Navorro Bowman is one of several players in the NFL this season whose success has come because of who they play with. Football is a team sport, but some players benefit more than others due to their teammates' performances.
The purpose of this story isn't to knock him or anyone else on the list. Rather, it is to shine a light on the reason for their success.
Some players, like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, make everyone around them better and are successful because of their individual abilities apart from the team. While the players on this list are talented (obviously they made it this far in the NFL), they have had some help along the way to stardom.
The New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham is shooting up fantasy draft boards like a phoenix rising from the ashes. He leads all tight ends in receptions with 62, he's tied for second in touchdowns with six, and he is Drew Brees' favorite target.
The 6'6" 260 pound receiving tight end is playing like the best in the NFC. Yes, the best.
But his success is largely due to the fact that he is fortunate enough to be in the same offense as one of the most prolific passers in the NFL this season, Drew Brees. Granted, Brees' numbers might be slightly down if Graham weren't on the team, but Brees would just find someone else to throw the ball to in that case.
If you put Jimmy Graham in another offense, I don't see him coming close to the success he's having this season with Drew Brees at the helm.
Terrence Newman has been consistently good for a handful of years now. He has a partner in crime that you may not have considered.
Newman has been fortunate to play with one of the NFL's elite pass rushers, and that has given him the freedom to be opportunistic with his play in the secondary. DeMarcus Ware helps Newman to be able to play more aggressively than some other cornerbacks in the league that don't have such high powered pass-rushing friends.
Scared quarterbacks make silly decisions. Newman is lucky that most quarterbacks are scared when they throw the ball against Dallas.
Raise your hand if you think Steve Smith feels good about his decision to stay put in Carolina this year. Consider my hand raised. It is actually a toss-up whether Cam Newton or Steve Smith benefits the most from each other.
Steve Smith has been an explosive receiver his whole career, but he had seemed to hit a slump the last couple of seasons. His skills must have been hibernating, trying to survive the long, cold winter of quarterback ineptitude, because he is now better than ever.
Cam Newton and Steve Smith are one of the best combinations in the NFL. I wonder how long Steve Smith will play, now that he has a partner in crime. Let's hope he can stay healthy and spry for a long, long time.
When Hines Ward started creeping up there in years and the wear and tear of the NFL began to take its toll on the Steelers' star receiver, the team began to look for his successor. They drafted Mike Wallace in the third round a few years back, and since then he has gradually taken over that top spot.
Nowadays, Wallace is the lightning rod that sparks the Pittsburgh offense. He is so fast and quick, and with the Steelers offensive line looking like swiss cheese more often than not, he provides a quick outlet for Roethlisberger to count on in times of trouble.
You never know when Wallace will take a 5-yard slant 85 yards to the house. Big Ben was already an elite quarterback before Wallace joined the team, as his two championship rings attest, but Wallace makes him even better.
Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have taken his skills to a whole other level, though, and developed an offense specifically tailored to his natural abilities.
In the same way that Drew Brees has spurred the development of Graham, so has Brady done for Gronkowski. They just happen to be better at the game than the Saints.
The only reason I don't flip this relationship around is that Brady has done it with whomever the Patriots put on the field, whether the talent is elite or not. Remember when Troy Brown was the best they had? Brady still managed to make everyone look good.
I fully expect this combo to hit 12 to 14 touchdowns before this season is over, and they have a good chance to break the record for touchdowns by a tight end, held by Antonio Gates and Vernon Davis at 13.
Green Bay Packers' general manager, Ted Thompson, deserves the executive of the decade award for the roster he has put together. The Packers are the most loaded team in the NFL, and they are still one of the youngest teams in the league.
The Packers' receiving corps is the best group in the game, but their quarterback is even better. They are awesome, but he is heavenly. They are a hot fudge sundae, and he is the cherry on top. I think you get my point.
Navorro Bowman has made everyone in the Bay Area forget about the man formerly known as "the neck", Takeo Spikes. There was some consternation by many fans when the 49ers didn't challenge San Diego's offer to Spikes and decided to put their eggs in the Bowman basket.
I'm proud to say that I was one in the minority that lauded the team's decision to go younger and faster at the middle linebacker position.
Bowman is fantastic, but he has just the tiniest bit of help from his teammates on the defense for the 49ers. The 49ers defense is the most complete, well-rounded unit in the NFL.
Playing next to the undisputed king of NFL linebackers, Patrick Willis, might be helping his cause as well.