2010 has been a different year. Why? Because it seems there's been an outburst of "no-name" players that have risen from the ground and have become very good players.
Seeing players come into the league as undrafted or late-round choices and turn into great players simply puts a smile on my face. It's always nice to see players like that turn into a reliable source for their team.
The one downfall I have with these players is, "dang, I wish I would have had them on my fantasy team!"
I give them a round of applause for their efforts, especially given their situations and the weight they have had to lift.
With that being said, here are my "No-Name-to-Stardom" Awards, which I will yearly give to players that have entered the stardom phase of their career.
Steve Johnson, Wide Receiver, Bills
The 224th pick of the 2008 draft has slowly become the Bills' best receiver—yes, even above Lee Evans. Johnson has out-performed Evans in almost every aspect and has become Ryan Fitzpatrick's favorite target.
Coming out of Kentucky, Johnson is currently leading the Bills in receiving yards (728) and touchdowns (9). With nine touchdowns, Johnson nearly has half of the total receiving touchdowns (19) for the 2-8 Bills.
Johnson had played sparingly for the first five weeks—after the fifth week, the Bills went into a bye week and Johnson decided that he would turn his game on. In the next five games, Johnson has had three 100-yard games, with his best one coming in their comeback win over the Bengals—the receiver caught eight passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns—definitely the best game of his young career.
No offense to Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he is currently one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. With a player like Fitzpatrick, one would not expect for his receivers to be subpar at best. However, that's not the case as, Johnson has become his No. 1 receiver, without a doubt.
Johnson is currently 10th in the NFL in receiving yards, ranking ahead of such players as Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Brandon Marshall and Larry Fitzgerald. How is that even possible with an offense that is as dismal as the Buffalo Bills? Maybe Johnson is just that good.
He has reached stardom in the NFL and also in fantasy football and I regret not picking him up sooner. Johnson has proved that he deserves recognition in the league, as he looks to continue his amazing streak.
I'll even go as far to say that Johnson deserves to be in the Pro Bowl. He ranks 6th in the AFC in receiving yards and is tied for 2nd in touchdowns.
He has truly entered stardom and for that, I congratulate him.
Peyton Hillis, Running Back, Browns
Hillis has shown that the Browns should be very grateful in receiving him, as part of the deal that sent quarterback Brady Quinn to the Broncos. Now we know why the Browns requested his services in the trade.
The former Arkansas running back has shown promise and grit as he has taken over the Browns' starting gig and doesn't look like he'll be giving it up anytime soon.
Oddly enough, Hillis was taken three spots behind Steve Johnson in the 2008 draft—he was nabbed with the 227th overall pick by the Broncos. Due to injuries at the running back position, Hillis was thrusted into the starting running back, even though he was primarily used as a fullback.
In his rookie season, Hillis rushed for 323 yards and five touchdowns. He declined in his sophomore season, as he was not used as much and played mostly on special teams. He only had 54 rushing yards and one touchdown in his sophomore campaign.
And then he got traded to the Browns.
After out-performing Jerome Harrison, Hillis slowly became the starter for Cleveland and he hasn't looked back. After only rushing for 76 total rushing yards in the first two weeks, he would go on to post back-to-back 100-yard efforts against the Ravens (144) and Bengals (102).
His next three games were sub-par, but Hillis had the best game of his career against the Patriots, when he ran for 184 yards and scored two touchdowns.
For the season, Hillis currently has 774 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He has also been a reception machine, while catching 40 passes for 351 yards and two touchdowns.
With numbers like those, we may see Hillis in the Pro Bowl and I wouldn't doubt it.
David Gettis, Wide Receiver, Panthers
Gettis, the 198th overall pick in this year's draft, has played well, albeit the horrible quarterback problems the Panthers have had thus far.
Outside of veteran Steve Smith, Gettis, surprisingly, has been the Panthers' best receiver, ahead of rookie Brandon LaFell, castoffs David Clowney and Devin Thomas and rookie Armanti Edwards.
Gettis has come into his own, even though the Panthers have used three different quarterbacks this season. I wouldn't go as far to say that he's been a model of consistency, but he's been pretty close to it.
The former Baylor Bear currently has 400 receiving yards so far, as well as three touchdowns, including an 88-yard bomb against the Ravens in Week 11.
Currently, Gettis is the team's No. 2 receiver and has shown promise since arriving in Carolina on draft day.
Given the cirumstances, Gettis has played exceptionally well, especially since he's a rookie.
I like what he's done thus far and wouldn't say that he's a future Pro Bowler, but I think that he could definitely be a legitimate threat sometime in the near future.
Arian Foster, Running Back, Texans
Arian Foster has straight dominated this season and that is an understatement. He currently leads the league in rushing yards (1,004) and is the only running back over 1,000 yards.
