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Tag:Jason Babin
Posted on: January 30, 2012 10:57 am
Edited on: January 30, 2012 4:12 pm
 

Eagles will keep Castillo, hire Bowles

CastillorBy Josh Katzowitz

All along, it’s been pretty obvious that, whether Eagles coach Andy Reid kept his job (and it was always pretty clear he was going to do so), Juan Castillo would be out as defensive coordinator. After all, Philadelphia struggled for much of the season with its wide-nine scheme*, and there were rumblings that in order to keep his job, Reid would have to fire Castillo.

Reid denied it at the time, and it looks like he was telling the truth, because according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Castillo will remain as defensive coordinator.

The team also announced that former Dolphins interim coach Todd Bowles -- who was a head coaching candidate for the Raiders after leading Miami to a 2-1 record after the Tony Sparano firing -- will take over as the Eagles secondary coach.

*This is what happens when you hire an offensive line coach to be your defensive coordinator.

Clearly, this wasn't all Castillo's fault. The wide-nine scheme was Reid’s idea -- in fact, there was speculation that Reid hired Castillo for the defensive coordinator job because he couldn’t find a suitable DC who actually felt comfortable running that scheme -- and it took a while for Philadelphia’s personnel to make it work.

Add that with a flurry of offseason acquisitions -- including Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- and you can begin to see that not all the defensive inefficiencies could be blamed on Castillo.

"We've just got to continue to work with it," Reid said in October after the Eagles started 1-4. “Listen, anything new you've got to work with and work out the wrinkles and get it right."

"Players, they have to learn it, coaches have to learn it, particularly the new coaches. So it's a joint effort there."

And actually, the Eagles played better defense than you think. According to Football Outsiders, they were the 12th-most efficient defensive unit in the league, and in yards and points allowed, they were a top-10 squad. In the final four games of the year -- all Philadelphia wins -- the Eagles allowed an average of 11.5 points per game.

So, obviously the defense did improve. Based on that, maybe it’s not surprising Castillo was retained in the first place.

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Posted on: December 24, 2011 10:21 pm
 

Tony Romo says he's OK to play next week

T. Romo said he'd play next week, despite his hand injury (AP).

By Josh Katzowitz

A potentially scary moment for the Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo in their 20-7 loss to the Eagles shouldn’t keep Romo out of next week’s potential playoff clincher vs. the Giants.

That’s what Romo told reporters after the game today after it was discovered, via the Cowboys website, that Romo didn’t break any bones in his hand (but only broke blood vessels) when he hit his hand against the helmet of Eagles defensive end Jason Babin.

As he was walking to an elevator, Romo told ESPN Dallas that he’ll play in New York for the NFC East title, and he said that if the Giants had lost to the Jets, thereby making the Cowboys game meaningful, he would have tried his best to return Saturday.

"I would've tried very hard," Romo said. "No question. I did a little bit but the coaching staff decided against that."




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Posted on: December 23, 2011 8:11 pm
 

For the gambler in you, Week 16

Babin

By Josh Katzowitz

Each week, we’ll take the best -- and most clever -- odds collected by Bovada for the upcoming week and give our take. This is important stuff, perhaps the most important post you’ll read all week. Because if you can’t lose money while watching a game in which you have absolutely no effect, what’s the point of watching sports at all?

Will Jason Babin tie or break the record of 22.5 sacks in a single regular season? 

Yes 5/1

Well, considering Babin doesn’t get to play against Brett Favre at all (“Thanks again, Brett,” says Michael Strahan), it’ll be tough to match Strahan’s record. Babin has 18 sacks and two more games to tie Strahan, and he’s be on fire recently, recording eight sacks in the past three games. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that the Eagles finish the season with the Cowboys and Redskins -- which rank 20th and 10th, respectively, in sacks allowed this season. So, while it might be tempting to take the odds, I think I’d probably go ‘no.’

Will Bear GM Jerry Angelo be fired before Game 1 of the 2012 regular season?     

