he is a machine against the run game regularly shutting down lanes. After five games he is PFFs top ranked run defender at the Linebacker position and it is his speed that flashes most on tape as he regularly finds the edge and never allows runners to get outside. He has also excelled in coverage and is able to match stride-for-stride with mismatch Tight Ends and Run-backs coming out the backfield. Through five weeks it is hard to find a Linebacker who has played at a higher level than Zach Brown. He is certainly a bargain for the Bills at only $1.25m, however, I expect him to get PAID this next offseason as he has gone from an unknown commodity to a huge defensive asset for any team.
On pace for: 125 tackles, 6 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions and 3 sacks.
2) Tyrell Williams, WR, San Diego Chargers
Tyrell Williams was an undrafted WR signed by the Chargers in 2015. He played college football at Western Oregon Wolves (Division II). He was waived on September 19, 2015 before being resigned 3 days later to the Chargers practice squad. He was then promoted to the active roster on November 21, 2015.
Williams appeared in 4 games in 2015 (0 starts) and was targeted only 5 times, yet caught 2 receptions for 90 yards and 1 TD (both were against the Broncos in week 17, and his TD was an 80 yard deep ball hook up).
Williams entered the 2016 preseason as no.4 on the depth chart at WR behind Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin and Dontrelle Inman, however, he would compete for touches with Tight End’s Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry (2nd round pick) as well as RB Danny Woodhead who is a great pass catching back. Yet this Chargers team has been decimated with injuries including a torn ACL for RB Danny Woodhead and WR Keenan Allen; and Williams now finds himself third on the depth chart.
Williams in 2016 has made an impressive start and so far has 21 receptions off 34 targets for 358 yards, 2 TDs. He is averaging 17.0 yards per reception and it is clear that with his 4.43 speed and 6 foot 4 frame, he is quickly emerging as a deep play threat and is a mismatch for smaller quicker corners who are charged with covering him. In San Diego’s last game (a 34-31 loss to Oakland) Williams had 5 catches off 6 targets for 117 yards and a TD. Williams has a punt returner mentality at the WR position (check out his TD vs. Jacksonville) and he is dangerous after the catch as he uses his speed and size to make defenders miss as he can turn a short catch over the middle into a big gain for the Chargers. He was relatively unknown heading into this year, yet if Williams can continue to build chemistry with QB Philip Rivers, the Chargers might just turn an undrafted free agent into a long-term big play threat.
On pace for: 16 receptions, 1,145 yards, 6 TDs
3) Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Most people who knew of Tevin Coleman this preseason knew him as the guy who the Falcons drafted in the 3rd round in 2015 and who started the first two weeks of the 2015 season due to an injury to Devonta Freeman. He would also start week 12 vs. Minnesota due to Freeman suffering a concussion the previous week against Indianapolis.
Freeman largely overshadowed Tevin Coleman in 2015 as Freeman emerged as one the League’s best young backs and went to the Pro Bowl. Freeman had 265 rushing attempts for 1,056 yards, 11 TDs (4.0 Y/A) in 2015 to go along with 73 catches for 578 yards, 3 TDs. Coleman also put together an impressive rookie campaign with 87 attempts, 392 yards, 1 TD (4.5 Y/A) and 2 catches for 14 yards. Coleman entered this season as the kick returner replacing Devin Hester and many were talking about how Freeman would progress as a back in 2016, rather than him being challenged for snaps as the Falcons now boast the league’s most dynamic, young backfield.
Tevin Coleman has hit the ground or I should say air running (if that works?) in 2016. He has rushed 46 times through 5 weeks for 160 yards, 4 TDs (3.5 Y/A); however, he has not yet had more than 50 rushing yards in a game. Yet it is his work as a third down back and a pass catching running back where he has excelled in 2016 as he has caught 17 passes off 21 receptions for 313 yards (18.4 Y/R) and 1 TD. Coleman is a huge threat with the ball in his hands and his kick returner mentality makes him explosive with the ball in his hands as he uses his blazing speed to get up the field quickly and turn short catches into huge gains. Coleman has established himself as a feature piece of the Falcons offense after torching the League’s best Defense (Denver) for 4 catches, 132 yards and a TD to go along with 6 rushes for 31 yards (5.17 Y/A) this past Sunday.
