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NFL Mid-season recap : Offensive Standouts

Mark Labak, Assistant Sports Editor

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We’re halfway through the NFL season, and surprises have been a dime a dozen this year; with breakouts and busts at every position. For each offensive skill position, we’ll evaluate the top three players based on production, stats, their value to the team, and whether or not they look good on the field, also known as passing the “eye test.”

Quarterback:

Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Wentz has been nothing short of terrific this season. The former 2nd overall pick in 2016 is proving to pay off in dividends for the Philadelphia Eagles, leading them to a league best 6-1 record to kick off the season. The North Dakota State product has been fun to watch so far, often pulling a crazy run or throw-off and leaving fans with a “How did he do that?” look on their faces. He has the stats to match the hype, with a league best 17 passing touchdowns and only four interceptions on top of that. As for his value to the team? Monumental. He turned the Eagles franchise around, and will look to send them on a deep playoff run this year.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots
At 40 years old, Tom Brady is still doing things his way, and proving that he really is the greatest to ever do it. He’s kept up his elite tendencies, leading the league in passing yards by more than 200 yards, and has maintained a great touchdown-interception ratio, at 15-2. His New England Patriots are 6-2, leading their division as usual. For the eye test, he is still making throws that are unparalleled around the league, and words don’t describe his value to the Patriots franchise after bringing them to seven Super Bowls in 15 years – an all time record.

Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith is this year’s surprise, having tossed 15 touchdowns and NO interceptions throughout seven weeks. Smith has his Chiefs making some noise at 5-1, and along with the dangerous trio of Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce, almost nothing bad can be said about his performances so far. Smith is second only to Brady with passing yards, and the only reason for him being lower on this list is the fact that he isn’t the centerpiece of this Chiefs team.

Running Back:

Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
After disappointing fantasy owners everywhere last year, experts were predicting a breakout year for Todd Gurley. Offseason hype and the hiring of Sean McVay as head coach had Gurley poised for a great year, and he surely hasn’t disappointed so far. McVay has worked wonders for the seemingly helpless Rams, and with the help of a Jared Goff emergence and Todd Gurley’s elite running, the Rams are 5-2. Gurley is tied for second with the the most rushing touchdowns, and 3rd for rushing yards. However, it’s his work in the passing game that has him so highly touted. He has three more touchdowns through the air and almost 300 receiving yards. Gurley is leading this Rams team, and certainly looks like a star through seven games.

Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
As far as the eye test goes, Le’Veon Bell looks like the best running back in the NFL so far this season. With last year’s competition in David Johnson going out in the first game with an 8-week wrist injury, Bell is the frontrunner for the best back in the NFL. His patented patience makes him just about the most fun running back to watch in the league, and he’s earned the 2nd most rushing yards in the league, and is tied for 3rd in touchdowns. He’s amassed 200+ yards receiving, and stands out as a star in the high-powered Steelers offense.

Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
Hunt is this year’s breakout star. Drafted 86th overall, he took over the starting running back job for the Chiefs after lead back Spencer Ware went down with a season-ending injury in the preseason. He started out hot against New England in the first game of the season, totalling 246 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, the most by a running back this season and a rookie record. He has since slowed his pace, but still leads all rushers with 717 yards, and has managed 285 receiving yards. Hunt and his Chiefs are breaking out, and he’s been a big part of that. Does he look good on the field? Absolutely. He’s averaging 5.8 yards per attempt, which is far and away the best among runners inside the top 20, over 300 yards. His running style combines speed and power, which should make him a fun player to watch through the years.

Wide Receiver:

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Business is booming for Antonio Brown this year, as he leads all receivers in yards by 220, with 765. He’s added three touchdowns to his name, which is impressive through seven games considering touchdowns aren’t necessarily his game (he’s smaller, so he’s less likely to be targeted in the red zone). Brown has shown incredible consistency, averaging 109 yards a game, and explosiveness with 255 yards after catch. He far and away leads both categories, and has been the clear #1 wideout this year. With a struggling Ben Roethlisberger, Brown’s success has been pivotal. He takes away all of the focus on Le’Veon Bell, and rounds out the Steelers team. “Tony Toe Tap,” as his fans call him, rarely drops the ball, and will often leave spectators in awe with some of the catches he makes. Brown has been nothing short of spectacular, and will likely keep his pace through the second half of the season.

Deandre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Deandre Hopkins has posted a breakout year in many aspects along with the help of standout rookie Deshaun Watson. He doesn’t stand out in receiving yards, but it’s his consistency with a 60 yards per game average and a league leading 7 touchdowns (tied for first with Will Fuller, his teammate). He has just two games without a touchdown, and is fun to watch on the field, proving this year that he’s the elite receiver everyone knew he once was. Drafted with a first round pick by the Texans in 2013, he hit his stride in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but fell off last year with shaky quarterback play. With the rookie Watson shining early, it looks like Hopkins can get back to the norm. Nothing has changed in his skill and style of play, showing off flashy catches as a reliable receiver, and looking explosive in the open field.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have struggled early in the season, with questionable quarterback play and a defense that’s been just average that’s earned them a 3-4 record. As usual, A.J. Green stands out as a bright spot on the Bengals team. Green has kept incredible numbers considering QB Andy Dalton has been poor, amassing 545 yards and 90.8 yards per game, second to only Antonio Brown in both categories. He’s added three touchdowns to his name, and since the hiring of Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator, his usage in not only the red zone but also in general has gotten a strong buff. His 189 receiving yards against a strong Buffalo Bills secondary is the most by anyone in a game this season, and Green will look to continue his pace through the second half of the season.

Tight End:

Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz is having a breakout year for the Eagles this year, leading tight ends in both categories with 494 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns so far. He’s emerging as a favorite target for Carson Wentz, and is a big part of the Eagles’ fast start. In his worst game, he had just two receptions for 18 yards; but they were both for touchdowns. Ertz has been a star, and his usage in the red zone and in the open field makes him stand out, as he looks to keep it up for Philadelphia.

Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
The NFL was missing one of their most unique personalities and most dominant players last year when Rob Gronkowski went down with a herniated disc in the second half of the season. “Gronk” has returned to form to follow only Ertz in receiving yards and touchdowns at the tight end position. His 116 receiving yards against New Orleans is the most by a tight end in a game this season, and if he can stay healthy, he will look to take back the throne from Zach Ertz as the best tight end in the NFL.

Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce is one of the centerpieces of the thriving Chiefs team, and along with incredible quarterback play from Alex Smith, he’s behind Ertz and Gronk with 424 yards and 3 TD’s, despite narrowly avoiding a goose egg in week 3 with just one reception for 1 yard. Since then however, he’s proved his value as a downfield target, often lining up on the outside, which is unusual for the tight end position. Kelce’s combination of assets in size and speed make him a threat, and his second half of the season should be a good one.

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NFL Mid-season recap : Offensive Standouts