Play Fantasy The Most Award Winning Fantasy game with real time scoring, top expert analysis, custom settings, and more. Play Now
 
Tag:Nick Fairley
Posted on: February 27, 2012 1:08 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Defensive End Rankings

It sounds like Houston isn't remotely interested in letting Williams test free agency. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the defensive ends.

Most of the categories in our 2012 free agent rankings are fairly straightforward. Running backs are running backs. Tight ends are tight ends. Quarterbacks are quarterbacks. But when it comes to the defensive line, the category gets a little blurry.

Some defensive ends also play defensive tackle. Defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme oftentimes line up as an outside linebacker. That makes ranking them in a single list a bit more complicated. Though some of the following players won’t always line up as a defensive end, the idea that each of these players will be asked to rush the passer remains the same. So, we list them as defensive ends.

1. Mario Williams

Breakdown: Williams quickly caught on to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme where he played as more of an end/linebacker hybrid and recorded five sacks in the only five games in which he participated last year. Williams likely will return to terrorizing tackles and quarterbacks on nearly every snap if he leaves Houston and signs with a team that uses the 4-3. True, Williams is coming off a pectoral muscle injury that sent him to the IR list, but he says he’s healthy and the former No. 1 overall pick is going to be expensive. That said, Texans general manager Rick Smith continues to say that re-signing Williams is one of the teams’ top offseason priorities, though there’s a real question whether Houston has the cap room to do so. Even though Williams has failed to reach double-digits in sacks for the past three years, he still could win the richest defensive player contract of all time if he leaves Houston.

Possible Landing Spots:Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans
Avril made a name for himself in 2011. (Getty Images)

2. Cliff Avril


Breakdown: Although he’s not as well-known as teammates Ndamukong Suh or (probably) Nick Fairley, Avril emerged as one of the nastiest ends in the league this year. His 11 sacks were a career high, and he even managed his first career interception. The problem on Avril’s end is that there’s almost no chance Detroit will let him get anywhere near free agency. The Lions and Avril are working on a long-term deal. General manager Martin Mayhew said that while he doesn’t want to franchise-tag Avril, he’s also not willing to lose him. If that occurs, Avril -- who has hinted at holding out -- will have to decide if he wants to be on time for training camp.

Possible Landing Spots: Lions

3. Calais Campbell


Breakdowns: The past three seasons, Campbell has been consistent, and he has consistently improved, increasing his tackle totals every season and notching a career-high eight sacks in 2011 for the Cardinals. But like Avril, he’s got very little chance to test himself on the free agent market, because it sounds like if Arizona can’t come to terms on a long-term contract, the Cardinals will tag him. But unlike Avril, Campbell said he’s OK with that scenario. Besides, if he is tagged and makes close to $11 million for 2012 and puts forth another career-best performance, he’ll have the chance to set himself up with a huge contract.
 
Possible Landing Spots: Cardinals

4. Robert Mathis


Breakdown: Since he’s spent his entire nine-year career in Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine Mathis in a non-Colts uniform -- almost as tough, I suppose, as imagining Peyton Manning in something other than blue and white. The potential problem, though, is new coach Chuck Pagano seems intent on installing the 3-4 scheme, and that will be a transition for somebody who’s always been a 4-3 end (it’s worth noting that CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco doesn’t seem concerned with the Colts turning Mathis into a pass-rushing linebacker). The Colts have said they want to keep Mathis in Indianapolis, but Dwight Freeney will cost $19 million against the salary cap. Another possibility for Mathis is the Colts placing the franchise tag on him, but considering Mathis is 31, the delaying of a long-term contract isn’t necessarily a great option for him.

Possible Landing Spots: Titans, Falcons, Colts

5. John Abraham

Abraham believes he's worth $12 million a year, even though he'll turn 34 before next season. (US Presswire)

Breakdown: Although Abraham will turn 34 before the start of the 2012 season, he still should draw plenty of interest throughout the league, simply because he continues to be one of the elite ends around. He’s durable, playing at least 15 games per season in the last five years, and he continues to churn out double-digit sack totals on a near-annual basis (his 9.5 sacks in 2011 just missed the cutoff). Can he command a long-term contract? Probably not, because of his age. Is he still a top-10 defensive end? Probably, yes. But is he worth $12 million? According to Abraham, the answer is: absolutely. “Check out the five top ends,” Abraham told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Everybody is getting 12-plus. I made $8 million last year. Everybody is saying, ‘Oh, he’s so greedy.’ How am I greedy when I’m just trying to get paid the same thing they are getting paid?” The chances of Abraham getting $12 million? Slim to none.