Yes -140

No EVEN

Retired? Maybe.
Fired? No. While Caleb Hanie has been terrible since taking over for Jay Cutler, the Bears were on their way to the playoffs if their most important player didn’t get hurt. Now, if you’re asking Matt Forte, what he’d like to see happen, he might point toward a firing. But I don’t see it for now. That, however, doesn’t mean Angelo will be back next year.

Will Raheem Morris be the head coach of the Bucs for Game 1 of the 2012 regular season?     
   
Yes +110

No -150

I want to say yes, simply because the slide for the Buccaneers this season has been so steep. But I can’t stop thinking about last year’s surprising 10-6 finish that Morris helped orchestrate. I’d go no, but when Morris says things like this about his team, “You know, they’re not listening,” that’s certainly not a good sign.

Will either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Buffalo Bills win another game this season?

Yes -210

No +170

The Buccaneers play at Carolina and Atlanta; Buffalo plays host to Denver and then is at New England to end the season. Straight-up, I’d pick the Buccaneers and Bills to lose all of those games, but I think one team will end up winning one game. I’d bet ‘yes’ on this one, and cross my fingers.

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Posted on: December 20, 2011 4:19 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2011 11:22 am
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 15

Posted by Will Brinson



Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 15 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman Hernandez  Smith Succop Belichick
Prisco   Brees  Babin  Lee Crennel
Brinson   Brees  Smith  Lee Crennel
Katzowitz   Brees Abraham  Suh Crennel
Wilson  Stafford  Smith  Lee  Turner
Week 15's a wrap and that means the NFL's regular season is just about over. Sigh. Anyway, hardware time.

Drew Brees moved well within range of Dan Marino's passing yardage record on Sunday and the near-perfect performance earned him our Eye on Offense Award.

And Aldon Smith's beasty performance on Monday night locked him into our Eye on Defense Award pretty convincingly as well. His teammate Andy Lee's big-footed evening was enough to warrant an Eye on Special Teams nod.

And though Romeo Crennel made some mistakes on Sunday with his clock management and fourth-down decisions, taking down the previously undefeated Packers and getting his first Gatorade bath was enough for him to pull in the Eye on Coaching Award this week.

