Four weeks are in the books for the 2015 NFL Season. It has been plenty of surprises and disappointments in just a short period of time. Here are the NFC and AFC Award Winners for the first quarter of the season.
Chris Johnson – Arizona Cardinals, Running Back
What a difference a couple of years make. After flirting with the single season rushing record in 2009, “CJ2K” saw his numbers decline. He left Tennessee in the 2013 season to join the New York Jets, where he barely reached 1,000 yards rushing. In the beginning of the 2015 season, Johnson was out of work. After an Andre Ellington injury in week 1, the East Carolina Alum found a new home in Arizona. With just three weeks under his belt, Johnson is fifth in rushing in the NFL with 302 yards. CJ?K is on pace for 1,510 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Arizona needed Chris Johnson just as bad as Chris Johnson needed Arizona.
Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals, Wide Receiver
Why not keep it in the same division, and on the same team for that matter. It’s kind of hard to give a player of Larry Fitzgerald’s caliber the label “Most Improved”, but that’s what I am going to do. Fitz hasn’t had a 1,000 yard year since 2011. He is well on pace for that stat line this year. In fact, through four games this year, Larry Fitzgerald has over half the yards he had all of last year (432 to 784). If he keeps up this production, he will be earning his ninth Pro Bowl bid in his 12 year career.
Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons, Wide Receiver
You can easily put Aaron Rodgers here, but I will give somebody else some recognition. Julio Jones is showing everybody this year that 2014 was no fluke. Through four games this season, Jones has 478 yard receiving and 4 touchdowns. Three of the games played this year had Jones eclipsing at least 130 yards. He is putting the Falcons on his back this year so they can return to the playoffs.
Josh Norman – Carolina Panthers, Cornerback & Kam Chancellor – Seattle Seahawks, Safety
Co-Defensive Players; yes that is where we are right now. One has played in all four games, while the other ended a holdout a couple of weeks ago. Let’s start with Josh Norman.
In the first four games of the season, Norman leads the league with 4 interceptions to go along with two taking back for touchdowns. What was once a soft spot on the Carolina Defense has turned into a strong group just because of Norman. His play has brought him into consideration as a top 5 Cornerback
It’s a crazy world we live in, when no play shows how good you actually play. That’s what was on display in Seattle. Kam Chancellor was in a holdout during all of the preseason and the first two games of the year. Seattle’s record in those first two weeks; 0-2. Chancellor then decides to rejoin the team in Week 3. Since he is back as the last line of defense, Seattle is 2-0. Kam won the football game for Seattle against the Lions in Week 4 when he forced Calvin Johnson to fumble the ball at the goal line. In the words of Seattle’s Defensive End Michael Bennett, “Pay that man.”
Todd Gurley – St. Louis Rams, Running Back
Question marks and head scratching was done when the Rams took Running Back Todd Gurley 10th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Georgia Alum was coming off of a torn ACL in his last year with the Bulldogs. All 32 teams were notified prior to the draft that Gurley would more than likely miss a few games in his first year. The Rams running game was pedestrian before Gurley was healthy enough to play. St. Louis averaged 72 yards per game in his absence. In his first game, Gurley only touched the ball 6 times for 9 yards, but Week 4 is where he shinned. Against a good Cardinals defense, Gurley shredded them for 146 yards rushing and averaged over 7 yards per carry. The future is bright for this young running back.
Jordan Hicks – Philadelphia Eagles, Linebacker
Things have been gloomy for the Eagles so far this season, but one bright spot on the team is rookie LB, Jordan Hicks. He has played very well for this once dominant defense. Hicks has 20 tackles this year, to go along with a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Philadelphia may have found a diamond in the rough after selecting Hicks in the third round this year. The former Texas Longhorn is looking like a vital piece to this defense early on.
Devonta Freeman – Atlanta Falcons, Running Back
Talk about surprises. Last year, the now second year pro had only one rushing touchdown to go along with 248 yards rushing. This year, Freeman has seven rushing touchdowns and 252 yards rushing. He has turned it on as of late. In his last two games, Freeman has 209 yards rushing and six TDs. The scary thing about Devonta is his skill in the passing game. Freeman has 196 yards receiving. If you have him in a standard league, the “Dirty Bird” has gotten you 86 fantasy points in the first four games of the season. That’s an average of 21.5 points per week. If you are in a PPR league, Freeman has gotten you 103 points. Another reason why Freeman is a stud, is the simple fact that he was a cheap find. With the Falcons drafting Tevin Coleman in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, many believed he would surpass Freeman on the depth chart. An injury to Coleman in Week 2 gave Freeman one more chance. He has certainly made the best of it. Devonta went undrafted in many leagues and was even dropped when Coleman started in week 2. Look for this running back to continue putting up great numbers in this lethal offense.
