Chris Simms' NFL All-Week 3 Team
By this point in the NFL season, the truly great players begin to separate themselves. Not only are they in the rhythm of the regular season and finally in game shape, they—like the coaches around them—have multiple games of film on their opponents.
The cerebral aspect of football often goes underappreciated. One of the best players I was ever around was Derrick Brooks. Everyone acknowledges he was an extremely gifted Hall of Fame player, but I can tell you he was on another level a few games into the season. His preparation and study allowed him to act as a coach on the field. It allowed him to recognize a running back's route before he was out of the backfield or to break on a pass out of his zone because he knew that's where the play was going.
By Week 3, we're seeing the proverbial cream rise to the top.
There were a lot of great players who had incredible performances in Week 3, so putting together my list of the top 22 was difficult. I try to always put more weight on what I've seen on game film than on raw statistics, but that was more important than ever this week.
For my All-Week 3 Team, I'm recognizing the players who I believe had the most impact on their respective games. There were far more than 22 worthy candidates. So who made the final cut? Let's take a look.
QB: Tom Brady, Patriots
What needs to be said about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady? What he's doing at age 40 is amazing. What might be most incredible is that he's been a better downfield thrower the last couple of years than he was from 2009 to 2013.
The Patriots went into their game with the Houston Texans with a less-than-healthy Danny Amendola and no Julian Edelman. The offense didn't miss a beat because of No. 12. He's the calmest, coolest clutch quarterback we've ever seen, and that showed in Week 3.
Brady was under constant pressure against Houston. His team was down with just over two minutes remaining. He led the offense down the field and then fired a perfect pass down the sideline to Brandin Cooks for the go-ahead score. He put the ball where only Cooks could get it, and he did so with a throw that few quarterbacks are capable of making.
No lead is safe when Brady is on the field.
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the greatest one-man show in football. He's the only guy I believe could have won Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals were the better team. They had the better secondary, the better defensive line, the healthier offensive line, the better backfield and a receiving corps that at least rivals the Packers'. What Cincinnati didn't have was Rodgers.
Green Bay's game plan has almost become one where Rodgers is expected to drop back, buy time, look downfield and make magic happen. Somehow it works. Did anyone really expect the Packers to lose when Rodgers took over at the end of the game with one chance to make up a seven-point deficit? He drove the team down the field and made a pinpoint throw into the end zone that had Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick staring back in disbelief.
Unless Rodgers is facing a team that has him monumentally outclassed, he can beat anyone almost by himself.
RB: Devonta Freeman, Falcons
I'll admit that I questioned the Atlanta Falcons running game coming into the season because of the loss of Kyle Shanahan. Well, Devonta Freeman seems to be taking it upon himself to make me look foolish. There might not be a back who hits the hole faster than Freeman does, and his ability to make people miss is through the roof.
The Detroit Lions front seven is a good unit. Yet, Freeman made running against it look effortless at times. Plus, he's always a viable option in the passing game. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry against Detroit while hauling in three passes for 32 yards. In other words, he boosted both the Atlanta passing and rushing offense while ensuring the Detroit defense stayed honest.
In a game where Matt Ryan made a few uncharacteristic mistakes, that was huge.
Also huge was Freeman's touchdown run. He took a pitch and burst forward through the Lions front. It was only a one-yard run, but it showed Freeman is just as good between the tackles as he is in space.
RB: Todd Gurley, Rams
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley couldn't find two holes to run through during the 2016 season. It doesn't matter how gifted you are as a running back, you need a little help to find space. On Thursday, head coach Sean McVay got him some help, and we saw how great Gurley can be.
Gurley is special in the open field. His speed is big time. Once he gets out into the open, there aren't a lot of people who are going to catch him. The Rams got him to the edge, and they also opened some big holes for him up front.
One of the best plays of the night, though, was all on Gurley. It was a two-yard touchdown run that was designed to go inside. There was no hole there, so Gurley stopped in his tracks, sprinted toward the edge and found the pylon before the defense could close.
Gurley's ability to make plays in the passing game is also underrated. His five catches against the San Francisco 49ers helped quarterback Jared Goff tremendously.
