We’ve watched half a season of football, and so far we’ve learned that we were justified in our concern about Cam Newton’s fight against history, and we were probably searching for reasons to worry when we wondered if Victor Cruz’s home run hitting would be a problem. Meanwhile, the battle between DeMarco Murray and trust is one that will forever be etched in mythical folklore.
None of that is especially surprising. Instead, a group of players have supplied the surprise. Many of them are rookies, and many were either available on the waiver wire earlier in the year, or at a heavily discounted draft price. So join me for a listicle, and let’s recount the top five surprises of the season’s first eight games.
Say, how depressing is it that the season’s already halfway over, and the fantasy season is approaching stretch drive time? Happy thoughts in, evil out.
5. Josh Gordon (Browns, WR): Everyone’s favorite waiver claim a few weeks ago, Gordon enjoys efficiency. After getting consistent playing time only in Week 5 when all of the Browns receivers sustained all of the injuries, Gordon has averaged 28.6 yards per reception since then. You’re looking at that number, and you’re thinking that somehow it’s an inflated average. Nope, because while his output this past Sunday against the Chargers was more in line with rookie mediocre-ness (three catches, 46 yards), even that game featured a deep ball catch. Those haven’t just been a staple of Gordon’s game; they’ve been his game. He’s caught at least one pass of 20 yards or more since Week 5 while scoring four times, and that’s included two catches for more than 60 yards. With those consistent deep looks and Brandon Weeden’s strong arm, Gordon should at minimum remain in WR3 territory, rising to be a WR2 with the right matchup.
4. Daryl Richardson (Rams, RB): Possibly making Steven Jackson expendable as Thursday’s trading deadline creeps closer, the rookie seventh-round pick has had two 40-yard runs despite his limited usage and opportunities (7.8 carries per game). He’s shown far more burst and acceleration than the aging 29-year-old Jackson, which has led to his 5.4 yards per carry average. Richardson’s far greater effectiveness is even more glaring when we compare his overall rushing yardage (335), to Jackson’s (403), despite far fewer carries (Richardson has 62, while Jackson has 108). Very soon the time share in the Rams’ backfield will swing decidedly in Richardson’s favor.
3. Reggie Wayne (Colts, WR): Wayne’s talent was never doubted last year, despite his advancing age at a position where several formerly elite receivers (Chad Johnson/Ochocinco/whatever, Terrell Owens, Plaxico Burress) abruptly declined once they crept closer to 35. When he posted 960 receiving yards while dealing with the calamity at quarterback last year in Indianapolis, we knew he’s still pretty good. But not 108.1 yards per game good, or 54 receptions through just seven games good. That’s a pace for 123 receptions and 1,730 yards, both easily career highs at the age of 33, and with a rookie quarterback. While that pace will be difficult to sustain, Wayne hasn’t registered a game with less than 70 yards, and after he saw 11 targets in Week 8 — four more than the next Colts receiver — there’s little reason to think he’ll have a massive drop off in the second half.
2. Alfred Morris (Redskins, RB): As is his custom, Mike Shanahan treated his backfield during August in a similar fashion to how a child treats a toy car. It’s a source of entertainment for Shanny, and a source of deep hatred for us. This year, though, Shanahan’s typical wavering was beneficial, because if you drafted at the right time when Tim Hightower, Evan Royster, and Roy Helu were still in the mix for varying slices of the Redskins running back pie, you may have received a deep discount on the league’s third best rusher, as Morris now has 717 yards. Even once it started to become clear that Morris would start, his ADP in ESPN leagues (101.3) still finished behind such notable backfield brutes as Cedric Benson, Peyton Hillis, and DeAngelo Williams. If that name game isn’t impressive enough, Morris will become the first rookie to accumulate 800 yards over his first nine games since Adrian Peterson in 2007 if he rushes for 83 yards this weekend.
1. Percy Harvin: While Wayne’s pace is incredible for his age, Harvin’s is just incredible. Two numbers are all you need. First, there’s his yearly receiving yards average prior to this season, which sat at 861.6. Remember, that’s for the season, and although he’s missed a handful of games (three) in his career, Harvin hasn’t had a serious injury yet which has led to a prolonged absence. So now through half a season he already has 667 yards, and he leads the league in receptions with 60. The math on his yearly receptions prior to this season is even more remarkable, as he was averaging 72.6 catches. He’s shattering everything, and when we toss in his versatility through kickoffs (he’s returned one for a touchdown), and his new-found love for running with a football that started last year, Harvin’s owners have one of the league’s fastest-rising receivers, making keeper league owners especially giddy.