Leave your votes in the comments below or scream angrily at us on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Ryan Wilson
Aaron Hernandez Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots
The other Gronkowski destroyed a solid Denver defense with nine catches for 129 yards. Actually, Tom Brady should win this award, but he wins the damn thing every week. When the Broncos shut down Gronk, Brady shifted to Hernandez, and Hernandez, like a growing number of players at his position, presents huge matchup problems for a defense.
Matthew StaffordMatthew Stafford, QB, Lions
Sure, the Raiders didn't play much defense on that final fateful drive, but Stafford threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns (with no picks), including the game-winner to -- you guessed it -- Calvin Johnson with 39 seconds to go.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Drew Brees Drew Brees, QB, Saints
He threw for 412 yards and five touchdown passes and sat much of the second half against Minnesota. Brees did what he wanted to against an overmatched Minnesota defense.
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
Brees is probably going to win the award next week too when he breaks Dan Marino's passing record ... with a week to spare. Want real proof QB rating is dumb? 32 of 40 for 412 yards and five touchdowns somehow doesn't garner a perfect rating. Brees was just that on Sunday.
Josh Katzowitz
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
I don’t think I’ve voted for Brees once this season, but come on, the guy has been spectacular. Against the Vikings, he was 32 of 40 for 412 yards and five touchdowns. If not for guys named Rodgers and Tebow, Brees would be THE story as he hunts down Dan Marino’s passing yards record. Somebody should give that dude a raise.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Wilson
Aldon SmithAldon Smith, LB, 49ers
One play he drove Max Starks so far into the Pittsburgh backfield, Starks was in San Jose. Once the 49ers play better offenses with quarterbacks not on one leg, that defense will truly get tested. But for now, it's dominant, and Smith might be its most dominant player.
Aldon Smith Aldon Smith, LB, 49ers
Steelers LT Max Starks should get some credit for his turnstile-tastic effort. To paraphrase Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football, if the game had gone on much longer, Smith would've earned a trip to Canton on that singular performance. 
Prisco Brinson
Jason BabinJason Babin, DE, Eagles
He had three sacks against the Jets, whipping tackle Wayne Hunter all day long. Babin leads the NFL with 18 sacks and has been one of the best free-agent pickups this season.
Aldon SmithAldon Smith, LB, 49ers
The real culprit for the blown transformer prior to the Monday night game? Smith, who ate the damn thing and used it as a source of power to terrorize the Steelers offensive line all night, repeatedly pummeling Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh's backfield.
Katzowitz
John Abraham John Abraham, DE, Falcons
He took over the game in the third quarter when he sacked Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert 3 ½ times and forced fumbles on consecutive Jacksonville series. Abraham is 33 years old, but he’s now got 8.5 sacks on the season, showing that even though he keeps getting older, his level of outstanding play isn't decreasing.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Wilson
Ryan SuccopRyan Succop, K, Chiefs
Succop kicked four field goals in Arrowhead on Sunday afternoon and was one of the main catalysts for knocking off the previously unbeaten Packers.
Andy Lee Andy Lee, P, 49ers
He punted six times, always changing field position in the process. He had punts downed at the Steelers' 5, 10, 8 and 14. David Akers gets all the notoriety but Lee is just as important to the 49ers' success.
Prisco Brinson
Andy LeeAndy Lee, P, 49ers
He averaged 47.5-yard per punt and 49.2 net yards  -- the latter speaks volumes about hang time -- and he also had four punts inside the 20 against the Steelers Monday night.
Andy LeeAndy Lee, P, 49ers
Turns out the only way the Steelers were winning on Monday was by generating some turnovers and getting good field position. Lee made sure the latter didn't happen, sticking the Steelers inside their own 20 four different times and averaging 47.5 yards per punt on the night.
Katzowitz
Ndamukong Suh Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions
If there’s anybody in this world who can make a game-winning, NFL record 65-yard field goal, it’s Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski. Suh wouldn’t let that happen. After sitting out his two-game suspension, Suh helped save the Lions by getting a hand on Janikowski’s attempt.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Wilson
Bill BelichickBill Belichick, HC, New England Patriots
Solved the riddle that is Tim Tebow. Now, the Lions were able to shut down Tebow earlier in the season, but that wasn't this Tebow. The Patriots, after a disastrous first quarter, battered Tebow and made him throw the football. At this point, he can't do that consistently well.
Norv Turner Norv Turner, HC, Chargers
He won't get many more chances to win this award since he could be looking for work in a few weeks, so I thought I'd honor him after blowing the doors off the Ravens' defense Sunday night. Philip Rivers looked like, well, Philip Rivers. Looks to be too little, too late, though … or does it?
Prisco Brinson
Romeo CrennelRomeo Crennel, HC, Chiefs
He takes over for the fired Todd Haley and his team pulls off one of the biggest shockers of the season in beating the Packers, ending their chance for an undefeated season. Who else could win this award this week?
Romeo CrennelRomeo Crennel, HC, Chiefs
For some weird reason, I'm enthralled by the picture of a Gatorade-soaked Crennel getting love from his players after beating Green Bay Sunday. He took down an undefeated behemoth as an interim coach and did it with his speciality: defense. How could it be anyone else?
Katzowitz
Romeo Crennel Romeo Crennel, HC, Chiefs
The Chiefs were a different team with Crennel. They played hard, and we didn't have to see Tyler Palko go out there and fling the ball around. My favorite moment from the Chiefs win? With the victory in hand, Crennel is smiling and clapping. He gets a Gatorade bath. For a second, Crennel stops, startled by the cold. Then he smiles and begins clapping again.

