Jesse Holley, Tim Tebow and the 5 Best NFL Success Stories of 2011

Adam OdekirkContributor IINovember 20, 2011

Jesse Holley, Tim Tebow and the 5 Best NFL Success Stories of 2011

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    Even if Jesse Holley finishes this entire season having only played the hero once, his return to the NFL will have been a success.

    Holley, who was the winner of the Michael Irvin reality competition 4th and Long, made the big catch in overtime to help lead the Cowboys to their victory over the 49ers earlier this season. Much like a Hollywood redemption story in which a player makes one great play, Holley has had little opportunity to do much more this year. 

    Still, he had a grab of 17 yards today that extended a scoring drive, so maybe Holley is not done.

    Here are several more unexpected success stories in the NFL this season.

Kevin Smith

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    Would total offense of over 200 yards and three touchdowns in a single game constitute making the most of a second chance?

    Kevin Smith of Detroit sure hopes so.

    After being released by Detroit and spending time as free agent only to have Detroit call back when starter Jahvid Best's return to the lineup was delayed, Smith has made a strong case for himself being the No. 1 back heading down the stretch.

    This game might have been an anomaly and if games like this were standard for Smith, he would have never been released, but maybe the time away gave him the perspective needed to make the most of his opportunity the second time around.

Tim Tebow

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    If success were solely determined by statistics, then Tebow would fall woefully short of making this list—that is, unless the stats were wins and fourth-quarter comebacks, because in those terms he has been a smashing success so far.

    The very mention of the name can be the most polarizing discussion happening around the NFL right now, but the simple fact is the Broncos are now contenders for the AFC West once again.

    The amount of credit that can and should be given to Tebow is open for debate, but to say that his tenure as a starter is anything but a success in terms of wins and losses is simply not a discussion. 

Torrey Smith

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    Whatever else happens for Torrey Smith in the 2011 NFL season will be a follow-up act to the success story that he authored Nov. 6 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    After turning heads with his three-touchdown performance early in the season, Smith was well on his way to being considered an NFL "one-hit wonder"—that is until the final drive against the Steelers in a game that the Ravens needed to sweep the season series between the two teams.

    Smith dropped a sure game-winning touchdown and was minutes away from becoming the goat responsible for killing the Ravens' playoff hopes when he collected himself and hauled in the game-winner minutes later.

    Smith continued building his big-play resume today against the Bengals in another tough AFC North matchup.

Jimmy Graham

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    The numbers that Jimmy Graham has put up would be impressive for an elite wide receiver in the NFL, so the fact that he is doing it from the tight end position is amazing. Graham's burgeoning relationship with Drew Brees has helped breathe new life into the Saints offense.

    Graham might tell you though that finding success in the NFL has been easy compared to his childhood. He was abandoned by his mother and lived with his adopted mother in a trailer up until he was accepted at Miami.

    If you have not read about or heard his story, do yourself a favor and check it out. After learning more about who Graham is, it becomes clear that his success is well-deserved this season.

The Cincinnati Bengals

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    Even with their loss today, the Cincinnati Bengals have surpassed the win total projected for them by many experts this season.

    They may have surpassed it when they won their first game.

    Simply put, with a rookie playing quarterback and throwing to a rookie wide receiver on offense and a defense that seems devoid of a true NFL superstar, this team was supposed to be competing for the league's worst records.

    Flash forward to today, and this team is still an outside shot at making the AFC playoffs as a wild card. Dalton and Green have been impressive on offense, and their team defensive mentality has guided the Bengals to victory on many occasions.

    Even in defeat the last two weeks, this looks like a team on the verge of beating the Ravens and Steelers for the AFC North in the near future.