Which NFL Studs Are Coming off Great Years Many Didn't Even Notice?
With Adrian Peterson setting a new single-season rushing standard, Calvin Johnson outdoing Jerry Rice and J.J. Watt emphatically proving to be the most feared defensive lineman in the game, a handful of great NFL seasons went relatively unnoticed in 2013.
Unfortunately, excellent seasons are overlooked every year.
Nonetheless, now's the ideal time to give those players the credit they're due.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
After an All-Pro season in 2010, Jamaal Charles' highly anticipated 2011 campaign was prematurely cut short when he tore his ACL in a Week 2 loss to the Detroit Lions.
In 2012, the former Texas Longhorn was once again an electric runner. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry, which trailed only league MVP Adrian Peterson and breakout star C.J. Spiller among NFL running backs. He also toted the rock 285 times, which proved he can be highly efficient as a traditional feature back.
Unfortunately, Charles' Kansas City Chiefs won just two games and were the worst team in football.
Peterson's assault on the record books and Spiller's emergence garnered most of the media's attention in regards to running backs. Charles finished the year with 1,745 total yards from scrimmage, the most of his professional career.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, New York Jets
The New York Jets experienced quite the forgetful season in 2012, as injuries, quarterback woes and a defensive regression were integral in the club's 6-10 record.
Despite each week many stark examples of the organization's apparent futility, Wilkerson exhibited vast improvement from a sound rookie year.
With Darrelle Revis injuring his knee early in the season, Wilkerson materialized as Gang Green's most potent defender. The former Temple Owl was an absolutely disruptive menace in Rex Ryan's hybrid defensive front. He finished the year with 70 total tackles, five sacks, four pass deflections, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a touchdown.
According to ProFootballFocus (subscription required), Wilkerson forced 37 pressures—sack, hit or hurry on a quarterback—in 445 pass-rushing snaps, which gave him the eighth-best pass-rush rating of all 3-4 defensive ends.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jackson was an established star when he took big money to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, but he had never caught more than 68 passes or eclipsed the 1,200-receiving-yard mark in the NFL.
Playing on a fun-to-watch, yet ultimately inconsistent Bucs team, Jackson set career highs across the board. He caught 72 passes for 1,384 yards at 19.2 yards per reception—an average that led the league.
Though quarterback Josh Freeman regressed in a major way, the 6'5'' Jackson was among the league's elite pass-catchers, and many didn't notice.
With Megatron's dominance and Demaryius Thomas catching passes from Peyton Manning on a 13-3 Denver Broncos team, it was actually quite easy to overlook Jackson's prolific campaign.
Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina Panthers
Hardy was one of the most consistent players on an otherwise underwhelming Panthers defense in 2012.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly won the Rookie of the Year, and he collected most of the defensive headlines in Carolina.
Defensive end Charles Johnson was inked to an extension that made his deal worth up to $72 million, with $32 million, guaranteed prior to the season. He recorded 12.5 sacks, and his year flew under the radar as well.
But Hardy, a third-year pro still playing under his four-year, $1.906 rookie contract, accumulated 11 sacks of his own. ProFootballFocus calculated his pass-rush rating to be 10.8—a number that trailed only Derrick Morgan, Chris Long, his teammate Johnson and Cameron Wake.
Along with the 11 sacks, the Ole Miss product finished the year with 61 total tackles, two pass deflections and two forced fumbles.
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