NFL Rankings: Where Did They Come From? The Top 25 Most Surprising Players
By: Tyler Ward
The NFL has seen its fair share of surprises this season—players such as Peyton Hillis and teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But it feels that this year is different—there have seemed to be more player surprises this season, and they have notched great performances the average fan wouldn't have expected.
It has been quite enjoyable and the funny part? It's not quite over yet, so we may still seem some great performances come out of nowhere.
With that being said, here are my top 25 most surprising players of the 2010 NFL season.
25. Blair White, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Drafted: Undrafted, 2010 (Colts)
Best Game: Week 11 vs. Patriots - five receptions, 42 yards, two TD's
White was undrafted in this year's draft, and his name went from virtually unknown to a definite threat on the field.
The receiver was not thought to make any team, but somehow, White managed to make it on the Colts roster and survive the final cuts.
Due to injuries to Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez, White was thrust into the starting lineup.
Primarily used as a slot receiver, much like Brandon Stokley earlier in the decade, White saw his first action against the Broncos in Week 3, as he caught three passes for 27 yards and one touchdown.
In the Colts' Week 9 loss to the Eagles, White caught a career-long 33-yard pass from quarterback Peyton Manning. He finished the day with a season-high 42 receiving yards.
His best game came two weeks later in the Colts' loss to the Patriots, as he caught five passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns.
The following week, against the Chargers, White added another touchdown, his fourth of the year—he caught four passes for 34 yards.
24. Joel Dreessen, TE, Houston Texans
Drafted: Sixth round (198th overall), 2005 (Jets)
Best Game: Week 11 vs. Jets - four receptions, 106 yards, one TD
Dreessen was originally drafted by the Jets in the 2005 NFL draft but was cut after the season was over. After a one-year absence from the NFL, Dreesen came back and signed with the Houston Texans.
On October 28, 2007, Dreessen caught his first touchdown pass in the Texans' loss against the Chargers—it was a 28-yard strike from then-quarterback Sage Rosenfels. It was also the only touchdown scored by the Texans, as they got pounded 35-10.
Dreessen sparingly played in 2008, as he only caught 11 passes for 77 yards with no touchdowns.
In 2009, however, Dreessen played more, but it wasn't because he outperformed Owen Daniels, the starter. Near the end of the season, Daniels became injured, as Dreessen filled in for him and connected well with quarterback Matt Schaub.
Dreessen caught his only touchdown in the Texans' loss to the Patriots, but he caught 26 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown to end his 2009 campaign.
This season was also like the 2009 season, as Dreessen has filled in admirably for the injured starter, Owen Daniels.
In the Texans' Week 4 win against the Raiders, Dreessen caught five passes for 73 yards and one touchdown.
After three subpar weeks, Dreessen caught fire as he caught five passes for 67 yards in their 29-23 loss to the Chargers. However, two weeks later, he had the best game of his young career against the Jets, as he caught four passes for 106 yards and one touchdown in their 30-27 loss.
Thus far, Dreessen has proved that he could be an intricate piece to the Texans' offense if Owen Daniels keeps on getting hurt.
23. Patrick Crayton, WR, San Diego Chargers
Drafted: Seventh round (216th overall), 2004 (Cowboys)
Best Game: Week 11 vs. Broncos - three receptions, 105 yards, one TD
Crayton is now on his second NFL team, after being traded by the Cowboys—the team he had been with since 2004.
The receiver gained fame in his rookie season, after he performed well due to injuries higher up on the depth chart. His rise to the top of the depth chart began there, and he stayed there for much of his career.
In 2007, Crayton posted a career-high 697 yards receiving, along with 50 receptions, the only season in which he had at least 40 catches. He also caught seven touchdowns that season, another career-high.
He played marginally well the next two seasons, but when the team drafted Dez Bryant in April, Crayton felt like he wore out his welcome in Dallas.
Crayton asked the Cowboys for a release, but the next day, owner Jerry Jones decided to trade the former seventh-rounder to the Chargers for a 2011 seventh-round pick.
Maybe a change of scenery was good for Crayton.
After only having 94 total receiving yards in the first five weeks, Crayton began to catch fire.
In the Chargers' Week 6 loss to the Rams, Crayton had his first 100-yard game in a Chargers uniform, as he caught six passes for 117 yards.
During the next three games, Crayton totaled 198 receiving yards but did not score a touchdown.
The best game of his Chargers days came in their Week 11 loss to the Broncos, as Crayton caught only three passes but managed to turn those three receptions into 105 yards—he also caught a touchdown in the game, his first of the season.
If he continues at this pace, Crayton will have 748 yards, a career-high. Crayton has definitely resurrected his career in San Diego, and the team is hoping that he could turn that into something great.
22. Brad Smith, WR, New York Jets
Drafted: Fourth round (103rd overall), 2006 (Jets)
Best Game: Week 12 vs. Bengals - one reception, 23 yards; three carries, 55 yards, one TD; three kickoff returns, 122 yards, one TD
A former quarterback at Missouri, Smith was transformed into a wide receiver when he got drafted by the Jets in 2006.
