Biggest surprises, overachievers and underachievers of 2007
Perhaps no one in the NFL exceeded expectations more this season than Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson. Here is a quintet of similar surprise players, who delivered more than their fans ever dared to imagine:
Ryan Grant, RB, Packers: A year ago, after severing a tendon and slicing an artery in his left forearm in a fall on a dance floor, Grant spent the season on injured reserve and helped out as an assistant coach at Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington, N.J. When rookies Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn weren't getting it done, Grant finally got his chance in Week 8 against the Broncos, when he carried 22 times for 104 yards. After gaining only 27 yards in the first six games, he ran for a total of 872 in the next nine games.
Jacksonville Jaguars: They lost their last three 2006 regular-season games to finish a disappointing 8-8, but came back this season to go 11-4, winning six of the last seven to secure a wild-card berth. Quarterback David Garrard (10 TDs, 9 INTs a year ago) has been a revelation. He's completed 64 percent of his passes, thrown 18 TDs vs. only 3 INTs, and has the league's third-best passer rating (102.2) after Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.
Antonio Cromartie, DB, Chargers: Yes, he was a first-round draft choice last year (No. 19 overall), but as a rookie he played in all 16 games and had zero interceptions. This season, Cromartie celebrated his first career start in Week 10 against Indianapolis with three interceptions of Peyton Manning. At 6-foot-2, Cromartie is taller than most DBs and has terrific instincts for the ball; he has 10 interceptions and ran one back 70 yards for a touchdown against Houston.
Kevin Walter, WR, Texans: Wes Welker of New England may have better numbers (101 catches for 1,053 yards), but he had 67 catches a year ago in Miami. Consider Walter, who caught a total of 47 balls in four previous seasons in Cincinnati and Houston. He pulled in 41 alone in the seven-game stretch when Andre Johnson was out with a knee injury. Walter has started 14 games and has 65 catches for 800 yards and four TDs.
O.J. Atogwe, FS, Rams: Before: four interceptions in two previous seasons. After: seven interceptions in 15 games for Atogwe. A third-round draft choice in 2005, the free safety also has 70 tackles. He intercepted Green Bay's Brett Favre twice in Week 15.-- Greg Garber
Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers isn't the only high-profile player who has drastically underachieved this season. Here is a handful of stars who have disappointed their fantasy fans and seen their reputations tarnished in 2007:
Jevon Kearse, DE, Eagles: After a total of 36 sacks in his first three seasons in Tennessee, "The Freak" never seemed to produce at the level the sum of his parts would suggest, managing only 33½ in the subsequent six seasons. Kearse missed all but two games after a knee injury in 2006 and was benched by the Eagles in Week 11 in favor of Juqua Thomas. Still only 31, Kearse hasn't recorded a tackle since Nov. 11 and hasn't been listed on the injury report.Shaun Alexander, RB, Seahawks: Once a touchdown machine (he scored 107 in his first 106 games), Alexander has scored a total of three in 12 games this season. The 30-year-old Alexander, who missed three games in November with a knee injury and has also been bothered by a wrist injury, has gained only 685 yards; his 3.4 yards-per-carry average is the lowest of his career.
Chad Pennington, QB, Jets: He came into the season as the No. 6-ranked passer among active quarterbacks (ahead of Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger) with a rating of 89.3. Then he presided over New York's horrific 1-7 start and was benched for Kellen Clemens. Pennington had good statistics against the Patriots in Week 15 (25-for-38) but couldn't lead the Jets to a touchdown.Cedric Benson, RB, Bears: A season ago, Chicago was headed to the Super Bowl and had one of the league's best running back tandems in Thomas Jones (1,210 yards) and Benson (647 yards). The Bears traded Jones to the Jets, where he has rushed for 1,021 yards in 15 games. Benson? He gained only 674 yards in 11 games for Chicago before a leg injury sent him to the injured reserve list.
Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: He was taken with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft, but he will finish with fewer rushing yards (581) this season than these other running backs taken after him: the Patriots' Laurence Maroney (No. 21 overall, 789 yards); Indianapolis' Joseph Addai (No. 30, 1,045 yards, 12 TDs); Tennessee's LenDale White (No. 45, 1,065 yards, 7 TDs); Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew (No. 60, 768 yards, 9 TDs). Bush is likely done for the season after tearing the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and, in his place, teammate Aaron Stecker has run for 244 yards and four touchdowns in the past three games.-- Greg Garber
Gary Brackett, MLB, Indianapolis: He is the only Indianapolis linebacker to start every game and the "glue" player on a defense that suffered injuries to several key players, including end Dwight Freeney. Undersized and underrated, Brackett is a superb Tampa 2 linebacker. He has 110 tackles, four interceptions and 11 passes defensed.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills have 15 players, including five defensive starters, on injured reserve and statistically rank 30th in total defense and 31st in total offense. But because of a terrific job by coach Dick Jauron and his staff, the Bills remained in the playoff chase late into the season.
Bobby Engram, WR, Seattle: Long one of the NFL's premier slot receivers, injuries forced Engram into the starting lineup and the 12th-year veteran responded with a string of clutch performances. Through 15 games, he has 90 catches and, at 34, he has posted the first 1,000-yard season of his career.
Earnest Graham, RB, Tampa Bay: In his first three seasons, the former undrafted college free agent totaled only 52 carries for 215 yards and no touchdowns in 41 appearances. But when Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman went down with injuries, Graham stepped up big and salvaged the Bucs' ground attack. He has 213 rushes for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns, and 49 receptions for 324 yards.
Anthony Herrera, G, Minnesota: He began the season as a reserve, playing behind Artis Hicks, but was inserted into the starting lineup after the fourth game and the Minnesota running attack flourished. The Vikings, who are the NFL's top-rated running team, averaged 135 rushing yards the first four games and 174.7 yards in the 11 games since Herrera became a starter.