RB: Chris Thompson, Redskins
Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson doesn't get the attention he deserves. That's why I'm putting him on this list instead of a guy like Kareem Hunt—who was certainly worthy himself. While Hunt's 183 yards of offense in Week 3 were impressive, Thompson had 188.
Thompson might not be as good between the tackles as a back like Hunt, but he's the biggest weapon on the Washington offense right now. Whether he's coming out of the backfield and running routes, catching a screen from the receiver position or bursting through the middle with pure speed, Thompson is special.
The Redskins rolled over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night, and they did so largely because of the versatility and ability of Thompson. He put fear in the Oakland defense with plays like the bubble screen he took 74 yards on 3rd-and-19. That's the type of play that makes a defense feel like even when it should have you stopped, it might not.
WR: Stefon Diggs, Vikings
Minnesota Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs isn't the prettiest receiver in the league, and he isn't the most explosive either. Yet he has no weakness. There's something to be said for that. He's a good route-runner, he's a good 50-50 ball-catcher, he's fearless over the middle, and he's become the No. 1 target in Minnesota—for whomever is playing quarterback. He was certainly a big part of Case Keenum's success in Week 3.
Having a target like Diggs will do a lot for a quarterback. He had a catch in the back corner of the end zone in tight man coverage that he made look effortless. He had another play where he caught the ball down the sideline, broke a tackle and outran the defense for a 59-yard touchdown. That score helped put the Vikings up 28-3 and sealed the game.
I'm not going to lie—I didn't think Diggs was a legit No. 1 receiver. I'm not completely sold that he's an elite No. 1 quite yet, but he's certainly starting to change my mind.
WR: Brandin Cooks, Patriots
It was a little laughable when the Patriots lost Edelman and people actually wondered if Cooks would be able to do some of the same things Edelman brought to the offense. You mean one of the fastest, shiftiest pass-catchers in football? Yeah, he can do some of those important things.
Week 3 brought about Cooks' first real integration into the New England offense. He finally looks comfortable, and he finally appears to be playing loose and taking over. He had several impressive catches against Houson, none bigger than the game-winner.
Somehow, Cooks pulled in a rocket from Brady on the sideline, tapped his toes to the ground while being hit and hung on for the score.
Week 3 should be a confidence-builder for Cooks, Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Now that everyone is on the same page and confident in him, we should start to see some special things from Cooks.
WR: Sammy Watkins, Rams
A lot of people seem to be giving Rams receiver Sammy Watkins the bust label because he was drafted ahead of Cooks, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014. That's probably a bit harsh since he's dealt with injuries. Regardless, Watkins showed what he can do Thursday night.
Watkins had a phenomenal Willie Mays-like catch down the sideline that a lot of receivers wouldn't make. We saw some great things from him after the catch as well. However, his most impressive play of the night was the touchdown where he caught the ball over the middle and bowled people over to reach the end zone.
That was a play that proved Watkins is willing to put his body on the line for Goff, McVay and the offense. If he can stay healthy, Watkins is going to be a massive part of Goff's development.
OT: Taylor Lewan, Titans
You might view Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan as a bit of a jerk after watching him get into Richard Sherman's face in Week 3. I'll tell you this, though: If I got hit on the sideline the way Marcus Mariota did, he's the kind of jerk I'd want to stick up for me.
You have to love Lewan's fire and his passion for the game. More than that, you have to love his physical ability. Two of the biggest plays of Tennessee's game against the Seattle Seahawks came as a result of Lewan's athleticism in space.
The long receiver screen caught by Rishard Matthews was sprung by Lewan getting out and blocking a smaller skill guy in space. DeMarco Murray's long touchdown run was set up by Lewan pulling and getting out in front of the play.
Oh yeah, and Lewan pass-blocked against Seattle's standout front all game and never gave up a sack. That's the work of a premier left tackle.
C: Jason Kelce, Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles asked a lot of center Jason Kelce against the New York Giants in Week 3. The Giants have one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL, and the Eagles consistently asked Kelce to block one-on-one, pull and spring runs. That shows how much Philadelphia thinks of its center.
Almost all the big runs against New York came as a result of Kelce's play. When Corey Clement broke a 15-yarder in the fourth quarter to help tie the game, Kelce was the lead blocker. He pulled to the left—which isn't easily done from the center position—and sealed the edge in order for Clement to score.
