The NFL's Biggest Surprises This Season

Taylor LunemannCorrespondent IOctober 15, 2009

BALTIMORE - OCTOBER 11:  Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 11, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Bengals defeated the Ravens 17-14. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Every season the NFL has many surprising players that really step up or come out of nowhere to produce big time for their teams. This year is no different, as many players have been coming through huge for their teams. 

Here are my top surprises and runner-up awards for each offensive skill position player for the first part of the season.


Quarterback – Eli Manning – New York Giants

Okay, so maybe this isn’t too much of a surprise pick, but after seeing his top two wide receivers, Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, leave the team in the off-season, Manning was left with a whole lineup of unproven wideouts.

Despite all of that, he has really stepped up and dominated throughout the first five games of the season, making wide receivers Steve Smith and Mario Manningham look amazing. He is leading arguably the top team in the NFC and faces a tough 5-0 New Orleans Saints squad this weekend.


Runner-up – Kyle Orton – Denver Broncos

Coming into the season, no one was very high on Orton; he had been average throughout his career in Chicago. But in Denver, he was placed into a system with talented receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, and the sky was the limit for him.

The Broncos now sit at 5-0 and Orton has an impressive 97.4 QB rating so far this season. His seven touchdowns to one interception has kept the Broncos’ conservative game play intact and kept pressure on the other teams.

Not to mention Orton has done all of this without getting second year man Eddie Royal involved. If Royal starts getting a piece of the action, Orton could continue to improve on his stats.


Running back – Cedric Benson – Cincinnati Bengals

Benson is the clear favorite here by leading the NFL in rushing after five weeks, and his team is sitting at a healthy 4-1 on top of the AFC North. Benson's rushing attack with the comeback of quarterback Carson Palmer have been the main reasons for the team’s success.


Runner-up – Ray Rice – Baltimore Ravens

Rice may not be the touchdown fiend for your fantasy team, but he is the do-it-all guy for the Ravens this year. He is averaging 5.8 yards per carry this year while splitting carries with fellow running back Willis McGahee.

What makes Rice so special is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield; it adds another element of attack for the Ravens that has proven to be very valuable. So Rice gets the award for being a complete question mark at the beginning of the year and emerging as a legitimate running back.


Wide Receiver – Steve Smith – New York Giants

The biggest question mark for the New York Giants before the season was how they were going to replace Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. Smith has answered that question in a big way.

He leads the league in receptions, receiving yards, and is tied for the lead in touchdown grabs. Smith won’t have to listen to the debate of whether he is better than the Steve Smith from Carolina if he keeps this kind of production up.


Runner-up – Vincent Jackson – San Diego Chargers

After many years of being mediocre, Jackson has really stepped up this season as a big downfield threat for his quarterback Philip Rivers. Even though the Chargers are not doing so well this season, it is clearly not Jackson’s fault as he has really stepped up and is starting to be considered an elite receiver in the NFL.


Tight End – Brent Celek – Philadelphia Eagles

No top-tier wide receiver for Donovan McNabb? No problem.

A combination of DeSean Jackson, rookie Jeremy Maclin, and a healthy dose of Celek has been a recipe for success after four games of the season. He is top five for tight ends in nearly every stat and is looking to improve on his numbers.


Runner-ups – Vernon Davis and Kellen Winslow – San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I just could not leave one of these two off. They have been equally surprising this year, for different reasons.

Vernon Davis had been a huge bust for the 49ers after spending their first round pick on him in 2006, but he has finally put together a solid season for them. He has three touchdown catches and has become Shaun Hill’s favorite target downfield and in the red zone.

Kellen Winslow, on the other hand, has been considered a top tight end in the league throughout his career, but with the trade to the Bucs and a gigantic question mark at quarterback, it was hard to predict he could be as good as he once was.

He has quickly put an end to our doubts with an impressive season as he has been very successful especially in the red zone where he has four touchdowns. Winslow has proven he can still dominate his position despite having bottom-tier quarterbacks throwing to him.

There are, of course, many more players that have been big surprises this year, but these are just a few that have caught my eye and really been stepping up big for their teams. I will go to the other side of the ball and make my defensive picks for these awards next time.