Demarco Murray – Philadelphia Eagles, Running Back
So much for having Demarco Murray as a RB1. The league leading rusher just a year ago has yet to rush for 100 yards all season. His best game was last week against Washington, where he rushed for 36 yards. Murray was a late first, early second round pick in many fantasy football leagues this year. While he might get it going as the season progresses, he’s no more than a fill in if you have a player hurt or on a BYE. I guess that Dallas Cowboy Offensive Line made him Murray look like more of a star than he really is.
Arizona Cardinals – NFC West
Off to a hot start, the 3-1 Cardinals are showing the rest of the NFC that there is more than just Green Bay there. In a league that is all about the Quarterback, Carson Palmer is dialed in and clicking on all cylinders. Had it not been for a late season injury to the USC Alum, Arizona may have made it farther in the playoffs. The Cardinals are sure proving to the league not to forget about them when it comes to “Elite” teams. Arizona is averaging 37 points per game and is only giving up 18 points a game.
Carolina Panthers – NFC South
A perfect 4-0, and still labeled a pretender? That’s what we have going on in Carolina. In a division that is mostly weak, outside of Atlanta, the Panthers don’t impress many. The four wins they have so far this season have come against the Jaguars, Texans, Saints, and Buccaneers. The combined record of the aforementioned teams is a measly 4-12 (.333 winning percentage). To make things worse, Carolina is only beating these putrid teams by an average of nine points. While a win is a win, Carolina needs to tighten up because stronger opponents wait for the Cardiac Kids. With future dates scheduled against Seattle, Atlanta (twice), New York, and Green Bay, Carolina might be brought back down to reality sooner rather than later.
Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers, Quarterback
This shouldn’t surprise anybody. The captain for Green Bay is putting up stellar numbers in the first quarter of the season. ARod is on pace for 3,980 yards passing, 44 TDs, 72% completion, and get this, ZERO INTs. Some may look at the passing yards and say that isn’t much when we talk about Elite Quarterbacks, but when you are leading by almost 10 points going into halftime, you tend to run the ball more in the second half to burn some clock. Rodgers is looking the part yet again, and has Green Bay as the clear cut favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 50.
Tyrod Taylor – Buffalo Bills, Quarterback
What a great story, drafted four years ago and spending that time as a backup in Baltimore, Tyrod Taylor finally got his shot in the NFL. He certainly came out with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Starting the season off 1-0, Tyrod almost led the Bills to an upset win over the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots in Week 2. His play has put Buffalo in a position to make a run for a playoff position.
Chris Ivory – New York Jets, Running Back
The Jets have always been a Quarterback away from making noise in the AFC for the last decade plus. A good running game sometimes can overcome that. Chris Ivory is sure doing his best to give this offense a spark. Through four games, Ivory has 314 yards rushing (Averaging 104 yards a game, Missed Week 2) and three TDs. Ivory has never had a 1,000 yard rushing season, but that seems to be all but certain this year. He has a lock on the depth chart and is out to prove he can put the team on his back and surprise some people.
Keenan Allen – San Diego Chargers, Wide Receiver
I know the obvious player here should be Tom Brady, but I am going to give somebody else some shine. Plus, Brady will be getting an award later on (Hint, Hint). Onto Allen though. The third year receiver is the clear favorite target for Philip Rivers. With two games with 12 or more receptions under his belt already, Allen is in line for huge numbers for the rest of the season. Keenan has already totaled 33 receptions, 387 yards receiving, and three TDs. If the Chargers have any hopes of making it into the postseason this year, Allen needs to keep up this production.
Demarcus Ware – Denver Broncos, Defensive End
The 34 year old Defensive End looks like he is still 25 years of age. In four games played this year, Ware has 4.5 sacks to his credit. While a lot of people think Von Miller is the heart of this defense, I think Ware is. The amount of pressure he gets on Quarterbacks each and every game is amazing. The future Hall of Famer is playing at an elite level.
