NFL News & Analysis

10 most surprising performances from NFL Week 6

Sauce Gardner continues to wow: The New York Jets rookie cornerback has been nothing short of a lockdown defender thus far, allowing just one catch for eight yards on six targets in Week 6.

• Another Seahawks rookie CB flourishes: Coby Bryant, joining Tariq Woolen in stellar play, allowed only three catches on seven targets for -1 yards.

Chase Claypool returns to form in Week 6: The struggling Pittsburgh Steelers wideout earned his first 57.0-plus game grade this season, shattering that benchmark with an 86.7 overall grade.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins

QB Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons

How about the Atlanta Falcons? Entering the 2022 season, they were widely viewed as one of the least talented franchises in the NFL. But after six games, they sit at 3-3 and are tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers atop the NFC South. 

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is a big part of that. Against the San Francisco 49ers, Mariota was nearly flawless. He went 13-of-14 for 129 yards and two passing touchdowns in Week 6. He also added 50 rushing yards and a touchdown as the Falcons completed the upset win. 

Mariota finished the game with an 83.2 overall grade, making him the team’s highest-graded offensive player. In fact, this is his highest-graded performance since Week 10 of the 2018 season. It’s been a long time since Mariota has played at this level, but he deserves all of the praise this week after leading the Falcons to a big win. 

CB Sauce Gardner, New York Jets

It shouldn't be all that surprising when a top-five pick performs like a top-five pick. But when a rookie allows just one reception for eight yards on six targets against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, it's noteworthy. Gardner looked like the best player on Lambeau Field, as he completely shut down the receivers on his side of the field. He finished the game with an 80.0 grade, leading the defense. He has already developed into one of the premiere outside cornerbacks in the NFL, sporting a 73.2 overall grade this season.

CB Coby Bryant, Seattle Seahawks

Rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen was fantastic again on Sunday, recording his fourth interception of the year. At this point, we expect Woolen to play well. But it’s the play of fellow rookie cornerback Coby Bryant that was surprising in Week 6. 

Bryant was targeted seven times on Sunday, allowing three receptions for a combined -1 yards. He mainly played in the slot and did not allow Arizona Cardinals wideout Rondale Moore to do any damage after the catch. Bryant has improved each week, and Sunday was his best performance of the season. Suddenly, the Seahawks have two fantastic young cornerbacks to be really excited about moving forward.

EDGE Za’Darius Smith, Minnesota Vikings

The last time Smith recorded double-digit pressures in a game was back in 2019 against the Carolina Panthers. Since then, it's been a struggle for him to record six or more pressures in a single contest. But he finally looked healthy and back to his Pro Bowl self in Week 6. Smith tallied 11 pressures against the Miami Dolphins, tallying seven hurries, two quarterback hits and two sacks. He was utterly dominant en route to a 92.0 game grade. This is the first time in several years we've seen him play at this level.

CB Tyson Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars

Sauce Gardner will get a lot of praise this week for his performance against the Jets. But maybe the best effort of the day from a cornerback was courtesy of Campbell. He was targeted six times by the Indianapolis Colts and allowed just three receptions for eight yards. The longest reception was three yards, and he did not allow a single yard after the catch. Campbell finished the game with three defensive stops and a 91.6 overall grade — the highest mark of his career.

LT Dennis Kelly, Indianapolis Colts

Kelly did not start the game at left tackle, but he did replace Bernhard Raimann early in this contest. Kelly allowed just one pressure on 54 pass-blocking snaps and finished the game with a solid 70.2 grade. While he certainly isn't the long-term solution in Indianapolis, he should probably be the starter going forward, as he is just more NFL-ready than Raimann. It was a workman-like performance by the journeyman offensive tackle on Sunday.

EDGE Deatrich Wise Jr., New England Patriots

The Patriots' pass rush was excellent in Week 6, spearheaded by Wise and Matt Judon. Wise had his best game of the season, totaling seven pressures —  including five hurries and one sack. He was also fantastic in the run game, recording three stops. Wise and Judon playing at this level has helped the New England defense become one of the top units in the league. And sitting at 3-3 after six games, the Patriots are officially in the mix for a playoff spot again this season.

WR Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

Before Week 6, Claypool was among the most disappointing players in the NFL. Across his first five games, he was averaging just 8.06 yards per reception and had totaled only 129 yards. But he exploded in Week 6 against Tampa Bay, catching all seven of his targets — including two contested ones — for 96 yards. He added eight rushing yards on the ground and was the most reliable offensive weapon for the Steelers. 

Claypool was also able to help Pittsburgh convert multiple third-and-10 or longer situations in the fourth quarter to hold off the Buccaneers in an upset win. He finished the game with an 86.7 grade, which is his highest since Week 5 of 2021. It was a much-needed performance from a player directly at a pivotal point in his career.

TE Jake Ferguson, Dallas Cowboys

Despite Dalton Schultz not being on the final injury report, the Cowboys kept him on the inactive list in Week 6. That forced rookie tight end Jake Ferguson into the starting lineup, and he played 37 snaps on offense. Ferguson struggled as a pass-blocker, but he makes this list because of his 91.5 receiving grade. He caught four passes for 40 yards, including this incredible touchdown during which he made a defender miss in the open field.

Ferguson also had another long reception brought back due to a penalty, but it’s clear he is the future at the tight end position for the Cowboys.

LB Cory Littleton, Carolina Panthers

Not long ago, Cory Littleton was the crown jewel of the 2020 free-agent class for the Raiders. But since then, his play has dropped significantly, and the team eventually released him. Littleton had put together back-to-back seasons with sub-48.0 grades in Las Vegas, and his time in the NFL was running out. 

He then signed with the Panthers this offseason to be a backup, and he struggled again last week on 66 snaps against the 49ers. That's all in the past now after one of the best performances of his career in Week 6, totaling seven stops and allowing just 27 receiving yards on four targets.

Littleton was the Panthers' second-highest-graded player in Week 6 (90.7), and this is the best he's looked in years. Unfortunately, he did have to leave the game with an injury, but this was arguably the most surprising performance of the week considering how much he's struggled over the past couple of seasons.

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