Possible Landing Spots: Giants, Buccaneers, Patriots

6. Cory Redding

Breakdown: He had a rough year in 2009 in his only season with the Lions, but since moving to Baltimore and playing with the Ravens for the past two seasons, Redding has returned to being a solid end who can stop the run and who occasionally can muster a sack (he’s got 7.5  combined in the past two seasons). But Redding will turn 32 next season, and he had injuries at the end of last year that slowed him a bit (even though it was one of the best seasons of his career). He’s probably not a great long-term value for most teams in the league, but the Ravens are a fan of him, particularly since he took on a leadership role when linebacker Ray Lewis missed four games. Redding just seems to fit in well with Baltimore’s defense. But remember, Pagano lurks to the west in Indianapolis.

Possible Landing Spots:Colts, Ravens

7. Jeremy Mincey


Breakdown: Mincey certainly picked the best time to have a career year. In his contract year, he recorded 57 tackles, eight sacks and an interception. Considering he didn’t combine for those numbers during the first five seasons of his career, that should tell you about Mincey’s mindset entering 2011. Or, it should tell you that last season was simply an anomaly (or, I suppose, you could say that it just took Mincey a long time to develop). Either way, Mincey is looking to get paid -- he’s on record saying he won’t give Jacksonville a hometown discount -- and though it appears the Jaguars would like to keep him, they’ll have to figure out where he fits in with the team’s finances (it should be noted that Jacksonville has plenty of room under the salary cap).

Possible Landing Spots: Jaguars, Bills

8. Israel Idonije


Breakdown: He obviously doesn’t get the love that’s reserved for teammate Julius Peppers, but Idonije notched a career-high 52 tackles last season (along with five sacks). Even better for Chicago, Idonije seems intent on returning to the Bears. “I want to be here,” Idonije said earlier this month. “I have an incredible relationship with the coaching staff, and I understand the system. So my No. 1 focus is to stay.” He even intimated he would give Chicago a hometown discount. He probably won’t command an expensive long-term deal, and he’ll probably be worth it for the Bears.

Possible Landing Spots: Bears

9.  Mark Anderson


Breakdown: Anderson is a strange case, because as ESPN Boston pointed out, he only played 47.6 percent of the Patriots snaps last year. Yet, he still managed 10 sacks. Also, he played all but one snap in the team’s final two games after Andre Carter suffered a quad injury.  Carter also is an unrestricted free agent, but reportedly, Anderson is a better bet to be re-signed by New England.

Possible Landing Spot: Patriots, Dolphins

10. Honorable Mentions


Unrestricted: Kendall Langford, Raheem Brock, Red Bryant, Andre Carter

Restricted: Phillip Merling, Michael Bennett

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: December 11, 2011 11:56 am
 

Fairley, Kevin Smith to miss today's Lions game

SmithBy Josh Katzowitz

Already without Ndamukong Suh, who’s serving the final game of his two-game suspension, the Lions have lost another major catalyst on the defensive line. Nick Fairley, who’s played sparingly in his rookie season, is inactive today because of more foot problems.

More bad news for Detroit: after practicing Friday, leaving him questionable for today, running back Kevin Smith is officially inactive with an ankle injury.

Both losses will hurt the Lions when they face the Vikings today.

Fairley has missed five games this season while dealing with a foot injury suffered in the preseason, and after playing well last week in the first quarter vs. the Saints -- he recorded three tackles and finally got his first career sack -- he reaggravated his foot injury. According to this Detroit Free Press story, Fairley is experiencing soreness where he had a screw inserted into his foot after his initial injury.

"We'll just see how he goes through this week," Schwartz said earlier this week about Fairley. "He (got X rays on Sunday) and everything was looking good and everything else, but it just didn't make a whole lot of sense to put him out there (at practice)."

Smith suffered a high ankle sprain on Thanksgiving, but he still managed to play last week, touching the ball 12 times for 80 yards. But on Friday, via the Free Press, Smith pulled up during a receiving drill during practice and he couldn’t finish the workout. Without him in the lineup, Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams can expect more touches.



For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:17 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Thanksgiving preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Lions vs. Packers
The nice thing about having a defense built around your four-man front is that when facing a seemingly unstoppable passing attack, you don’t have to concoct a complicated gameplan and hope that your speed-oriented defenders can somehow give the performance of a lifetime. Because an erupting front four, by nature of alignment, can cut off the lifeline of any pass play by flooding a quarterback’s face, you can stick with your traditional zone concepts on the back end.