Posted on: November 10, 2011 11:05 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 11:05 pm
 

Babin says Bears played dirty on MNF

Babin says he 'got the s--- knocked' out of him on a cheap shot from the Bears(Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

This would go a long way in explaining why the Eagles defense refused to tackle anyone against the Bears Monday night, although there's still the issue of what happened the first five weeks of the season when, you know, the Eagles defense refused to tackle anyone. Either way, defensive end Jason Babin had some choice words for Chicago.

On Thursday Babin said the Bears, on a play in the second quarter, brought a tight end in motion and blindsided him. Babin thinks he was a defenseless player.

“I got the s--- knocked out of me,” he said, according to CSNPhilly.com. “I knew somebody hit me from the side and I didn’t know where it came from or who it was. To me it’s one of those plays, where somebody could get really hurt, especially if you’re running full speed and not looking.” Babin also said that it was an “intentionally called play.”

“If everything is about safety and protecting players, then that should definitely fall under the safety rules and regulations,” he said. “I saw it on tape and I was like ‘wow, they did that.’”

Babin says the Eagles talked to the league about the play in question, although we don't suspect much will be done about it. And that's because, in the league's eyes, defense is boring. The NFL arithmetic goes something like this: more offense means higher ratings which means more money.

“It’s one of those things where we don’t get any protection,” He said. “We just get in trouble for it.”

Ryan Clark has absolutely no idea what you're talking about, Jason.


After an overtime win over the Rams last week, the Arizona Cardinals hope to continue this week as they go up against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Join Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan as they preview this matchup.

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Posted on: November 9, 2011 9:01 am
 

Tuck says Eagles have to build chemistry

McCoyPosted by Josh Katzowitz

Giants defensive end Justin Tuck -- his team comfortably three games in front of Philadelphia for the NFC East lead (and two games in front of the Cowboys) -- has no problems talking about the Eagles problems.

But Tuck also realizes how dangerous that team can be, and in an interview with Jim Rome on Tuesday (via PFT), he actually was somewhat complimentary.* Somewhat, anyway.

“I think everybody expected a little bit more [of the Eagles],” Tuck said. “I think with the talent they have on their football team, they can be one of the most dangerous teams in the league. When they put it together, the thing I was quoted saying is, ‘You can’t buy championships.’ And what I meant by that is, you’ve got to build chemistry.

“You can have all the talent in the world. (But) if you’re not out there playing as one, if you’re just 11 individuals, you’re not gonna beat anybody in this league. And I think right now that’s some of the issues that they’re having. Nobody can question how talented they are, nobody can question how good of a coach Andy Reid is. Everybody knows that. You need more than talent in this league, because every team has talent.”

Clearly, even with that talent, the Eagles have struggled with chemistry. They looked off-kilter and, frankly, terrible at times during the first five games of the season when they went 1-4. But then, Philadelphia seemed to figure out how to win, beating the Redskins and dominating the Cowboys.

Against the Bears on Monday night, the Eagles went back to playing atrociously for much of the game. Obviously, Tuck is right. The Eagles DO have plenty of talent -- Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Peters, Jason Babin, and the vaunted cornerback trio. But for whatever reason, the team still isn’t on the same page, and with eight games left in the season, Philadelphia is running out of time to find it.

While Philadelphia still has to play the Patriots, the Giants and the Jets, that’s nothing like the brutal schedule the Giants face in the final half of the season. So, hypothetically, there’s still time to catch up. But considering the Giants are playing damn good football, beating New England last week in the process, a division title for the Eagles might be a lost cause anyway.

*He even refrained from calling LeSean McCoy “Lady Gaga," which was pretty nice of him.

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Posted on: October 31, 2011 9:14 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Halloween edition

Todd Haley's beard is scaring small children (AP).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Halloween is all about the scary and the freaky and the things that make you shiver in fear in the dead of the night*. The NFL will celebrate the holiday by giving us a Monday Night Football matchup of San Diego and Kansas City, certainly not as scary as last week’s Baltimore-Jacksonville game, and in return, we’re providing a special version of Top Ten with a Twist.