Over the past few seasons, Smith has been used mostly in the wildcat formation and as a special teams player—primarily a kick returner.
Smith is most notably known for returning a kickoff for 106 yards for a touchdown in their December 27th game in 2009—the touchdown was the longest in Jets team history.
In the last game of the 2009 season, Smith led the team with 91 rushing yards, with each run coming with Smith lined up at quarterback. Smith had a 57-yard run in the game, along with a 32-yard scamper for a touchdown.
As his career has progressed, Smith has seen more time at running back or on special teams, instead of his "natural" position in the NFL, wide receiver.
He hasn't particularly been used on offense this season but has carried the ball 27 times for 216 yards and one touchdown.
On kickoff returns, Smith has returned 34 kickoffs for 992 yards and one touchdown.
He has only scored two total touchdowns this season, both coming in their Thanksgiving defeat of the Bengals—Smith had three carries for 55 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown.
He also returned three kickoffs for 122 yards, including an 89-yard touchdown—the funniest thing about the play was that Smith lost his left shoe at about the 50-yard line and somehow managed to dodge tacklers and run in for the score.
21. Ryan Torain, RB, Washington Redskins
Drafted: Fifth round (139th overall), 2008 (Broncos)
Best Game: Week 6 vs. Colts - 20 carries, 100 yards, two TD's
Torain was originally drafted by the Broncos with the 148th overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft.
He earned the starting nod later that season on November 6 but tore his ACL in the game, ending his season.
Torain was waived by the Broncos on August 16, 2009 and didn’t play at all during the 2009 season.
On April 19, 2010, Torain was signed by the Redskins and brought in by Mike Shanahan, who had coached him in Denver. However, he was released on September 4 but was brought back on September 24.
He was placed on the 53-man roster, as receiver Brandon Banks was released.
In his first game with the Redskins, Torain carried the ball seven times for 46 yards, including a career-long 36-yard run.
After a combined 110 yards in games against the Eagles and Packers, Torain earned his first 100-yard effort against the Colts, as he carried the ball 20 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
The following week, against the Bears, Torain carried the ball 21 times for 125 yards, successfully posting back-to-back 100-yard games.
For the 2010 season, Torain has carried the ball 91 times for 391 yards and three touchdowns. He has also caught eight passes for 55 yards and one touchdown.
20. David Gettis, WR, Carolina Panthers
Drafted: Sixth round (198th overall), 2010 (Panthers)
Best Game: Week 7 vs. 49ers - eight receptions, 125 yards, two TD's
The 198th overall pick, Gettis was not thought to make an impact during his rookie season.
But, after timely injuries and the release of Dwayne Jarrett, Gettis is currently listed as the Panthers’ No. 2 receiver, despite Carolina having the worst quarterback issues in the league.
Gettis has outperformed fellow rookie Brandon LaFell and everyone else on the roster besides Steve Smith—and frankly, he deserves it.
In his rookie campaign, Gettis has started nine games, while registering 25 receptions for 400 yards and three touchdowns.
With abilities like that, we could see Gettis starting for the Panthers for a long time.
19. Mike Goodson, RB, Carolina Panthers
Drafted: Fourth round (111th overall), 2009 (Panthers)
Best Game: Week 11 vs. Ravens - 22 carries, 120 yards; five receptions, 31 yards
Goodson was drafted 111th overall by the Panthers in the 2009 draft and was immediately penciled in as the third-string running back behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Like Chris Ivory, Goodson was thrust into the starting role after the two tailbacks in front of him went down with injuries.
In his first start in the NFL, Goodson carried the ball 23 times for 100 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The next game, against the Ravens, Goodson rushed 22 times for 120 yards, including a 45-yard scamper, the longest run of his young career.
In Carolina’s next game against the Browns, Goodson rushed 14 times for 55 yards and one touchdown but was also a threat in the receiving game—he managed to catch eight passes for 81 yards, also, while leading the Panthers in receptions for the game.
With Stewart back from injury, Goodson’s playing time will likely diminish, but he will have to deal with succumbing to the backup role—DeAngelo Williams recently got placed on injured reserve, so his season is done.
Goodson, so far this season, has carried the ball 75 times for 325 yards and one touchdown—he has also registered 33 receptions for 265 yards.
The future is looking bright for Goodson, and the Panthers may soon have a three-headed monster at running back.
18. Jacob Tamme, TE, Indianapolis Colts
Drafted: Fourth round (127th overall), 2008 (Colts)
Best Game: Week 9 vs. Eagles - 11 receptions, 108 yards, one TD
Tamme was drafted by the Colts in 2008 and up until this season, Tamme had been primarily used as a blocker, instead of a tight end.
Listed behind Dallas Clark on the depth chart, Tamme really never got the chance to see the field as an actual tight end. With Clark going down with a season-ending injury, Tamme has now been inserted into the starting lineup and hasn't looked back.
Tamme got the starting nod after Week 7 and has registered at least six catches in all five games, including an 11-catch outburst in their 26-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
In his first career start, he caught six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown in the Colts' 30-17 win against their division rival Houston Texans.