This is the standard, obvious approach for the Lions. And really, it’s their only prayer for upsetting the undefeated Packers. The Lions selected Nick Fairley in the first round because they knew that with Ndamukong Suh already inside, they would have at least one favorable one-on-one matchup on every passing down. Those visions have started to play out in recent weeks, as Fairley, in limited reps, has shown uncommon quick-twitch burst for a man of his size.



A way teams have lately combated (or tried to combat) Detroit’s interior quickness is with draws and misdirection runs and screens (think receivers running ghost reverses during a handoff or quarterbacks faking the action one way and going to a ballcarrier the other way). The idea is to let the defensive tackles take themselves out of position with their quick penetration and to get Detroit’s incredibly fast-flowing linebackers going in the wrong direction.

This approach, however, is not conducive to Green Bay’s personnel. The Packers are good at screen pass execution, but none of their running backs have the initial quickness or speed to execute delay-type plays. Thus, expect the Packers to combat Detroit’s inside pass-rush by spreading the field and putting Aaron Rodgers in three-step drops.

Normally, offenses spread the field to stretch the defense and make it easier for the quarterback to recognize blitzes and coverage concepts. That’s not necessary against a basic zone scheme like Detroit’s. But what spreading the field still does is create more space for the defensive backs to cover. Detroit’s defensive backs have improved this season, but they’re still not dynamic or deep enough to contain Green Bay’s receiving corps in large open areas.

Final note: much of Aaron Rodgers’ presnap brilliance derives from his use of dummy snap counts. However, those won’t be relevant if the Ford Field crowd is as loud as expected. The Packers may want to consider going hurry-up. They know they won’t be able to communicate vocally anyway, so they likely installed a bunch of hand signals in practice this week. They’re prepared.

What’s more, they know that a hurry-up can swing momentum and take the crowd out of it, plus it would prevent the Lions from rotating their defensive linemen -- a tactic they rely heavily on.

Cowboys vs. Dolphins
Both teams come in riding a three-game win-streak, thanks largely to the play of their quarterbacks. Tony Romo has posted passer ratings of 113, 148 and 112 his last three outings. Matt Moore has posted 133, 75 and 147.

Romo is having, by far, the best season of his career. He’s been accurate, poised in the pocket and sound in his decision making. These are the effects of his improvements. What analysts don’t focus on often enough are the improvements themselves.

Romo is doing a better job at diagnosing defenses in the presnap phase and adjusting his protections in response. Consequently, postsnap, he’s not surprised by blitzes, plus he’s recognizing coverage shifts and how they impact his receivers’ route combinations. These had been Romo’s areas of weakness.

As for Moore, he’s been steady, but the Dolphins would be foolish to think they don’t still need to look for a quarterback after this season. Lately Moore has often thrown out of base personnel, which means he’s been going against base defenses. That’s fine, but it won’t be as easy against the Cowboys, whose base personnel includes a versatile superstar in DeMarcus Ware and superb pass-defending linebacker in Sean Lee.

Dallas has the resources to take away Dolphins underrated receiving fullback Charles Clay, and Rob Ryan is willing to mix things up no matter what personnel he has on the field. Remember, Moore has only had half a week to study Ryan’s multitude of defensive looks.



Ravens vs. 49ers
Because Ray Rice is averaging less than nine carries per game in his team’s three losses this season, there’s the assumption that the Ravens must run the ball in order to win. But last week against Cincinnati, the Ravens won on the strength of their passing attack. They got 104 yards rushing on 20 carries from Rice, but 59 of those yards came on one run.

Overall, the sustaining element that a run game is supposed to provide simply wasn’t there. The Ravens struggled in short-yardage -- though not on the goal-line, where Marshal Yanda stood out and where Rice has been effective all season -- and could not pound on the ground when trying to protect their fourth quarter lead.

There’s still hope for the run game this season. Aside from overrated left tackle Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore’s front five is adequately suited for this zone-blocking scheme -- especially now that left guard Ben Grubbs is back. Rice and Ricky Williams are smart runners, and Vontae Leach is a top-three fullback.

That said, don’t expect a breakout this week. San Francisco has the best run defense in pro football (by a wide margin, in fact). The brilliant play of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman is the primary reason why.

Willis and Bowman pose additional issues for the Ravens. Against the Bengals, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron compensated for the lackluster run game by calling play-action rollouts for Joe Flacco. That forced the Bengals linebackers to be decision-makers and pass defenders – which they’re capable of, but not simultaneously. Willis and Bowman won’t be manipulated like this. Both hunt up coverage assignments extremely well and both have the athleticism to cover Baltimore’s underneath mismatch creators, Rice and Ed Dickson.

