NFL's 5 Biggest Surprise Players This Season

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIDecember 18, 2011

NFL's 5 Biggest Surprise Players This Season

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    For this article, I had the tough task of sorting through handfuls of this season's surprising players and find the five best.

    The 2011 season was filled with surprise players, but there were a few that stuck out more than all the others.

    Here are the five players who were the biggest surprises of the season.

Honorable Mention

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    Laurent Robinson, WR, Dallas Cowboys

    Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos

    Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers

    Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

    Cam  Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

    Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland Raiders

    Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins

    Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals

    Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

    NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers

    George Wilson, S, Buffalo Bills

    Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants

    Connor Barwin, OLB, Houston Texans

    Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco 49ers

Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    Jordy Nelson has been a promising player since coming into the NFL, never catching less than 22 passes and two touchdowns in his first three years, but who would have thought he would lead the Packers in receiving in his fourth season?

    With 51 catches for 957 yards and 10 touchdowns, Nelson has surpassed Greg Jennings in both yards and touchdowns and averages 18.8 yards per reception. He has developed an outstanding rapport with Aaron Rodgers and looks ready to be a No. 1 NFL receiver.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints

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    What's impressive about Jimmy Graham's breakout year is that he had just 35 receptions for 356 yards and five touchdowns a season ago.

    What's more impressive, however, is the fact that Graham is the leading receiver for one of the NFL's top passing teams that features receivers like Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson.

    Graham has caught 80 passes for 1,101 yards and eight touchdowns, and the only other tight end that compares this season is New England's Rob Gronkowski.

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks

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    Doug Baldwin is one of this season's most remarkable stories. An undrafted free agent out of Stanford, Baldwin got a chance with the Seahawks and responded by leading the team in receiving, as well as being a special teams difference-maker.

    Baldwin's 45 receptions for 718 yards and three touchdowns leads the pass-challenged Seahawks, and he even blocked a kick and returned a kick 37 yards in a win over the St. Louis Rams last week.

Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants

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    Victor Cruz played in three games and failed to record a single statistic in 2010, which was his first year in the NFL.

    In his second year, he has only caught 68 receptions for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns to beat out Hakeem Nicks as the team's leading receiver.

    Seriously, how does that even happen?

Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos

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    Who else?

    Let's be real—there were very few people that thought Tim Tebow would ever succeed in the NFL, and those that did had some kind of faith in the kid. But after winning seven out of eight games this season with essentially the same team that started 1-4 (minus Kyle Orton), the Tebow believers are springing up all over the place.

    Not only are the wins impressive, but Tebow's stats are prettier than some may think.

    Forget his 48.5 percent completion rate; drops have been a big part of that. But he has thrown for 1,290 yards and 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions in his eight starts and has also run for 517 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

    And if you think Tebow is just a flash in the pan, consider how much he has improved from his first start against the Miami Dolphins to last week's game against the Chicago Bears.

    Tim Tebow is not going away any time soon.