The next week, he had the best game of his young career, while catching 11 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles.
During the next three games, Tamme caught seven passes in each contest, along with 197 receiving yards. In that span, Tamme also caught two touchdowns.
The tight end has played just like Clark since he was given the starting position.
On the year, Tamme has caught 38 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns.
The Colts now know that they can rely on Tamme if Clark goes down with another injury. And with Peyton Manning at the helm, they really have no reason to worry.
17. Ben Obomanu, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Drafted: Seventh round (249th overall), 2007 (Seahawks)
Best Game: Week 12 vs. Chiefs - five receptions, 159 yards, one TD
Obomanu was drafted 249th overall by Seattle in the 2006 NFL Draft and before this season, he had played sparingly before this season.
For his rookie season, Obomanu spent the entire year on the practice squad, but he made the active roster out of training camp in 2007. He appeared in 13 games and caught 12 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown.
His first touchdown came that season against the Saints, when he hauled in a 17-yard touchdown from Matt Hasselbeck.
In a preseason game against the Raiders on August 29, 2008, Obomanu broke his collarbone and was placed on injured reserve the following day.
He returned healthy in 2009, but his stats diminished, as he appeared in 14 games—however, he only caught four passes for 41 yards.
Going into this season, the Seahawks had a cluster at the wide receiver position, and it seemed as though any receiver had a chance to start. It just so happened that Obomanu took advantage of that opportunity.
Through 11 games, Obomanu has caught 20 passes for 390 yards and four touchdowns—he is currently second on the team in receiving yards, behind fellow surprising player, Mike Williams.
In Seattle’s 42-24 Week 11 loss to the Chiefs, Obomanu registered his first 100-yard game, as he caught five passes for 159 yards and one touchdown, including a career-long 87-yard touchdown.
After the game, the Seahawks coaching staff decided to name Obomanu the No. 2 receiver, ahead of rookie Golden Tate and veterans Brandon Stokley and Deon Butler.
The former Auburn star now has ample opportunity to perform and be worth the late-round selection.
16. Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Drafted: Fourth round (107th overall), 2009 (Jaguars)
Best Game: Week 10 vs. Texans - eight receptions, 149 yards, one TD
Standing at only 5’9”, the undersized Thomas has moved past Mike Sims-Walker as the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver. He has also turned into quarterback David Garrard’s favorite target, and it looks like Thomas is not just a one-year wonder.
He was selected in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, and during his rookie season, Thomas caught 48 passes for 453 yards and one touchdown. His 48 catches were tied with Michael Crabtree for fourth among all rookie receivers.
So far this season, Thomas is currently leading the Jaguars in receiving yards with 618 yards—he has also registered three touchdowns.
The key play of Thomas’ NFL career came in Week 10 against the Houston Texans—with time expiring and the score tied at 24, quarterback David Garrard threw a Hail Mary bomb from the 50-yard line and was deflected at the goal line by cornerback Glover Quin Jr.
As the pass was attempted to be knocked away, it hit Thomas’ chest and was snatched by the receiver before it hit the ground. Thomas then proceeded to waltz into the end zone, and the Jaguars won the thrilling game 31-24.
With Thomas getting better and better as the season progresses, the receiver could register close to 1,000 yards in his second NFL season.
He has proven to be a mid-round steal, and we could be seeing him as the Jaguars’ No. 1 receiver for a long time—I’ll even go as far to predict that Thomas will make a Pro Bowl in the next few years.
And you know what the scary thing is? He’ll only get better.
15. Marc Mariani, WR/KR, Tennessee Titans
Drafted: Undrafted, 2010 (Titans)
Best Game: Week 4 vs. Broncos - six kickoff returns, 187 yards, one TD
Coming out of Montana, Mariani really wasn’t given a shot to succeed in the NFL—at least, as a wide receiver. Primarily used as a kick returner, Mariani has played well for the Titans.
While at Montana, Mariani posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, including an 80-catch, 1,479 yard season during his senior season, both Montana football records. He also caught 13 touchdowns to go along with it.
Coincidentally, Mariani played with soon-to-be-coach Jeff Fisher’s son, Brandon, who was a linebacker on the team.
The Montana Grizzly was drafted in the seventh round and signed a four-year contract with the Titans after the draft.
In Week 4, Mariani scored his first career NFL touchdown, a 98-yard kickoff return against the Denver Broncos.
In Week 11, against the Washington Redskins, Mariani returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown. He was also named the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week.
Mariani currently leads the NFL with a 17.1-yard punt return average.
Although Mariani hasn’t had any receptions thus far, he has played exceptionally well on special teams and could be the Titans’ return man for a long time.
14. Jacoby Ford, WR/KR, Oakland Raiders
Drafted: Fourth round (108th overall), 2010 (Raiders)
Best Game: Week 12 vs. Dolphins - four receptions, 108 yards, one TD; seven kickoff returns, 208 yards, one TD
The young star was drafted with the 108th pick in the 2010 draft—Ford was heavily regarded as the fastest player in the draft, as he recorded a 4.28 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine.