*It’s also about candy corn, but that’s neither here nor there.

In it, we celebrate those coaches, players and accessories that force us to scream in horror and hide underneath the covers. The NFL is filled with large, athletic men that could force you to quicken your pace if you met them in a dark alley. But even those players get frightened. Here are some of the men (and objects) that scare you as fans and scare them as players.

And with that, we wish you a Happy Halloween. Hope everyone survives the scariest night of the year.

10. Jason Babin’s tattoos: It’s more than the tattoos. It’s what the arms that hold the tattoos do to opposing quarterbacks. Namely, they sack them, nine so far this season. The tattoos don’t have a great backstory -- he sketched in a notebook during college, and he liked the tribal design so much that he got them inked on both arms, over his shoulders and across his back -- but they make look him look scary and badass. Reminds me of: Seth Gecko in From Dust Till Dawn.

9. Hank Williams Jr.: He obviously scared the crap out of ESPN executives who immediately excused him from his Monday Night Football services after he compared President Obama and the Speaker of the House playing golf to Hitler yukking it up with Benjamin Netanyahu on the links. Williams, a staunch conservative, even freaked out the Fox News’ morning show crew by his analogy. I’m sure his fans love him even more for his controversial take, but his actions forced ESPN to turn him away from its door without any candy. Reminds me of: The Wolfman.

8. Javon Ringer: This applies only to Chris Johnson, who seemingly has lost his No. 1 role as the Titans running back and is splitting carries with Ringer -- who’s actually out-classing the former 2,000-yard runner. If this keeps up, Ringer will take over Johnson’s starting spot, presenting a scary situation for Tennessee -- having to pay their backup running back $55 million (with $30 million guaranteed). Reminds me of: The Ringer.

7. Roughing the passer: Hardly anybody understands what should be called and what shouldn’t be. If a pass-rusher grazes the helmet of a quarterback, is that a blow to the head? What constitutes unnecessary roughness? I mean, you can still tackle the quarterback, right? And nobody is more skittish about the rules and their implications than the officials who have to make the calls and throw the flags. Since it seems like they don’t know what they should be calling, every time a quarterback is sacked, it’s a roll of the dice. I love the line from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis a few years ago when Justin Smith was called for a penalty against Tampa Bay’s Bruce Gradkowski, "I guess you have to cuddle them to the ground." Except the penalties are anything but cuddly. Reminds me of: Blair Witch Project (fear of the unknown).

Babin6. Ndamukong Suh: We don’t really need to explain why. Suh is a monster come to life whose primary mission (and what seems to sustain his soul) is to destroy quarterbacks. Like here with Andy Dalton. Or here with Jake Delhomme. Suh has spent much of his time lately telling people he’s not a dirty player. But he’s also meeting with Roger Goodell this week to figure out how he can get fined less. Hopefully, he doesn’t scare Goodell the way he scares opposing quarterbacks. Reminds me of: The Hulk.

5. Roger Goodell’s accounting books: Goodell decides the disciplinary fines and then collects tens of thousands of dollars a week for various infractions (from helmet-to-helmet hits to uniform malfunctions). The reason he’s so frightening: it’s all so random. Dunta Robinson should have been six figures for his hit on Jeremy Maclin, but instead, it was in the $40,000 range. Troy Polamalu shouldn’t have been fined for calling his wife from the bench to let her know he was OK after suffering a concussion, but instead, Goodell lifted $10,000 from him. Mess with a player’s money, and for the most part, you’ll have earned their fear. Reminds me of: Ebenezer Scrooge.