The Ravens’ best chance at offensive success Thanksgiving night is to go max protect and take downfield shots with Torrey Smith and Lee Evans. Their best chance at overall success is to protect field position and wait for their defense to make a big play in a low-scoring game.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 12 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 17, 2011 11:05 am
Edited on: November 18, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Vanden Bosch, Stafford fined $7.5K, Moore $15K

Posted by Will Brinson

We told you earlier this week that the Chicago-Detroit tilt from Sunday (a resounding 37-13 victory for the Bears) would likely involve some players getting fined by the NFL.

Well, the first of those fines rolled in on Thursday morning, and it's directed at defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch, who was reportedly fined $7,500 for hitting a runner on the ground, according to ESPN.

Apparently, the collective decision of Lions and Bears players earlier this week that Detroit isn't dirty wasn't enough to prevent the NFL from beginning to fire out expensive Fed Ex envelopes.

But all the fines in this game aren't because of violence -- Earl Bennett was fined for his clothes. Or, more specifically, his orange shoes, which cost him $10,000 for wearing them for the second straight week.

Last week, Bennett was fined $5,000 for wearing the orange cleats and a whole controversy brewed up about whether or not Jay Cutler can pay the fine for Bennett, who's emerged as Cutler's best receiving option. (He cannot.)

UPDATED (Nov. 18; 11:38 A.M. ET): According to the Chicago Sun-Times' Sean Jensen, Bears cornerback D.J. Moore, the man who scrapped with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford that led to the bench-clearing fracas, has been fined $15,000 for his role. According to reports, Moore also has been ruled out for Sunday's game vs. the Chargers.

More fines are almost surely to come.

UPDATED (1:04 p.m.): According to the Detroit Free Press, Stafford has been fined $7,500 for throwing Moore to the ground, the same figure as Rob Sims for jumping on the pile late.

UPDATED (2:35 p.m.): Detroit's Nick Fairley has been fined $15,000 for his illegal hit on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 14, 2011 3:13 pm
 

NFL looking at Bears-Lions, Stafford broke finger

Posted by Will Brinson

Sunday afternoon's Bears-Lions tilt (won handily by Chicago 37-13) got pretty heated at times, with a brawl nearly breaking out after Matthew Stafford "tackled" D.J. Moore by his helmet.

There were a number of other questionable hits and, as such, the NFL is looking at handing out some fines to the players involved in the game.

"Discipline in each case will be evaluated by its own facts and circumstances," a league spokesman told Michael C. Wright of ESPN Chicago. "This includes determination of whether the infraction occurred 'during the normal course of the game' (e.g., was consistent with the competitive tempo, pace, and situation) or 'outside the normal course of the game' (e.g., was flagrant, unnecessary, avoidable, or gratuitous)."

It's a touch early to speculate on who might get fined, but both Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh (for hits on Jay Cutler) will probably be under the microscope, and it's a safe bet that Stafford and Moore will probably warrant some speculation too.

Week 10 Wrapup


Although Lions coach Jim Schwartz doesn't think his quarterback deserves any discipline from the league.

"Discipline for what?" Schwartz said Sunday, per our Lions Rapid Reporter John Kreger. "For their guy getting kicked out of the game? For their guy getting kicked out of the game? Did Matt get penalized? No, Matt did not get penalized."

Stafford did have to deal with some physical punishment Sunday, playing against the Bears with a broken finger that he suffered two weeks ago against the Broncos.


Per Kreger, Stafford said the finger is "not that bad" and didn't affect his accuracy on Sunday. Given that he had to wear gloves for the first time in his career, threw four interceptions and hit just 33 of his 63 (!) passing attempts, there are many reasons to dispute that claim.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 21, 2011 2:16 pm
 

Five Questions (or more) with Aldon Smith

A. Smith has become one of the top rookie defenders in the league (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

The 49ers have been the biggest surprise team of the NFL this year -- they’re already running away with the NFC West, for heaven’s sake -- and helping lead the defense is rookie linebacker Aldon Smith, perhaps the biggest surprise pick of the 2011 draft.

You’ll recall that Smith was supposedly a mid-to-late round draft pick, but San Francisco, instead, took him at the No. 7 spot, and after a pedestrian first few weeks on the job, he’s exploded in Weeks 4, 5, 6, accumulating 5 ½ sacks and a forced fumble. Which perhaps is more than we would have expected from him so soon.

Earlier this week, we caught up with Smith, and we talked about the preseason prognosticators who didn’t pick the 49ers to win the division, why he loves playing for Jim Harbaugh and what he thinks about his alma mater, Missouri, heading to the SEC.