After not recording a single reception in the first six weeks, Ford recorded two 100-yard games, including a 148-yard effort in the Raiders’ 23-20 overtime win against the Kansas City Chiefs. He would then record his second 100-yard game three weeks later against the Miami Dolphins, catching four passes for 108 yards and one touchdown.
Not only has Ford been a weapon on offense, but he has also played exceptionally well on special teams.
Primarily known for playing on special teams, Ford recorded his first touchdown in that very same overtime thriller against the Chiefs.
On top of his 148-yard receiving effort, Ford also returned four kickoffs for 158 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown return.
Along with his 108-yard game in their loss against the Dolphins, Ford returned seven kickoffs for 208 yards, including a career-long 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. It is the only game of his young career that he has had at least two touchdowns in the same game.
For the season, Ford has registered 16 receptions for 320 yards and one touchdown. He has also fielded 33 kickoffs for 816 yards and two touchdowns.
Ford has been one of only a few brightspots for the Raiders so far, and he could be the next returning superstar in the NFL—Dante Hall, anyone?
13. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Drafted: Undrafted, 2010 (Titans)
Best Game: Week 8 vs. Cardinals - 22 carries, 120 yards, two TD's
The former Oregon running back had a relatively interesting college career. Known for punching a Boise State player, Blount was suspended, and his NFL future seemed very dim.
He was not selected in the 2010 NFL Draft, but he agreed in principle to a contract with the San Francisco 49ers directly after the draft. But, after meeting with Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, Blount suddenly changed his mind and decided to sign with the Titans instead.
In August, Blount was involved in an incident with teammate Eric Bakhtiari, in which the running back threw a punch after having his helmet ripped off. Blount immediately apologized to his head coach—Fisher accepted his apology, even though he said it wasn’t needed.
Blount was not cut by the Titans and made it onto the 53-man roster. However, he was then waived to make room for two other players. It was thought to be that Blount would have signed to the practice squad if he cleared waivers.
He was waived on September 5, and the next day, he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Blount scored his first career NFL touchdown in his first game against the Steelers, rushing for 27 yards on six carries and a touchdown.
The running back had his breakout game on October 31, when he rushed for 120 yards on 22 carries and scored two touchdowns in the Tampa Bay’s 38-35 victory over the Cardinals.
Blount made his own highlight reel in the game when he scampered for 43 yards and hurdled over safety Kerry Rhodes at the end of the play—truly the best play of his young career.
In the four games since, Blount has totaled 71 carries for 274 yards and one touchdown. It looks like Blount could take over for Cadillac Williams in the future.
12. Chris Ivory, RB, New Orleans Saints
Drafted: Undrafted, 2010 (Saints)
Best Game: Week 6 vs. Buccaneers - 15 carries, 158 yards
Although it’s taken some amount of luck, Ivory has seen the field this season, even though he was an undrafted rookie out of the small college, Tiffin.
With injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush, Ivory was given the starting reins earlier this season. His breakout game came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6, when he carried the ball 15 times for an astounding 158 yards.
Ivory became the first Saints running back to rush for that many yards since Deuce McAllister rushed for 165 yards in 2003.
With the performance, Ivory earned Rookie of the Week honors, along with the FedEx Ground Player of the Week. Not too shabby for an undrafted rookie.
After three subpar performances, Ivory scored his first NFL touchdown with a 23-carry, 99-yard effort, his best outing since the 158-yard game against Tampa Bay.The next week, against the Cowboys, Ivory had his first multi-touchdown game, as he carried the ball only seven times for 38 yards—but he also scored two touchdowns in their 30-27 victory.
Ivory has only participated in nine games so far and has 108 carries for 519 yards and three touchdowns.
11. Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis Rams
Drafted: Undrafted, 2008 (Cowboys)
Best Game: Week 5 vs. Lions - 12 receptions, 95 yards
Amendola was signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2008 NFL Draft. He played college ball at Texas Tech, with former Heisman Trophy candidate Graham Harrell as his quarterback.
He has drawn many comparisons to former Red Raider Wes Welker—the two have a similar build and played the same positions while attending Texas Tech. Amendola and Welker both played at receiver and as a punt returner.
The Dallas Cowboys signed him after the draft, but was cut by America’s Team on August 30. He re-signed with the team and was immediately placed on the team’s practice squad—he would spend the entire 2008 season there and did not play a down for the Cowboys.
After his contract expired, Amendola was signed to the Eagles’ practice squad. However, he was waived during final cuts on September 5, 2009. The next day, he was signed to the practice squad again.
He would finally get his shot after the Rams signed him off waivers on September 22, 2009. In his first actual season in the pros, Amendola caught 43 passes for 326 yards and one touchdown.
So far this season, Amendola has 64 receptions for 534 yards and three touchdowns. He is currently listed as the starting slot receiver, and we will be seeing him take on a Welker-esque role for years to come—and this is just the start.
10. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills
Drafted: Seventh round (250th overall), 2005 (Rams)
Best Game: Week 7 vs. Ravens - 29-for-43, 382 yards, four TD's
Smart guys can play football. And Fitzpatrick has taken on that role this season.
