NFL Power Rankings: Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Most Surprising Performers in 2011

Daniel CiarrocchiCorrespondent ISeptember 26, 2011

NFL Power Rankings: Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Most Surprising Performers in 2011

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    The NFL season is still young, but that doesn't mean that surprising performers like Ryan Fitzpatrick haven't made their presence known.

    In just three weeks, it's become clear that there are several unlikely players worthy of our attention. Some had been dismissed due to being buried on the depth chart or through harsh criticism. 2011, however, has set a new stage for them to make a name for themselves. Such is the beauty of the NFL.

    Let's take a look at some of the early head-turners that have surprised us this season:

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Quarterback, Buffalo Bills

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    The ascension of Buffalo Bills quarterback Ran Fitzpatrick has been well-documented over the course of the young 2011 NFL season, and for good reason. It's to the shock of many to see.

    Fitzpatrick compiled average numbers in 2010, but showed promise. His 382 yards and four touchdown passes against a stout Baltimore Ravens defense gave Bills fans something to look forward to.

    Now, Bills fans are in an unfamiliar territory where they can hope for the future and bask in the present.

    Fitzpatrick has gotten off to a superb start, posting a 103.5 quarterback rating and completing nearly 65 percent of his passes. This current pace would shatter his previous career highs and place him near the top of the NFL in both categories. Only Tom Brady finished with a higher quarterback rating last season (111.0).

    Now, the Bills are 3-0, and better days could still be ahead for them and their signal caller from Harvard. 

Cam Newton, Quarterback, Carolina Panthers

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    Say what you want about what Cam Newton's potential was coming out of college. But to many, there were plenty of doubts. Failing to check down, opting to run too often, and concerns of inaccuracy convoluted the scouting report of 2011's No. 1 overall pick.

    The jury is still out on Newton, but what isn't debatable is how well he has done thus far. Back-to-back 400-yard games to begin an NFL career is something fans have never seen before, and Newton treated the eyes of many to just that.

    Whether he can be consistent or not remains to be seen, but for the time being, Newton has hushed his worst critics.

Fred Davis, Tight End, Washington Redskins

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    Fred Davis was drafted in the second round in 2008, which is quite high for a tight end. Since then, however, he has mostly lived in the shadow of Chris Cooley and a sputtering Redskins offense.

    Not in 2011.

    With Cooley recovering from knee surgery and the Redskins offense finding new life under the tutelage of Kyle Shanahan, Davis has exploded onto the scene.

    In just two games, Davis has logged 191 yards and a touchdown from 11 catches, all the while flashing the physical prowess which earned him such a high draft spot.

    Davis has developed a rapport with Rex Grossman, and as long as that continues, the young tight end could have a career year.

Daniel Thomas, Running Back, Miami Dolphins

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    Daniel Thomas had a rocky road to the top of the Miami Dolphins depth chart.

    Throughout the preseason, Thomas was criticized for not hitting his gap hard enough and lost the starting job that looked to be his since draft day. The Dolphins' front office was even prompted to sign Larry Johnson as a safety net, albeit a flimsy one. 

    However, now that Thomas sits atop the Dolphins' depth chart, it doesn't look like he will relinquish that spot any time soon.

    Thomas has accumulated 202 yards over his first two games and has averaged almost five yards per carry. He even looks like he could be a factor in the passing game after his three-catch performance against Cleveland in Week 3.

    Chad Henne can't air it out as much as he did at the start of the season. Thomas could continue to be a great weapon to lighten the load.

Fred Jackson, Running Back, Buffalo Bills

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    It's not surprising to see Fred Jackson put up good numbers. It's just that not many expected it to be to this degree.

    Jackson is averaging a ridiculous 6.4 yards per carry and his 303 yards rushing is fourth-most in the NFL. He also has five carries for 20 yards or more, which has been equaled only by Darren McFadden so far in 2011.

    Jackson is a home run threat in the making, and before long, his offensive output won't be a surprise to anyone.