The most surprising player on every NFL team so far


Football is the ultimate team sport, and each season produces surprise performances from under-the-radar players. Through five weeks of the regular season, these surprise players stand out.


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Kliff Kingsbury hasn’t traditionally used his tight end often in his offense, but that’s changed with Williams’ output early this season. Williams caught 16 of 17 targets for 193 yards and one score before suffering a major leg injury in Week 5.


Atlanta Falcons: Cordarrelle Patterson, RB/WR

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Patterson has been a utility player for most of his NFL career, without a significant offensive role. That’s changed in Atlanta under head coach Arthur Smith, as Patterson has averaged over 10 touches per game and had five touchdowns over his first five contests. After losing Julio Jones, the Falcons were searching for new weapons and Patterson has answered the bell.


Baltimore Ravens: Latavius Murray, RB

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Murray spent training camp with the Saints before getting released as a cost-cutting move, and the Ravens are glad he did become available. He’s seen the most touches of anyone in the crowded Ravens backfield and tallied three scores in the team’s first four games.


Buffalo Bills: Dawson Knox, TE

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Knox was quiet in his first two NFL seasons, but he’s now having a breakout campaign. The tight end already has a career-high four touchdowns as the most productive Red Zone target on the high-powered Bills offense.


Carolina Panthers: Sam Darnold, QB

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Darnold was traded to Carolina in the offseason, hoping to revitalize his career. After his early production, it’s fair to say that he’s done just that and made former Jets head coach Adam Gase look bad in the process. Darnold has a solid 7.5 yards per attempt.


Chicago Bears: Robert Quinn, OLB

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Coming off a poor 2020 season, there were concerns Quinn was in deep decline. He’s looked like his former self early this year with 4.5 sacks after recording a total of two sacks in 15 games last year.


Cincinnati Bengals: Logan Wilson, LB

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Wilson is seeing an expanded role this year and looks like a Pro Bowler in the making. He leads the team in tackles and interceptions, contributing in every facet for a much-improved defense.


Cleveland Browns: Malik McDowell, DT

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The 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft by Seattle, McDowell is just making his NFL debut this season after a freak accident and legal issues over the last several years. He’s not only contributing for the Browns but has started every game, becoming one of the best stories in the league this year.


Dallas Cowboys: Trevon Diggs, CB

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Diggs has been a true ballhawk early in the year, recording six interceptions over the first five games. The 2020 second-round pick struggled in his rookie season, but he’s suddenly looking like one of the best corners in the league.


Denver Broncos: Caden Sterns, S

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Sterns looks like a great find from the fifth round of this year’s draft, already making his presence known with big plays. He recorded his first career interception in Week 3, followed by a pair of sacks against the Ravens in Week 4.


Detroit Lions: Kalif Raymond, WR

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Just a role player since he came into the league in 2016, Raymond became Detroit’s No. 1 wideout early in the year. That might speak more for the team’s lack of talent than Raymond’s ability, but the 27-year-old wideout has still been a valuable player.


Green Bay Packers: Randall Cobb, WR

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Green Bay seemed to reacquire Cobb in training camp only to appease Aaron Rodgers, but the pair have picked up where they left off in 2018. Cobb had a huge Week 4 while Marquez Valdes-Scantling was sidelined, with five catches and two touchdowns.


Houston Texans: Mark Ingram, RB

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Ingram wore down in Baltimore last season, but he’s found some new life in Houston. The overall stats haven’t been pretty with a poor yards-per-carry average, but Ingram has seen significantly more work than teammates Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, and Rex Burkhead in the crowded Texans backfield.


Indianapolis Colts: Michael Pittman Jr., WR

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The hope was that Pittman would be ready to step in as Indy’s top receiver this season, and he’s been able to do just that with T.Y. Hilton sidelined. Pittman easily leads the team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards.


Jacksonville Jaguars: Adam Gotsis, DT

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Gotsis has rarely been a major factor as a pass rusher during his career, but he’s off to an excellent start with two sacks in his first three games. His contribution has been much-needed for a Jaguars squad that has started slowly again.


Kansas City Chiefs: Michael Danna, DE

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The Chiefs’ defense has been terrible early in the year, and injuries have been a big reason. Danna has played more than expected as a result of Frank Clark‘s hamstring issues and recorded three sacks through the first five games.