Fitzpatrick’s career got off to a fast start, as he replaced injured Rams quarterback Jamie Martin in the second quarter in their matchup against the Texans.
The Rams were down 24-3 at halftime, and the former Ivy Leaguer led the Rams to a thrilling 33-27 overtime win. Fitzpatrick became just the fifth player in NFL history to throw for at least 300 yards in their NFL debut (he amassed 310 yards and three touchdowns in the win).
In 2007, he was dealt to the Bengals for a 2008 seventh-round pick. After the season, he signed a one-year tender with Cincinnati, and after his contract was up, Fitzpatrick packed his bags for Buffalo.
On September 10, Fitzpatrick was named the starter of the Bills after quarterback Trent Edwards wore out his welcome and was eventually cut by the team.
Fitzpatrick’s first start came against New England, with the quarterback managing to throw for 247 yards and two touchdowns—the Bills lost the game 38-30.
In Week 5, the winless Bills faced off against the Jaguars, as Fitzpatrick threw for 220 yards and three interceptions with zero touchdowns. The Bills lost the game 36-26 and fell to 0-5.
A week later, the Bills faced off against the Ravens, as Fitzpatrick had perhaps the best game of his young career, as he threw for 374 yards and four touchdowns—he also threw two interceptions, and the Bills lost the game 37-34.
The Bills won their first game of the year against the Detroit Lions, as Fitzpatrick threw for 146 yards and one touchdown. The following week, Fitzpatrick helped lead the Bills to a 49-31 comeback win over the Bengals—the quarterback threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Steve Johnson.
In the victory, it became the first time a team had been down by 17 points or more and end up winning the game by at least 18 points.
With Fitzpatrick, the Bills seemed to have found their guy.
9. Anthony Armstrong, WR, Washington Redskins
Drafted: Undrafted, 2008
Best Game: Week 5 vs. Packers - three receptions, 84 yards, one TD
The story of Anthony Armstrong is rather interesting. An undrafted rookie out of West Texas A&M, Armstrong didn’t sign with an NFL team.
Instead, when he finished his collegiate career in 2006, Armstrong signed with the Odessa Roughnecks of the Intense Football League. In 13 games with the Roughnecks, Armstrong registered 55 receptions for 760 yards and 18 touchdowns.
In 2007, he decided to leave the IFL and joined the Arena Football League, as he signed with the Dallas Desperados. He played sparingly for the Desperados, playing in only four games and catching 10 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns.
He came back the next season and played the entire schedule and posted 85 receptions for 1,148 yards and 18 touchdowns.
After the season was over, Armstrong was signed to the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad. He stayed on the practice squad the entire season, including the 2009 preseason. He was waived on August 29, 2009 and signed with the Redskins nearly two months later.
He would then spend the final 10 weeks on the Redskins’ practice squad.
However, Armstrong made the final cut prior to this season but was at the bottom of the depth chart.
He registered his first catch in Week 1 against the Cowboys, when he caught an 11-yard pass from Donovan McNabb.
Armstrong caught his first touchdown of his career against the Packers in Week 5, as he hauled in a 48-yard pass—he finished the game with a then-career-high 84 yards.
He would come back three weeks later against the Lions and catch three passes for 92 yards. Two weeks later, Armstrong caught a career-long 76-yard pass and somehow, he didn’t score a touchdown.
Armstrong is one of the biggest deep threats in the NFL and has caught five passes that are at least 45 yards—he currently has 25 receptions for 545 yards (21.8 average) and one touchdown.
8. Danny Woodhead, RB/WR, New England Patriots
Drafted: Undrafted, 2008 (Jets)
Best Game: Week 11 vs. Colts - seven carries, 69 yards, one TD; four receptions, 21 yards
Woodhead has come into his own so far this season, after the Jets had abandoned hope on the young scrapper. Woodhead, like teammate Wes Welker, is undersized and has crashed the NFL with his versatility and awareness.
The young player attended college at Chadron State, where he set many NCAA rushing records, including single season rushing and all-time rushing. Woodhead won the Harlon Hill Trophy in 2006 and 2007, which is annually given to the best player in Division II.
He became just the third player in Division II history to have won it twice, along with Johnny Bailey and Dusty Bonner.
His college career was rather Madden-like, as he finished his tenure with 7,871 rushing yards and 101 touchdowns, including a 2,756-yard and 34 touchdown season in 2006. He also recorded 9,259 all-purpose yards, ranking second in NCAA history behind Villanova’s Brian Westbrook.
Woodhead went undrafted in 2008, after not being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. He reportedly ran a 4.33 and 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at Pro Day, which would have ranked second among running backs at the NFL combine.
Before the 2008 draft was over, Woodhead received a phone call from the Jets organization, and they would soon agree on a rookie free agent contract.
On July 26, 2008, Woodhead was waived/injured by the Jets after bring carted off the field due to an injury. He spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.