An unknown commodity who many around the league had not heard of has now turned heads as coaches begin to question how they will shut down this high-powered Falcons offense. Defense’s have to contend with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu in the passing game, while dealing with Devonta Freeman in the run game. Tevin Coleman has the potential to catch a pass out the backfield and take it 80 yards for a Touchdown, while the Falcons also motion him out into the slot where Linebacker’s and Safeties simply cannot live with his sprinter speed (watch the tape vs. Denver). Freeman is currently ranked 11th amongst RB’s on PFF and is their no.1 rated receiving back (this is a player who has to compete for touches with 2nd Team All-Pro Devonta Freeman and 1st Team All-Pro Julio Jones). One last thing; if he is still available, be sure to pick him up in Fantasy.
On pace for: 147 rushes for 512 yards, 13 TDs; 54 receptions for 1,002 yards, 3 TDs
Warning controversial pick:
4) David Bakhtiari, LT, Green Bay Packers
I know that David Bakhtiari is currently the fourth highest paid Offensive Linemen in Football but hear me out. Since entering the League as the 9th Tackle taken in the 2013 NFL Draft (Bakhtiari went in the middle of the 4th round), Bakhtiari has started 47 of a possible 49 games. Despite starting every game in his rookie and sophomore season he was mediocre at best. Many observers who looked at Bakhtiari would agree that he had the potential to be a good starting Left Tackle as he demonstrated the ability to deal with speed rushers when he showed off his lateral quickness in the run game. However, commentators would not have put him down as a building block for the Green Bay Packers future and certainly not have prioritised him over Guard, Josh Sitton (one of the best Guards in the NFL the past eight years).
David Bakhtiari was taken behind: Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson, D. J. Fluker, Justin Pugh, Menelik Watson, Terron Armstead and Dallas Thomas. How many could have predicted that in just his fourth season he would be arguably the League’s best pass protector and protect the blindside of the League’s best QB, Aaron Rodgers. Bakhtiari, played ok but not exceptional, in 2015 and was PFF’s 27th best Tackle in League despite playing on a Line that surrendered the second-most sacks (46).
While David Bakhtiari was not an ‘unknown commodity’ to the extent of the other players found on this list, he was a player who flew under the radar until the Packers front office splashed out $51.67m on a four-year extension just two weeks after releasing Guard Josh Sitton in September. Bakhtiari has warranted the faith the organisation placed in him as he has been the League’s best pass protector this season and is currently being talked about alongside the likes of Tyron Smith, Joe Thomas and Andrew Whitworth as amongst the NFL’s best Tackles at the minute. Despite his extreme youth (25) yet large experience (50 starts), Bakhtiari has established himself as amongst the Leagues premier Tackles and one of the best pass protectors in the game at the minute. He has gone from a player who was considered simply a good value pick up, to now being thought of as one of the League’s best Tackles and has taken a huge leap in 2016.
5) A. J. Bouye, CB, Houston Texans
A. J. Bouye was an undrafted pick up by the Houston Texans in 2013 as the tall and physical corner failed to wow scouts despite his big frame. Bouye missed the majority of his rookie season with an injury, however, he managed to feature in all but three games in 2014 and 2015 and started eight games over this two year stretch. Bouye has made the most of his opportunities and is currently deployed by the Texans as a “slot” corner despite his unconventional size for the usually smaller slot position. So far in 2016, the Texans have deployed Bouye against slot receivers and Tight Ends as he went head-to-head with Tennessee’s Delanie Walker in week 4. Bouye was exceptional in this match up and gave up only 1 catch for 11 yards the six times he was targeted. Through the first quarter of the season Bouye gave up only six catches for just 38 yards on 15 targets.
A. J. Bouye is currently ranked 2nd amongst Corners by PFF and has earned their top grade in coverage through five games. Yet the Texans have used Bouye as more than just a corner as he has played snaps at Safety in 2016 and has also been utilised as a pass rusher registering 1.0 sack this season.
Bouye had 3 Interceptions in 2014 and 2 in 2015, yet despite this, entered 2016 largely unknown. Five games in and through his performances, Bouye he has now firmly established himself as one of the NFL’s best slot-corners and owing to his large frame is one of the few corners able to go up against opposing Tight Ends in man coverage. Be sure to keep an eye on this name throughout 2016.
Be sure to follow us @TheInsideZoneUK and tweet at us who you think has the made the leap so far in 2016.