4. Peyton Manning’s shadow: This looms high over the city of Indianapolis, and it blots out the sun whenever the Colts are playing. It’s not that he’s trying to be such a scary dude -- he seems to be the consummate teammate even while he’s recovering from his neck surgery -- but his shadow has become a black hole for any chance of the team winning in his absence. It’s quite frightening to think that, all this time, the only thing saving the Colts from long-term irrelevance was Manning’s health. Reminds me of: The Blob.

3. HGH testing: Obviously, this is the biggest bogeyman of all, because the union is in no hurry to allow the NFL to draw blood and test for human growth hormone. The NFL says the tests are safe and reliable. The union says the tests are invasive and unproven. Who do we believe? Just like much of the lockout fodder that emerged from both sides, we have no idea. But it seems pretty clear that the NFLPA is worried about agreeing to the testing. As if there’s a man with a needle waiting inside the union’s closest, ready to spring out after lights out. Reminds me of: the scary dentist from Little Shop of Horrors.

2. Tim Tebow’s throwing motion: After his performance vs. the Lions on Sunday (not to mention the first 55 minutes of the Miami game), it must be clear to anybody who can recognize NFL talent that Tebow doesn’t have what it takes to be a starting quarterback. We make fun of the guy, and I feel bad, because he seems like an absolutely great dude. But his motion is terrible, and his mechanics are flawed. Simply put, it makes us want to cry and go hide in the closet until it goes away. Reminds me of: John Moxon from Varsity Blues (true, not a horror movie, but still a scary portrayal of a Texas prep football player).

1.Todd Haley’s homeless look: Haley is sporting a winning beard, meaning he won’t shave again until the Chiefs lose, and it’ll be on display for Halloween. He looks like a combination of Artie Lang’s younger, skinnier (and more sober) brother and the crazed son of Kevin McAllister’s body-burying neighbor in Home Alone. And it’s beginning to scare small children. If the Chargers beat the Chiefs tonight, I think they’d be doing us -- and our kids -- a huge favor by forcing Haley to razor that thing off his face. Reminds me of: this guy from Hellraiser.

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Posted on: October 20, 2011 11:27 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: New Faces

J. Harbaugh has been the best new face in the league this year (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Every year, NFL teams make terrible calls. They draft the wrong player, they make ridiculous free agent signings, they let somebody quite valuable go to another team, they make their fan base collectively scratch their head.

Ah, but occasionally, these squads get it right. They draft the right guy, they sign the free agent that’s on the cusp of blowing up, they take somebody valuable from another team, they give their fan base a reason to smile and cheer.

Last year, I recounted the Top Ten new faces, and among the group were Terrell Owens, a combination of Thomas Jones/Ryan Torain/Peyton Hills, and LaDainian Tomlinson. All those guys played well last year, but it just goes to show that this list has less than a one-year expiration.

That said, here are the best pickups thus far in 2011. As I wrote last year, "All of the following have impacted their new teams in many ways and all have made the front offices who signed them seem clairvoyant in the process (though, in the case of a couple players, the decision to add them wasn’t exactly brain surgery). So, here’s to those who have found a new lease on life (or a new burgeoning career) with their new team."

10. Paul Posluszny: Though we could argue about whether the fact the Jaguars stole Posluszny away from the Bills by signing him to a six-year, $42 million contract ($15 million guaranteed) will help the team during the long haul -- Jacksonville, after all, is 1-5 and most likely will lose its head coach sooner rather than later -- but Posluszny has been a tackling machine. As the middle linebacker, he helped hold the Steelers to 55 yards of offense and no points in the second half of Pittsburgh’s 17-13 escape last Sunday while piling up a game-high 16 tackles. The Jaguars have a myriad of problems, but acquiring Posluszny, whatever the cost, was still a solid move.

9. Carson Palmer: OK, he’s been a member of the Oakland organization for less than 48 hours. He’s practiced exactly one time. It’s still unclear whether he’ll start this week (though I imagine he will), and I think there’s a better he doesn’t play well than him actually playing well. But the fact is: the Raiders are making solid moves, and they’re doing all they can to win today. Sure, giving up two first-round draft picks will hurt, but you have to admire the attitude that says, “Screw it, we’re going for it all this year.” And if Palmer plays well and leads Oakland to the postseason, the Raiders will have completely flipped the script.