In a 2009 preseason game against the Eagles, Woodhead ran for 158 yards, the second-highest total in the preseason since 1992. He survived the final cuts but was waived a day later—however, he was signed to the Jets’ practice squad
He was waived again by the Jets on September 14, 2010.
That’s where the Patriots come in. They signed the running back on September 18, one day before the Patriots took on the Jets in the first of their two-game matchup.
After running back Laurence Maroney was traded, Woodhead was brought in to the active roster, and he hasn’t looked back. He started his first game against the Bills in Week 3 and scored his first touchdown, a 22-yard scamper. He scored the following week against the Dolphins with an 11-yard touchdown.
Against the Colts in Week 11, Woodhead had the longest play of his career, a 36-yard touchdown run in the Patriots’ victory.
On November 19, the Patriots announced they had signed Woodhead to a two-year extension.
For the season, Woodhead has carried the ball 64 times for 344 yards and three touchdowns—he has also caught 24 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown.
It looks like he may be in a Patriots uniform for a long time and rightfully so.
7. Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers
Drafted: Undrafted, 2008 (Chargers)
Best Game: Week 11 vs. Broncos - 25 carries, 111 yards, one TD; two receptions, 42 yards
Tolbert has been quite the surprise in the Chargers’ backfield this season. Listed primarily as a fullback, Tolbert is currently the Chargers’ leading rusher, even with rookie Ryan Mathews and veteran speedster Darren Sproles on the team.
An undrafted rookie free agent in 2008, Tolbert played sparingly in his first two seasons.
With injuries occurring to Mathews and Sproles, it was Tolbert’s time to shine this season. After the Chargers’ Week 1 loss to the Chiefs, Tolbert went on a fantastic three-game stretch, especially for a person of his size and the conversion from fullback to running back.
Tolbert had his first multi-touchdown game in Week 2 against the Jaguars—he carried the ball 16 times for 82 yards, while scoring two touchdowns. The following week, Tolbert rushed 17 times for 73 yards.
He notched his first 100-yard game the following week in their blowout of the Cardinals with an effort that included 16 carries for 100 yards and one touchdown.
He didn’t do that well for the next three weeks when he totaled 17 carries for 19 yards and three touchdowns. In their defeat of the Titans in Week 8, Tolbert carried the ball 11 times for 63 yards and one touchdown.
The Chargers defeated the Texans in Week 9 when Tolbert carried the ball eight times for 32 yards—however, it marked the end of Tolbert’s five-game streak of touchdowns.
After the Chargers’ bye week, Tolbert caught fire against the Broncos and Colts, when he posted back-to-back 100-yard efforts. He posted a career-high 111 yards against the Broncos, along with a touchdown. In their blowout of the Colts, Tolbert posted 103 yards and one touchdown.
So far this season, Tolbert has been a touchdown vulture, while being tied for third in rushing touchdowns with nine.
He has carried the ball 138 times for 609 yards and nine touchdowns, but eventually, he will have to relinquish the starting role at some point soon due to rookie Ryan Mathews coming back at some point. But for now, it is his time to shine, and he has taken full advantage of it.
6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, New England Patriots
Drafted: Undrafted, 2008 (Patriots)
Best Game: Week 8 vs. Vikings - 17 carries, 112 yards, two TD's
Green-Ellis has sure found his way to the top over his football career. An undrafted rookie free agent, Green-Ellis played collegiately at Ole Miss and played well in his two-year stint for the Rebels...excuse me, Black Bears.
He played his first two seasons in college at Indiana before transferring over to the SEC school. Green-Ellis became only the second Ole Miss running back ever to post back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.
Green-Ellis scored his first NFL touchdown in his rookie campaign, when he rushed for a one-yard touchdown in the Patriots’ 41-7 blowout of the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football.
In 2009, Green-Ellis appeared in 12 games, all as a reserve. He managed to only carry the ball 26 times for 114 yards, while catching two passes for 11 yards.
2010 became Green-Ellis’ time to shine, as Laurence Maroney was traded to the Broncos and injuries hampered Fred Taylor’s and Kevin Faulk’s seasons. With injuries in the backfield, Green-Ellis saw an increased role and has played exceedingly well.
In Week 3, Green-Ellis carried the ball 16 times for 98 yards and one touchdown against the Bills. He made his first start of the season the following week against the Dolphins, while carrying the ball 16 times for 76 yards and another touchdown.
After two mediocre performances, Green-Ellis had the best game of his young career, while carrying the ball 17 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots’ 28-18 win over the Vikings.
In New England’s 45-24 over the Lions on Thanksgiving, Green-Ellis had his second multi-touchdown performance, while carrying the ball 12 times for 59 yards and two touchdowns.
For the season, Green-Ellis has 145 carries for 627 yards and 9 touchdowns—he is currently tied for third in the NFL for rushing touchdowns.
It may now be time for Green-Ellis to be the featured back in New England, and he is definitely off to a good start.
5. Mike Williams, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Drafted: First round (10th overall), 2005 (Lions)
Best Game: Week 10 vs. Cardinals - 11 receptions, 145 yards
Former USC head coach Pete Carroll was hired as the Seahawks lead mean entering the 2010 season, and the coach decided to take a shot on Williams, who he had coached while at USC. The receiver hadn’t been in the NFL since 2007, when he played six games for the Oakland Raiders.