Wendell Smallwood's 20-yard run was an example of the same thing. Kelce got to the edge, got to the second level and made blocks. His ability to block downfield showcases his athleticism. At the same time, Kelce has the strength to sit back and hold up guys like Damon Harrison on passing plays.
Kelce was a big reason why Carson Wentz had a solid game and a big reason why the Eagles racked up 193 rushing yards against one of the best defenses in the NFL.
G: Kyle Long, Bears
There were a couple of guys on the Chicago Bears offensive line who could have made my All-Week 3 Team. However, this was Kyle Long's first game of the season, and it's no coincidence the Bears had their best rushing game of the year.
Long has a rare combination of strength and athleticism, and we saw it against a fast and powerful Pittsburgh Steelers defense. That combination allowed Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard to produce more than 200 rushing yards. We saw him get out and block a guy like Bud Dupree in space. We also saw him drive back Tyson Alualu on Howard's short touchdown run. He also cut off the backside on runs, which isn't easy for most guards.
Long can do it all physically.
Perhaps more important than his physical skills is the attitude he brings to the offensive line. If you've ever closely watched Long play, you'll realize he enjoys smashing people's faces. That helps give Chicago a presence up front.
CB: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey could have rightfully been on this list every week so far. For my money, he's the best corner in football right now. That's scary because this is only his second year in the NFL.
Ramsey is physical at the point of attack, his top-end speed is amazing, and he has great length and arm radius. He also tackles as well as any corner in football. If you gave me one guy to match up with any receiver one-on-one, I'd pick Ramsey.
The Jaguars dominated the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3, and a big reason why was Ramsey's presence in the secondary. His interception was particularly impressive. He undercut Mike Wallace on a post route and dove to steal the ball. It was the kind of play few defenders can make and the kind that made Joe Flacco hesitant to test Ramsey again.
CB: Marcus Peters, Chiefs
If Ramsey is the best corner in football, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters is right behind him. They just happen to play two vastly different styles. Ramsey gets in your face. Peters loves to sit in off coverage, read the quarterback and break on the ball.
This is exactly what happened on Peters' interception against the Los Angeles Chargers. He was supposed to cover the receiver running the go route, but he saw the play and knew where the ball was going. The result was a pick and a 38-yard return.
He had another great play later in the game where he broke on a deep route and closed in time to break up the pass. Many cornerbacks whiff on those types of plays. Peters almost always makes them. He is a smart, well-studied player. Peters also has the best ball skills of any cornerback I've ever seen other than Deion Sanders.
S: Jamal Adams, Jets
New York Jets safety Jamal Adams may be a rookie, but he's already one of the best safeties in football. That's how incredibly he's played in the first three weeks of the 2017 season.
What's really amazing is Adams' ability to read plays, react to runs and get to the hole before the running back can. He also has the strength to sit at the end of the line of scrimmage, set the edge and hold down blockers. Even when engaged, he seems to always keep an arm free enough to make a tackle.
The stat sheet might say Adams had two tackles and a sack against the Miami Dolphins, but his impact on the game was much, much greater. The disruption he causes and his ability to redirect running backs by closing in on plays changes what opponents do. There aren't many safeties being asked to do what Adams is asked to do by Todd Bowles on a play-to-play basis, and Adams is excelling.
S: Glover Quin, Lions
Lions safety Glover Quin often gets left out of the conversation of top secondary players, but he shouldn't. For a smaller guy (6'0", 207 lbs), he's a phenomenal tackler, and he has no fear of throwing his body around. He's also disciplined in coverage and smart when dissecting plays.
Quin was a big reason why the Lions got back in the game after the Falcons took an early lead. Atlanta was controlling the game, had the ball and was up 17-6. Quin read Ryan's eyes, jumped the route, intercepted the ball and returned it for a 37-yard touchdown.
That's what we like to call a game-changing play. Quin is a defender who makes them with regularity.
S: Josh Jones, Packers
If anyone listened to me during the draft, they already knew Packers safety Josh Jones was one of my favorite players. He is a lot like Adams but perhaps a little less polished. However, he might be a more explosive athlete at the same time, which is saying a lot.
Jones has impressive ability to tackle on the back end in space, fly down into the box and make tackles in the running game and blitz. It's not always about being called to blitz, either. The hard part for a safety is timing the snap and accelerating at the right moment to sneak up on both the blockers and the quarterback.