Las Vegas Raiders: Henry Ruggs, WR

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It took longer than hoped, but Ruggs has become the elite deep threat the Raiders hoped for when they drafted him in the first round last year. Through five weeks, he averaged an awesome 20.5 yards per catch and led the team in receiving yards.


Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Williams, WR

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Williams has been an inconsistent contributor as the Chargers No. 2 wideout over the last two years, but he’s suddenly become Justin Herbert‘s favorite target. The pending free agent is on a Pro Bowl pace, leading the passing game for what appears to be one of 2021’s breakout teams.


Los Angeles Rams: Darrell Henderson, RB

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Cam Akers was supposed to be LA’s primary running back this season, but a season-ending injury before training camp opened the door for Henderson. He’s run away with the opportunity, totaling 384 yards from scrimmage and three scores through his first four games.


Miami Dolphins: Jacoby Brissett, QB

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Based on Tua Tagovailoa‘s injury history, there seemed to be a fair chance Brissett would see action this season. The Dolphins just hoped he wouldn’t see action so soon. Brissett has appeared in every game so far and kept the team in most games, though the offense has been extremely vanilla with him under center.


Minnesota Vikings: K.J. Osborn, WR

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The Vikings were hopeful another receiving option would emerge this year, and Osborn has been excellent as their No. 3 wideout. The second-year wideout had big games in Weeks 1 and 2 and has been a reliable target for Kirk Cousins.


New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB

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Jones not only beat out Cam Newton for the starting job in Week 1 but he’s prospered as New England’s starting quarterback. The Patriots’ offense has been relatively conservative with Jones under center, though he still completed 71% of his passes through five games.


New Orleans Saints: Deonte Harris, WR

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Harris is a former All-Pro kick returner, but he’s been forced into action more often on offense as the team waits for Michael Thomas to return from injury. Through four games, Harris led the offense in receptions and yards.


New York Giants: Azeez Ojulari, LB

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The pass rush has been a struggle early in the season for New York, but Ojulari has done his part. The rookie second-round pick recorded a sack in his first three games.


New York Jets: John Franklin-Myers, DL

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Franklin-Myers has gone from role player to starter this season, and he’s done well with the additional snaps. Through four games, he already matched his career-high with three sacks.


Philadelphia Eagles: Javon Hargrave, DT

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A solid player before this season, Hargrave has been downright dominant on the interior for the Eagles in 2021. He recorded six sacks through five games, already the second-best total of his career.


Pittsburgh Steelers: Pat Freiermuth, TE

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There isn’t much to write home about from Pittsburgh’s early-season offense, but Freiermuth has been a pleasant surprise. The rookie has emerged as the team’s most capable receiving tight end, with nine catches and a touchdown in his first four games.


San Francisco 49ers: Dee Ford, DE

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Ford has been injured for most of his time in San Francisco, including only one game played last season. While in just a pass-rushing role this season, he’s proved he can still help with three sacks through his first four games.


Seattle Seahawks: Darrell Taylor, DE

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Taylor didn’t make an appearance during his rookie season due to a knee injury, but he’s proving worth the wait. The former second-round pick has a sack in four of Seattle’s five games.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Leonard Fournette, RB

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Fournette was up and down in his first season with the Bucs, but he’s come out on fire this year. The veteran running back has upstaged Ronald Jones to easily take the lead role, but he’s also been a frequent contributor as a receiver.


Tennessee Titans: Ola Adeniyi, DE

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Just a role player early in his career with Pittsburgh, Adeniyi is proving to be a diamond in the rough for Tennessee. He has 2.5 sacks through five games.


Washington Football Team: Taylor Heinicke, QB

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Heinicke showed flashes for Washington late last year but lost the starting job in training camp to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. It didn’t take long for Heinicke to emerge after Fitzpatrick suffered a hip injury in Week 1, and there’s been no turning back. He’s been more than just a fill-in, completing nearly 64% of his passes with eight touchdowns through five games.


About the author


Kathy Lewis

Kathy Lewis is an all-around geek who loves learning new stuff every day. With a background in computer science and a passion for writing, she loves writing for almost all the sections of Editorials99.

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