Williams was brought in and has become quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s favorite target. Williams is currently the Seahawks’ leading receiver and it isn’t just luck—he’s ahead of Ben Obomanu by 264 yards (Obomanu currently has 390 yards).
In his 2005 rookie season, Williams played in 14 games and finished the year with 29 receptions for 350 yards and one touchdown. The following season, the receiver caught only eight passes for 99 yards and one touchdown.
After two somewhat dismal seasons in Detroit, Williams was traded on the first day of the NFL draft with quarterback Josh McCown to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for a fourth-round pick. In a game against the Titans, then-Raiders QB Daunte Culpepper threw a pass to Williams and if caught, the Raiders would have been in the red zone with a first down. Instead, Williams dropped the pass, and they lost possession on turnover on downs.
Williams’ error turned out to be his last in a Raiders uniform as he was released a few days after. During his Raiders tenure, Williams only managed to catch seven passes for 90 yards
On November 22, 2007, Williams was signed by the Titans, which reunited him with former teammate LenDale White and former offensive coordinator Norm Chow. It was reported that Williams weighed at 271 pounds, which is very high for a wide receiver. During the offseason, Williams lost 30 pounds and showed up to team activities in May 2008 at 240 pounds. However, that wasn’t enough for the Titans, as he was released on July 31, 2008. In two games for the Titans, Williams didn’t register any receptions.
He would remain out of football before signing with the Seahawks this offseason. After the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Williams was placed in the starting unit and hasn’t looked back.
From 2005-07, Williams caught only 44 passes for 539 yards and two touchdowns. In his lone season with the Seahawks, the receiver has caught 52 passes for 654 yards and one touchdown—and the best part? The season's not even over yet. Clearly, Williams is on the right track, and he may turn into the player most people had hoped when he was drafted in 2005.
4. Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills
Drafted: Seventh round (224th overall), 2008 (Bills)
Best Game: Week 11 vs. Bengals - eight receptions, 137 yards, three TD's
Johnson, drafted by the Bills with the 224th pick in 2008, wasn’t given much of an opportunity to play until this season. Now, he is putting up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers and has also become a Fantasy Football stud.
In his rookie season, Johnson caught 10 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. His first reception came in Week 5 against the Cardinals—he caught one pass for eight yards.
While playing well in practice, Johnson got more playing time in the Bills’ loss to the Cleveland Brown on Monday Night Football—he caught three passes for 41 yards.
Johnson caught his first touchdown in Week 15 against the Jets, as he hauled in a two-yard touchdown from J.P. Losman. His second touchdown came against the Broncos a week later, as he caught a three-yard touchdown from Trent Edwards.
Prior to the 2010 season, Johnson was named as the No. 2 receiver by the Bills’ coaching staff.
He caught his first touchdown of 2010 against the Patriots in Week 3 with three receptions for 66 yards and one touchdown.
After a five-game mediocre start to the season, Johnson broke out in the Bills’ Week 7 overtime loss to the Ravens. He registered eight catches for 158 yards and one touchdown. Two weeks later, Johnson hauled in 11 receptions for 145 yards and one touchdown.
In Buffalo’s 49-31 comeback victory against the Bengals in Week 11, Johnson had the best game of his young career when he caught eight passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
Through 11 games, Johnson has 59 receptions for 796 yards and nine touchdowns. He is currently tied for 13th in receptions, 11th in receiving yards and tied for third in receiving touchdowns.
Johnson has clearly become the Bills’ No. 1 receiver and has overtaken Lee Evans as the favorite target. He could be on the right track for his NFL career, and we may see him in the Pro Bowl this season.
3. Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns
Drafted: Seventh round (227th overall), 2008 (Broncos)
Best Game: Week 9 vs. Patriots - 29 carries, 184 yards, three TD's
Hillis is perhaps the owner of one of the coolest stories of the season. A late-round selection, Hillis was taken with the 227th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft—and many people didn’t expect him to even see the field.
Like Mike Tolbert, Hillis was a fullback but has now been converted to a running back.
And in case you didn’t know, Hillis was pretty much a throw-in in the trade that sent quarterback Brady Quinn to the Denver Broncos. With Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter on the team, Hillis was the odd man out, so Denver pretty much gave up on Hillis, and I’m sure the Browns are happy they felt that way.
Not only that, but when he arrived in Cleveland, the running back wasn’t even going to be taken seriously as the starter prior to the season.
Jerome Harrison had been enlisted as the starter before the season started, but injuries and poor performances sidelined him, and Hillis eventually got the starting nod. Hillis has done so well that Harrison got dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this season.
After Harrison and James Davis went down with injury, Hillis got his first start with the Browns for their Week 3 game against the Baltimore Ravens (rookie Montario Hardesty tore his ACL during the preseason, automatically putting him out for the year).
