Two summers ago, my brother gave me a call about a young Giants pitcher who’d shot through the farm system in a matter of weeks and was called up to the club. He arrived with electrifying stuff, but he was inconsistent.
My favorite moment of his rookie season was when he threw three innings, arrogant, nasty, and un-hittable, before coming out and getting shelled in the fourth. Although he wasn’t able to keep it up throughout the game, those first three innings were a glimpse into what he could be. His arrival was a shot in the arm that a moribund team needed.
This past season, that pitcher, Tim Lincecum, made the leap. It’s one of the most underrated experiences in sports, that moment or season when the guy you’ve been pulling for makes that jump—when he puts everything together and is able to impose his will on his opponents.
Here are five players in the NFL that have made that leap and have tied themselves to the fortunes of their teams, for better or for worse.
When he broke his 56-yard touchdown against the Broncos, I could see it coming: It was a play designed to go to the left, and the Broncos blew it up, but DeAngelo was able to cut back, and once he dodged the man protecting the cutback, he accelerated through the middle of four defenders and was gone.
He’s been making these runs consistently throughout the second half of the season and leads the league in touchdowns. Against Tampa he was plowing through defenders and running as hard as any back I’ve seen this year not named Jacobs.
Three weeks ago I didn’t trust him. Right now the only running back I’d rather have is Adrian Peterson.
He’s that good.
Playing for one of the worst teams in history, he’s fifth in receiving yards and has 10 touchdowns. He’s had 12 different quarterbacks throwing to him, including a guy who ran out of the back of the end zone.
Johnson runs like a gazelle. He’s tall enough to jump over any defender in the league to make a catch, and he has the speed to beat defenses both vertically and in space.
All that and he can still improve in almost every aspect of the game.
Calvin Johnson is a monster.
He was lousy his first two seasons, until Michael Vick was thrown in jail for electrocuting non-aggressive dogs, after which he caught 82 passes for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns while playing alongside future Hall of Famers Byron Leftwich, Joey Harrington and Chris Redman. This year he’s catching passes from a rookie signal caller and on pace to surpass those numbers.
How many dogs had to die in order for us to realize that Michael Vick throws worse then Joey Harrington?
Who knew at the beginning of the season that the Chargers kept the wrong back? He’s second in rushing and first in rushing touchdowns. I knew Turner was for real when he blew up a good Panthers defense for 117 yards and four touchdowns in a big NFC South matchup.
Right now Atlanta has a top five back, a top five receiver, a guy who might be the best quarterback in the game within three years, a solid second receiver (Jenkins), an explosive third receiver (Douglas), and a backup tailback who has the talent to be a star in his own right (Norwood).
It’s a good time to be a Falcons fan.
After his rookie year, pundits pointed out that he played against the weakest slate of corners any receiver had.
After his second year, they said his 53 catches meant he wasn’t as good as his 12 touchdowns indicated and that his touchdowns were an aberration anyway.
This year he has 69 catches for 1,153 yards and eight touchdowns.
Next year it’s going to be hard to write him off.