8. Daniel Thomas: When the Dolphins failed to re-sign Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, that put the onus on the second-round pick to step into a featured back role and immediately contribute. With Reggie Bush around to take some of his load, Thomas has done that, ranking 10th in the league with 249 yards despite a hamstring problem, and he’s averaging a solid 4.4 yards per carry. He hasn’t scored a touchdown yet, but then again, the Dolphins might be the worst team in the league, so not many touchdowns have been scored by that squad. That doesn't take away from the strides Thomas has made early in his career.

7. Victor Cruz: Technically, he’s not a newcomer, since he made the Giants squad as an undrafted free agent in 2010, but considering he was placed on IR early in the season before he had accumulated any stats, I’ll forgive myself. Cruz has become a player who makes outstanding, circus-type catches and then makes silly mistakes. But he’s also caught 21 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns, and behind Hakeem Nicks, Cruz has developed into a solid No. 2 receiver for a team that still should contend for an NFC East crown.

6. Johnathan Joseph: He was considered the poor man’s Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason, signing with the Texans for the reasonable cost of $48.75 million over five years. But he’s been better than Asomugha this year, collecting three interceptions and nine passes defended for an improved Houston defense that ranks 10th in the league. Joseph, though he’s flirted with injuries early on, was the right call for Houston.

Babin5. Ryan Kerrigan/Aldon Smith: These two rookie linebackers are some of the most exciting new players in the league. For the Redskins and 49ers, respectively, the two have combined for 33 tackles, 7 ½ sacks, six passes defended, one interception and three forced fumbles. Forget about Von Miller and Nick Fairley as the two most important defensive rookies emerging from last year’s draft. Kerrigan and Smith, so far, are the two best defensive freshmen in the league.

4. Jason Babin: I had Babin at No. 10 on this list last year, and with the Titans in 2010 -- in his only year with the Titans, it turns out -- he accumulated 12.5 sacks and 58 tackles. This year, he’s been even better, and he’s the new guy who’s done the most damage with the Eagles defense. He ranks tied for third in the league with seven sacks, and though the rest of Philadelphia’s squad has been disappointing, Babin has been a monster. With some scary tattoos.
 
3. Andy Dalton/A.J. Green: So much of the time, Bengals owner Mike Brown comes off as clueless (or maybe he’s just ingenious). Like the time he said, “I don’t apologize for our scouting. It’s an easy target. But if you look at the real facts, you’ll see it different” when it’s clearly evident that many of Cincinnati’s drafts have absolutely stunk. But Brown, also the general manager, hit a home run with Green in the first round of the 2011 draft and Dalton in the second. Green has made some incredible catches, and Dalton has played better than expected. Cincinnati is 4-2, and Green and Dalton deserve some of the credit. As does Brown.

2. Cam Newton: Unfortunately for Newton and the Panthers, we’ve begun to see him play a little more like a rookie recently (he hasn’t even broken the 300-yard mark in the past two weeks!), but there’s no denying that Newton is a special talent. No matter the amount of negativity and doubt Newton received before he took his first snap, he threw for 420-plus yards in his first two outings and then for 374 yards in Week 4. The Panthers aren’t winning, but at least they’re relevant these days. And exciting.

1. Jim Harbaugh: Forgive the guy for showing his belly, jumping up and down like he had just won tickets to see Justin Bieber, and giving Jim Schwartz a hearty handshake and a friendly tap on the back last week. He should be excited. The 49ers, through six games, are running away with the division, and the former Stanford coach in his first season in the NFL has been a huge reason why. Is Harbaugh the sole reason Alex Smith has played well or that the defense is ranked second in the NFL in points allowed? No, but is Harbaugh getting his team to play like Mike Singletary only could have dreamed about? Yes.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com