We saw Jones nail two such sacks against the Bengals while making tackles all over the field. He was a big reason why Cincinnati didn't build on its lead in the second half. Green Bay knocked it out of the park by getting Jones at the end of the second round.
DT: Aaron Donald, Rams
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is unreal. The guy's been practicing for two weeks and is instantaneously the most disruptive interior defensive player in the game.
The stats are never going to do Donald justice. He had one sack and three tackles against the 49ers, but if you think that's all he did, you're a fool. If there was a stat for messing up a play design, Donald would be the king of it every week.
He was all over the field against San Francisco. While the Rams defense as a whole left something to be desired, Donald made enough plays to ensure Brian Hoyer and the 49ers offense never got comfortable.
LB: Carl Lawson, Bengals
I don't want to pat myself on the back too hard, but Carl Lawson was another guy I absolutely loved leading up to the draft. I thought he was the second-best pass-rusher behind Myles Garrett, and that's the type of player he was in Week 3 for the Bengals.
Lawson was a force against the Packers, and he repeatedly embarrassed the offensive line. He was credited with 2.5 sacks, but he brought a lot more pressure than the statistics indicated.
Though he's only played three games, Lawson is already establishing himself as one of the best young pass-rushers in football. He has the ability to turn the corner with speed and also has Khalil Mack-type power. The sky is the limit for Lawson as a sack artist.
DE: Jadeveon Clowney, Texans
When Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is healthy, there's no one more enjoyable to watch on film. His physicality, athleticism and length are out of this world. His ability to impact a game is rare.
Clowney gave Brady and the Patriots all they could handle Sunday. Look, Nate Solder is a good left tackle, and Clowney ran around him a few times and pushed him into Brady's face a few more. You don't see Brady take some of the hits he took from Clowney often. Clowney had two sacks, and he made sure Brady was never comfortable in the pocket.
In addition to bringing heat as a pass-rusher, Clowney is capable of making some incredible plays in space. Just go back and watch him catch a Brady fumble out of the air and return it 22 yards for a touchdown. Clowney didn't even break stride. It was see ball, snag ball, score.
DE: Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys
When you have a showing like Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence did against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night, you're going to make my All-Week Team. The guy was a terror all game, which is incredible because Dallas consistently used a three-man rush.
Lawrence whupped everyone he faced, especially Jared Veldheer. Veldheer never had a chance of stopping Lawrence one-on-one.
What might be most impressive about Lawrence is his motor. He didn't slow down once against the Cardinals despite regularly facing double teams. He kept the pressure on Carson Palmer throughout the second half, and he may have been the reason the Cowboys won. Lawrence had three sacks, but he hit Palmer many more times than that.
DT: Maliek Collins, Cowboys
I don't like to put two guys from the same defensive line on my All-Week Team. Yet when you have three guys consistently dominating a five-man line for an entire game, it's hard to ignore. As good as Lawrence was off the edge, Maliek Collins was just as good in the middle.
In fact, many of Lawrence's hits came after Collins collapsed the pocket and forced Palmer to move to his right to avoid interior pressure.
Collins got his own hits in, of course. He had two sacks, the most impressive coming on third down in the second quarter. He threw A.Q. Shipley out of the way and closed on Palmer before the Cardinals quarterback could react. Collins was also effective against the run and a big reason why Arizona's inside ground game struggled.
It's impressive to see a defensive tackle like Collins keep the pedal to the metal like he did against the Cardinals. The Cowboys need him to continue to play like that because the strength of their defense right now is up front.
LB: Telvin Smith, Jaguars
What Jacksonville did to Baltimore in London was annihilation. Weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith was a major part of that. When you watch him on film—especially in this game—Smith seems to be everywhere.
He is a sideline-to-sideline player, yet he's also a tremendous blitzer. For a guy who's 215 pounds, he plays with a lot of power and strength too. I marvel at his physicality.
What really jumps out with Smith is his read-and-react skills. He got to the hole on some plays before the Ravens running back got there. That's a rare skill. Some linebackers sit back and wait to grab a back three yards downfield. Smith goes after them. He sees plays develop, he shoots, and he goes and gets guys.