Foster truly came out of nowhere and became the Texans' starting running back before the season, even out-performing former 1,000 yard rusher Steve Slaton and former Giant Derrick Ward.
In his first start of 2010, the Texans faced off against the Colts and Foster carried the team with 231 rushing yards and three touchdowns. In the next nine games, Foster eclipsed 100 yards four times.
For the season, Foster also has 12 rushing touchdowns, along with 378 receiving yards and one touchdown. At the rapid pace Foster is on, he is on track to have 1,606 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns.
Foster was an undrafted free agent in 2009 and signed with the Texans on May 1. He was signed to the active roster on November 19 and made his NFL debut against the Titans on November 23. Foster did not carry the ball, but instead played special teams. He made his first career start on January 3, 2010 against the Patriots and posted his first career 100-yard game.
Foster is now the clear-cut starter for Houston and it doesn't look like he'll be giving up the reigns anytime soon.
LeGarrette Blount, Running Back, Buccaneers
Blount, primarily known for hitting a Boise State player last season, went undrafted on draft day and it looked like his NFL playing days would never happen.
After going undrafted, he immediately signed with the Titans and made it on the 53-man roster. However, Blount was waived before he could even play a down for the Titans. It was indicated that Blount would be signed to the rookie practice squad, but the Titans did not re-sign him and he was a free agent.
On September 6, Blount was picked up off waivers by the Buccaneers and I'm sure they did not regret their decision. He played in his first career NFL game in their 38-13 loss against the Steelers, but Blount picked up 27 yards and scored a touchdown along the way.
The rest, I guess you can say, is history.
In their Week 5 loss against the Bengals, Blount carried the ball only four times and picked up three yards. He would not play in their loss against the Saints, but since then, Blount has been among the top rushers in the league, statistically.
In those five games since, Blount has managed to rush for over 45 yards in each game—he has topped 70 yards in four of the five games, also.
Blount's best game came against the Cardinals when he rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns. The highlight of his day came late in the game when he ran for a 43-yard touchdown and huddled over safety Kerry Rhodes in the process.
For the season, Blount has 101 carries for 441 yards and four touchdowns. He has played better than former first-round pick Cadillac Williams and it looks like Williams won't be taking over the starting reigns for the rest of the season.
Chris Ivory, Running Back, Saints
Coming out of small Tiffin University, Ivory went undrafted this year. He signed with the Saints on May 3rd and played great in practice and in the preseason, which led to Ivory making the 53-man roster.
With early season injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush, Ivory was put into the starting role. And he lived up to the expectations—at least so far.
After only carrying the ball 29 times in his first three games, Ivory had the best game for a Saints running back this season. Against the Buccaneers, he carried the ball 15 times for 158 yards, the best game of his young career.
Excluding his tough outing against the Steelers in Week 8 (seven carries for seven yards), Ivory has rushed for at least 45 yards in those three games.
In the Saints' 34-19 victory against the Seahawks in Week 11, Ivory carried the ball 23 times and amassed 99 yards, while scoring the first touchdown of his NFL career in the process.
Even if Thomas and Bush came back right now, I would still rather have Ivory, who has proven that he could be at least a very valuable second-string running back and maybe even a full-fledged starter.
For the season, Ivory has carried the ball 101 times for 481 yards and a touchdown.
Mike Thomas, Wide Receiver, Jaguars
Thomas was drafted 107th overall in last year's draft and really wasn't given a starting opportunity during his rookie season. Now, the tide has turned.
He is legitimately the team's No. 1 receiver, ahead of Mike Sims-Walker and is quarterback David Garrard's favorite target.
In the nine games Thomas has played, he has caught 46 passes for 572 yards and three touchdowns. Even with an inconsistent quarterback such as Garrard, Thomas has managed to stay somewhat consistent.
He has only had one 100-yard game, but has had at least 40 receiving yards in seven of the nine games, including the Hail Mary miracle against the Texans in Week 10.
Standing at only 5'8", the under-sized Thomas is definitely a legitimate threat on the field (especially deep down field) and has proven that thus far.
As of right now, I would rather have Thomas as my No. 1 receiver than Sims-Walker—who has shown his inconsistsies.
The passing game for the Jaguars has been sketchy at best, but Thomas has stayed the most consistent on offense, other than running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
And Thomas is only getting better. He is only in his second year and has showed vast improvements since he came into the league last season.
I think Thomas can remain a great target and prove that he is no one-year wonder. I believe that Thomas could be a Pro-Bowler someday and be one of the best receivers in the AFC—yes, that is my bold prediction for the future, even though it may come as a stretch. I just like the way Thomas plays and he shows that even the undersized players can play with the big boys.G
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