In the game, Hillis rushed for a then-career-high 144 yards and also added 36 yards on seven receptions. The next week, Hillis rushed for over 100 yards against the Bengals, while leading the Browns to their first victory of 2010.
A thigh injury in practice limited Hillis in their Week 5 matchup against the Falcons, but he still added a 19-yard touchdown reception. That made Hillis the first Browns player since Greg Pruitt to score at least one touchdown in five straight games.
However, Hillis’ best performance came in Week 8 against the Patriots when he rumbled for a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 36 receiving yards to give him 220 total yards of offense in the game.
Following the game, Hillis was named the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Week—the first Browns running back to win that honor since Eric Metcalf in 1992.
Hillis was at it again in Cleveland’s Week 12 victory against the Panthers, as he carried the ball 26 times for 131 yards and a career-high 3 touchdowns. He also added six receptions for 63 yards, too.
Hillis is on track for his first 1,000-yard season, as he has already registered 199 carries for 905 yards and is second in the NFL with 11 touchdowns. He has also caught 46 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns.
With performances like these, Hillis will likely be making his first Pro Bowl, and he definitely deserves it.
2. Brandon Lloyd, WR, Denver Broncos
Drafted: Fourth round (124th overall), 2003 (49ers)
Best Game: Week 5 vs. Ravens - five receptions, 135 yards, two TD's
Lloyd, perhaps the oldest player on this list, was drafted with the 124th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, the receiver caught 14 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
In 2004, his sophomore season, Lloyd appeared in 13 games and caught 43 passes for 565 yards and six touchdowns. He had the best season of his career the following year (up until this season), after leading the 49ers in receptions (48) and receiving yards (733)—he also caught five touchdown passes.
In the 2006 offseason, Lloyd was dealt to the Redskins in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2006 draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft. His first season in Washington was horrid, as he only caught 23 passes for 365 yards and hauled in no touchdowns.
Statistically, Lloyd had the worst season in the Super Bowl era for a No. 2 receiver, as no No. 2 receiver started more games (12) while performing less (23 catches, 365 yards).
The Redskins released Lloyd in the 2008 offseason, after he only managed to catch two passes for 14 yards.
He signed a one-year contract with the Bears that season and he only caught 26 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns. However, Kyle Orton was the quarterback at that time, and that would benefit Lloyd in the near future.
After his contract was up, Lloyd signed with the Broncos, successfully re-uniting himself with Kyle Orton. However, the receiver played sparingly in that season and only played in two games—he caught eight passes for 117 yards with no touchdowns.
But, 2010 became the breakout season for the former Illinois star. Lloyd has been on fire this season and has registered 58 receptions for 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns. He is currently leading the NFL in reception yards and has posted career-highs across the board, including yards-per-catch, too.
The duo of Lloyd and Orton has become one of the most feared tandems in the league, and Lloyd is more than likely headed to his first Pro Bowl.
After seven dismal seasons, Lloyd appears to be headed in the right direction, as he is the NFL’s top receiver thus far.
1. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
Drafted: Undrafted, 2009 (Texans)
Best Game: Week 1 vs. Colts - 33 carries, 231 yards, three TD's
Perhaps the best out of the list, Foster went undrafted in 2009 and with the performances he’s put up, I don’t see how.
He was signed by the Texans after draft day, but was later released on September 5. He was then signed to the practice squad the day after and signed to the active roster on November 17.
Foster made his NFL debut the following week, but just played on special teams. On December 27 against the Miami Dolphins, Foster scored his first career touchdown—a 17-yard run up the middle.
He made his first career NFL start on January 3, 2010, against the New England Patriots and carried the ball 20 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns—his first career 100-yard game.
Going into training camp, Foster outplayed Steve Slaton and was given the starting reins.
In his first start of 2010 against the Indianapolis Colts, Foster had the best game of his young career—he carried the ball 33 times for 231 yards and three touchdowns, which is still remarkably the best running back performance of the year.
His performance against the Colts was also the second-highest total on opening day by a running back, trailing only O.J. Simpson’s 250-yard effort in 1973.
In Week 4, Foster was benched for the first quarter against the Raiders, but later in the game, he would record the longest run in Texans history—a 74-yard touchdown run to break a 14-14 tie, in which Houston would eventually win the game 31-24.
Despite the benching, Foster finished the game with 17 carries, 133 yards and one touchdown.
In Weeks 8 and 9 against the Colts and Chargers, respectively, Foster posted back-to-back games of at least 100 yards rushing—in his second 2010 appearance against the Colts, Foster carried the ball 15 times for 102 yards and one touchdown. The Texans, however, would lose the game 30-17.
The following week, in their 29-23 loss to San Diego, Foster notched his fifth 100-yard game, while carrying the ball 27 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Three weeks later, against the Titans, the former Volunteer carried the ball 30 times for 143 yards—however, he did not score in the game, successfully ending his five-game streak with a touchdown.
Foster has proven to be a diamond in the rough thus far and is currently leading the league in rushing with 1,147 yards—he is also first in rushing touchdowns with 12.
It looks as though that Foster will be the Texans’ main man for a long time.