Amari Cooper – Oakland Raiders, Wide Receiver
Going into the 2015 NFL Draft, everybody said Amari Cooper was the clear cut best Wide Receiver. His play is certainly living up to the hype that was created. His routes he runs are crisp, and he seems to keep his head on straight and not get rattled. Through four games, Cooper has 24 receptions, 339 receiving yards, and two TDs. He is Derek Carr’s number one target. IF Cooper continues these numbers, he will end the season with 96 receptions, 1,356 yards receiving, and eight TDs. Oakland was in desperate need of a playmaking Wide Receiver, and that’s exactly what they found in the Amari Cooper.
Ronald Darby – Buffalo Bills, Cornerback
Early mock drafts this year had Darby going late first round. Then draft night hit, and the former Florida State Seminole slid into the mid second round to the Buffalo Bills. His play has been phenomenal. Darby has two INTs on the year, to go along with some very solid coverage. With Stephone Gilmore on one side, Buffalo found another corner to man the other side of the field. He is showing the other 31 teams that passed on him why they should have selected the cornerback.
Dion Lewis – New England Patriots, Running Back
It’s scary to draft or add a New England running back in fantasy football, due to the unknown. Last year, Patriots running back Jonas Gray had a four TD night, and then we never heard from him again. Well Lewis is surely showing the coaching staff why he should be the number one RB and showing Fantasy Owners why he should at the least, be a FLEX option. In standard leagues, Lewis is averaging 18 points per game. In PPR Leagues, Lewis is averaging 23 points per game. Like Devonta Freeman is Atlanta, Lewis is a threat in the passing game. He is a security blanket for Tom Brady.
Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts, Quarterback
Andrew Luck was one of the top Quarterbacks taking this year in Fantasy Football. The Colts signal caller was being drafted early in the second round in most leagues. The draft position and the numbers he has put up do not match. Luck only has three games under his belt in the first quarter of the season due to an injury sustained in the Colts week three matchup against Tennessee. The next coming of Peyton manning, has average a tick over nine points per game fantasy wise this season. As your QB1, you are definitely looking for more.
Cincinnati Bengals – AFC North
This team seems to always start off strong don’t they? Here is why they are for real this season. Better play by Andy Dalton, a more seasoned player in Jeremy Hill, and a healthy Tyler Eifert. The last of these keys is huge. In an offense that has the All-Pro WR, A.J. Green, and a two headed monster in the backfield of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, teams have trouble game planning for everybody. Eifert is the man that is under the radar. A lot of that has to do with injuries. Last season, the now third year pro played in one game. A healthy Eifert has this team clicking. His numbers may look slack for somebody who is a ‘key part” to a team’s success (16 receptions, 222 yards receiving, 3 TDs), but he just gives Andy Dalton another BIG target to throw to. I’m not going to harp on it too much, but that Cincy defense is playing lights out as well. Those combinations equal a winning formula for the Bengals.
Buffalo Bills – AFC East
Let me first start this off by saying the Buffalo Bills have the talent on this team to do special things. The one knock though, is the fact that they are fairly young, and undisciplined. In their Week 4 loss to the New York Giants, Buffalo was flagged 17 times. A lot of those penalties resulted in a Giants first down. Some look at this team and say they knocked of the then favorites, Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, but that’s not enough. They are getting great play out of QB Tyrod Taylor, and even solid contribution from rookie RB, Karlos Williams. The defense has struggled when it comes to the pass though. With matchups later in the season to New England, New York Jets (Twice), Cincinnati Bengals, and a healthy Dallas Cowboys team could prove too much for this group.
Tom Brady – New England Patriots, Quarterback
There is nobody in the NFL playing at the level Tom Brady is right now. It’s funny to sit back and think of how he was written off last year when the Patriots dropped a horrible game to Kansas City. With all of the “Deflate Gate” talk in the offseason, and the possibility of Tommy Terrific being suspended, it’s clear he is playing with a boulder on his shoulder. With a BYE week in Week 4, Tom Brady only has three games under his belt. What makes this story almost unbelievable is the fact that Brady is only 136 yards behind Philip Rivers for most in the league with one less game played. Brady has a 9-0 TD:INT ratio and is looking like he will throw 40 plus again this year. To be even more clear, and while being on pace for something doesn’t mean you are going to actually achieve that number, Brady’s numbers would be 5,930 yards passing, 48 TDs, and ZERO INTs. If this does happen, Webster should put Brady’s picture beside the word “production”.