0 out of 7
Christian Petersen / Getty Images
Every year in the NFL, we need to anticipate the rise of teams and players in breakout groups.
Last year, the Cleveland Browns started 4-1 and ended their 18-year playoff drought. Meanwhile, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen made significant progress in his development, finishing second in the MVP vote as the first pro Bowler. He is now widely regarded as one of the top 10 players in his role.
Who is on the way to an exceptional 2021 campaign? Which teams exceeded initial expectations?
While we’re still at the start of the season, let’s take a look at some of the more surprising developments, from division heads to impressive player performances through to week 5.
1 of 7
Brynn Anderson / Associated Press
When he was the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith bred quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who won the 2019 Comeback Player of the Year award. Now that he’s the head coach and playmaker for the Atlanta Falcons, he’s maximized Cordarrelle Patterson’s versatile skills.
On the way to breaking his rushing yardage and yards totals in a single season, Patterson leads the Falcons in yards (468) and touchdowns (five) in scrum. He’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry and 11.8 yards per catch, the latter tied for a career-high.
The Falcons traded star Julio Jones to the Titans in June, so they needed someone to fill a void in their aerial attack. While many expected Kyle Pitts, No. 4 overall in 2021, to serve as the main complement to Calvin Ridley, Patterson has become a key contributor to Smith’s offense.
Although Patterson has four All-Pro seasons as a special team, the first round of 2013 did not reach his full potential as an attacking playmaker with his previous four teams. Now he’s arguably the Falcons’ most dynamic skill position player out of all three downs.
2 of 7
Kyusung Gong / Associated press
The Arizona Cardinals 5-0 lead NFC West and are the only undefeated team in the league.
Quarterback Kyler Murray harvested early Buzz MVP and seems to make a significant jump in third grade. He threw for 1,512 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions with a league-best 75.2 percent completion rate.
Murray has a high quality supporting cast. Wideouts DeAndre Hopkins, AJ Green, Christian Kirk and second-round rookie Rondale Moore all have at least 260 receiving yards in five outings, and running backs Chase Edmonds and James Conner punched hard in the backfield. .
The Cardinals offensive line has also played well so far. Murray told reporters this three-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson “makes a ton of difference” for offense.
Arizona also features the sixth-ranked defense led by forward Chandler Jones, who has five sacks. In high school, third-year cornerback Byron Murphy had a big impact in the lunge and on the border, leading the club in breakouts (six) and interceptions (three).
With a solid squad on both sides of the ball, the Cardinals look like the favorites to win the competitive NFC West.
3 out of 7
Zach Bolinger / Associated press
The Cincinnati Bengals are second in the AFC North with a convincing 24-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3. However, that’s not the most impressive aspect of their 3-2 start.
The Bengals ranked 25th and 22nd for points awarded in 2019 and 2020, respectively. This year, they boast of being the seventh defense in the NFL.
Cincinnati is led by pitcher Trey Hendrickson and defensive tackle BJ Hill, who recorded 7.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss. The Bengals are allowing for the 10th lowest rushing yards per game in the league (101.4), which helped offset their average offense.
Even though the Bengals boast two recent top-five picks at quarterback Joe Burrow and forward Ja’Marr Chase, they are only 18th in the scorers standings and have yet to score more than 27 points in the league. a game this year. Burrow has led two winning practices this year that wouldn’t be possible without his defense to keep them in the game.
Without a missed field goal late in the fourth quarter of their Week 5 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Bengals would have started 4-1. While moral wins don’t count towards the win column, they do make strides in becoming a legitimate contender for the playoffs.
4 out of 7
Dustin Bradford / Getty Images
Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been a lot more aggressive this season than he has been in the past.
At the start of week 6, he’s tied for eighth among the shifts in the planned airways by attempted pass (9.2), according to Next Generation Statistics. The 28-year-old has the highest quarterback rating (106.1) of his career and is on track to surpass his previous records in passing yards and touchdowns.
Bridgewater was previously known as a conservative game manager, but he now plays more like a quarterback who can lead his team to victory. He also maintained his efficiency, completing 69.8% of his passes with a single interception.
Paired with a top-three defense, Bridgewater provides Denver with some balance on the other side of the ball. Once wide Jerry Jeudy returns from a sprained ankle, the Broncos may be able to score some impressive wins with an offense that can move the ball with big wins in the air.
5 out of 7
Tom Pennington / Getty Images
As a rookie last season, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs recorded three interceptions and 14 broken assists in 12 games.
This season he looks like an All-Pro. He leads the league in two interceptions (six) and breakouts (10).
Due to its ball production, the Dallas Cowboys’ 31st-ranked pass defense tends to bend but not break. He’s basically a high school eraser.
According to next generation statistics (h / t ESPN Mike clay), Diggs followed Mike Evans, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide winger, for most of their Week 1 game. The three-time Pro Bowl receiver finished with just two catches for 15 yards on five targets in this game. one-on-one battle.
With at least one interception in every game so far this season, Diggs’ ball peddling tendencies will eventually force quarterbacks to think twice before looking in his direction. He looks set to become one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
6 out of 7
Ronald Martinez / Getty Images
The Los Angeles Chargers look a lot like the 2020 Cleveland Browns, who started 4-1.
Los Angeles (4-1) is currently atop the AFC West with two wins over divisional opponents in the Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) and Las Vegas Raiders (3-2). Head coach Brandon Staley was aggressive – the Chargers converted seven of their eight fourth-down attempts – which helped change their fortunes late in the game.
In recent years, Los Angeles has struggled to shut down a possession competition. In five weeks this season, quarterback Justin Herbert has crafted three winning records, a high in the NFL.
Herbert continues his rise to stardom after establishing multiple recordings while also earning the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The young signalman has elevated the Chargers in crucial situations as a trustworthy decision maker to the most important position.
With a fearless head coach and a rising star as a quarterback, Los Angeles poses a legitimate threat to Kansas City for the AFC West crown.
7 out of 7
Duane Burleson / Associated press
The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2021 campaign with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., two offensive veterans who have several years of experience under the guidance of head coach Kyle Shanahan. They also selected Trey Sermon in the third round of this year’s draft.
Neither of them led the team in rushing attempts or rushing yards.
During the offseason, Wilson landed on the list for those physically unable to play due to surgery on his torn meniscus. Mostert suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener. The 49ers ranked Sermon as a healthy scratch in Week 1, which allowed sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell to handle the majority of litters.
In his professional debut, Mitchell recorded 19 rushing attempts for 104 yards and a touchdown. He became the first The 49ers return to eclipse the floor mark of the century in his first game.
Mitchell missed Weeks 3 and 4 with a shoulder injury, but returned to the lineup on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. He led all of the 49ers running balls (nine), while Sermon recorded just one run attempt for seven yards.
Due to Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s tendency to rely on ground play and Mostert’s injury history, Sermon became a black horse candidate to win the title of Offensive Rookie of the Year. But Mitchell, a late player, passed him on the depth chart.
The Louisiana product could end up as the team leader if he retains the star role.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.