Previous Five Questions (or more):

Sept. 16:
Actor/former Patriots DB Brian White

Sept. 30: Bills RB Fred Jackson

Oct. 7: Sweetness author Jeff Pearlman

1. CBSSports.com: I think a lot of people are surprised with the 49ers. I know I picked the Rams to win the division and you could look at Arizona and Kevin Kolb before the season and say they have a chance. But you guys have kind of surprised everybody.

Aldon Smith: First of all, those opinions about us, I’m sorry for them. We’ve had faith since day one, since we got to camp. We just worked so hard from training camp through preseason to practice, and we knew the results were going to pay off.

CBS: But everybody works hard. What is it about San Francisco that you guys are playing so well, so early in the season?

Smith: Everybody has done just a good job, and everybody is doing their job right. Everybody is doing the little things, and it’s paying off for us.

2. CBS: Coming off the handshake game between Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh, and obviously, you can see the kind of passion that Harbaugh has. What it’s like playing for a guy like that?

Smith: That was just him showing his personality. He’s a competitor. He’s somebody who takes the game seriously. It’s a passion of his. It’s a reflection of him. He’s a fighter, and we want to be fighters just like him.

CBS: In college or high school, had you ever played for a coach like that, a guy who’s so fiery?

Smith: I’ve had some great coaches, especially when I was at Missouri and Raytown (High School). But with coach Harbaugh, it’s just great playing for him. He’s a good guy.

A. Smith thinks Missouri will be just fine in the SEC (US Presswire).3. CBS: The 49ers have gone to the Eastern Time Zone three times in the last four weeks, but you guys won all three of those games. Then, you go back to Baltimore on Thanksgiving. How do you have so much success after doing so much traveling?

Smith: Just take advantage of your opportunity to rest. You try to get some rest on the plane. If you take advantage of your rest, everything will be all right. The whole East Coast to West Coast thing is a myth.

CBS: Really?

Smith: I don’t know (laughs). I feel good.

CBS: It really doesn’t affect you? I mean, you guys are playing at 10 a.m. body time three out of four weeks.

Smith: You can feel it a little bit. A little. It’s nothing some 5-Hour Energy can’t fix or some coffee.

4. CBS: I think a lot of people were surprised when you were taken seventh in the NFL draft. Many people thought you were more of a mid-to-late round guy, and then when you were taken seventh, it was like, this big surprise. What was your reaction?

Smith: It was a surprise for me. But man, I’m glad I here. I was happy as hell.

CBS: Were there higher expectations because you were No. 7 instead of going later in the first round?

Smith: I just felt the need to come and play football. There are expecatations with anything. I expect to go out and make plays. It was just another blessing.

CBS: Have you met those expectations?

Smith: Kind of. I did drop a wide-open pick last week.

CBS: For all the people who thought Von Miller and Nick Fairley were going to be the best rookies on defense coming out of the draft, you’ve really outperformed both of them.

Smith: Those guys were crazy in college, and they’ve been good (in the NFL). I’m just getting a little bit more plays.

5. CBS: What do you think about Missouri going to the SEC?

Smith: Bring it on.

CBS: But can Missouri compete in the SEC?

Smith: Yeah, we can compete in that conference. The SEC thing about them being the best conference in college football is just an opinion thing. I thought the Big 12 conference is the best in football anyway.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
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.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 7, 2011 8:52 am
 

Fairley getting closer to returning

FairleyPosted by Josh Katzowitz

The last time we talked about Nick Fairley, he had just returned to practice after suffering a foot injury in training camp and was getting close to returning to the field for an actual game. That was Sept. 29.

Today, we get the news from the official Lions site that Fairley returned to practice Thursday and is getting close to returning to the field for an actual game.

But hey, maybe it’s serious this time.

“It felt real good (to be back in practice),” said Fairley. “I have been getting better each and every day, working with the trainers and the strength and conditioning guys. They have been working with me real good throughout the whole process.”

Fairley was limited in practice Thursday, but considering it’s only the second time he’s practiced since Aug. 1, that qualifies as fantastic news for Detroit.

Fairley is supposed to bring another dimension to a Lions defensive line that already includes Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. Detroit ranks No. 11 in defense, but it wouldn’t be a bad assumption to make if you said the addition of a healthy Fairley would push the Lions into the top 10. All along, we’ve been waiting to see how Suh and Fairley play off each other, and it looks like we’re getting closer to actually seeing that in person.

"I’ve been wanting to be out there since I got hurt,” said Fairley. “It has just been a long process that I have been going through. I feel pretty good where I am right now and when I get back out there I will try to bring a lot more success to the team.

“I can’t tell you (what I bring). They’ll have to wait to find out. We’ve got to put it on film first. I can’t let them know my things before I get out there.”


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com