Every year, many players rise to the occasion and step up their games.
This year has been no exception.
In this slideshow I will profile 10 players, in no particular order, who have improved the most from 2010. These players all have taken the next step in their progression as NFL players.
Follow me on Twitter @stacdemon
In the preseason, Eli Manning made headlines by anointing himself "elite" with the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and his own brother Peyton, all the while taking some major flak.
All Eli has done is go out and prove that to be true.
Manning is on pace for a career year with 2,688 passing yards and 17 touchdown thus far. More importantly, is the fact that Manning has seriously cut down on the number of interceptions he has thrown. In 2010, Manning threw an ugly 25 interceptions. Through nine games this year he has only eight.
While his stats are not awe-inspiring, Smith has done a tremendous job of managing games and as a result the 49ers are winning.
Smith rarely makes mistakes (only three interceptions) and is playing well within Jim Harbaugh’s system. With the way the 49ers have been running the ball, Smith has not been needed to make many plays with his arm. That is something that might have to change if the 49ers are to make a deep run in the playoffs.
You could see the talent with Graham last year, but this year he is putting it on full blast.
Graham has tapped his promising potential and that has translated into production. So much so that Graham is the top scoring tight end in the majority of fantasy leagues with 62 receptions for 873 yards and six touchdowns.
Most savvy fantasy owners knew Jackson was solid.
However, no one knew Jackson would be this good.
Jackson still leads the league in rushing with 917 yards and also has six touchdowns to boot. Jackson is without a doubt a top 10 running back thus far.
While an injury may have slowed him down in the last couple of weeks, McGahee has rejuvenated his career in Denver.
After playing in the shadow of Ray Rice in Baltimore for the last few years, McGahee came to Denver refreshed. Not too long after arriving he immediately became Denver’s No. 1 running back. Thus far, McGahee has rushed for 658 yards and scored four total touchdowns.
Sproles has been a perfect fit in the Saints offense, as he has been more effective as a pass-catcher than a run-of-the-mill every down back.
Sproles is adept at getting in the open spaces of the defenses and making defenders miss him with his elusiveness. To date, Sproles has 348 rushing yards and two touchdowns. However, his 60 receptions for 448 receiving yards and three touchdowns are what really make him special.
All Wells needed was an opportunity.
With Tim Hightower going to Washington and 2011 second round draft pick Ryan Williams getting injured in the preseason; it opened the door for Wells to breakthrough. Wells is still tied for third among running backs with seven rushing touchdown and his 588 yards rushing is not too shabby either.
Who knew all Smith needed to rebound was the arrival of Cam Newton?
Ever since Newton was named starting quarterback for the Panthers, Smith went back to being an elite top 10 level receiver.
After languishing for the last few years with incompetent quarterbacks, Smith is back on track and already has 951 yards receiving to go with four touchdowns.
Nelson has elevated his game exponentially in 2011.
Nelson is now one of Aaron Rodgers favorite targets.
Nelson is even coming close to becoming Rodgers No. 1 target, surpassing the always steady Greg Jennings. Nelson makes the most of his targets and is as reliable as they come. Nelson has 34 catches for 633 yards and seven touchdowns this year.
For a guy who was nothing more than a third or even fourth receiving option on last year’s team, Nelson has become a focal point on the league’s most explosive offense.
Ever since his three-touchdown game against the New York Jets in a preseason game in 2010, Cruz has teased the Giants with his big playmaking abilities. In 2011, he has finally broken through and has become a favorite target of the aforementioned Eli Manning.
So far this season, Cruz has recorded 40 receptions for 672 yards and four touchdowns.