News & Analysis

10 surprise performances from the 2016 NFL season

By Sam Monson
Oct 12, 2016

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 18: Quarterback Sam Bradford #8 of the Minnesota Vikings and quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers shake hands after the game on September 18, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The start of the 2016 season has been punctuated with surprise performances from nearly every roster. Most of them are already getting plenty of headlines (i.e. Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott), but others are flying more under the radar through five weeks of play.

Here are 10 biggest surprises of the 2016 season that should be getting more attention:

1. Sam Bradford, QB, Vikings

Sam Bradford’s best season came last year with the Eagles, but there was the question of whether that was due to his own improvement, or a result of the boost nearly every QB experiences in Chip Kelly’s system. While many didn’t see the trade for Bradford to Minnesota as an upgrade, his play for the Vikings this season has been fantastic, with a passer rating under pressure of 108.6.

2. Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos

Aqib Talib falling under the category of “elite” cornerback is no surprise, but Talib maintaining that form for an extended period is. He has always been capable of elite-level play, but over time, is typically far more boom-or-bust. This season, Talib has surrendered a passer rating of just 25.3 when targeted, having not allowed a reception longer than 20 yards all season (keep in mind that he faced Julio Jones in Week 5).

3. Tennessee Titans’ OTs

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Tennessee Titans now own one of the best offensive lines in the game, thanks to the performance of OTs Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin. Neither Lewan nor Conklin have allowed a sack or a hit this season, and the pair have combined for just 14 total QB hurries surrendered, with Lewan in particular dominating in the run game.

4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

Last season was supposed to be just an anomaly for Aaron Rodgers, and the return of WR Jordy Nelson would right everything ailing the Packers’ offense. There have been flashes of magic from Rodgers this year like any other, but the QB has yet to return to the consistently-excellent form of seasons past. For once, his 87.5 passer rating tells a pretty good story, and his overall grade of 75.5 ranks 19th in the league entering Week 6—one spot lower than Chiefs QB Alex Smith.

5. Cody Whitehair, C, Bears

Starting at center in the NFL is difficult enough for a rookie. Starting at center when you’re switching positions from college (Cody Whitehair was an OT at Kansas State) is pretty incredible, and playing well while doing so is scarcely believable. Right now, Whitehair is the sixth-highest graded center in the league, with an 83.2 overall mark, ahead of Ryan Kalil and Nick Mangold, among others. He has allowed six total pressures in 309 snaps of action, and has combined well with guards Josh Sitton and Kyle Long in the run game.

6. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings

Kyle Rudolph has always been one of the most athletically-gifted tight ends in the league. At his best, he can block well and be a force as a receiver. He is one of the few players at his position capable of playing like Rob Gronkowski, if not as well as Gronk, but to this point in his career, hasn’t lived up to his potential. This season, though, we’ve seen Rudolph start to climb that ladder, currently owning the fourth-best TE grade (82.2) in the league.

7. Terence Newman, CB, Vikings

High-level cornerback play should not be possible at 38 years old. Darrelle Revis is 31 and is slowing to the point that he can’t get it done anymore, but Terence Newman seems to be as good as ever for the Vikings. Last week, Newman held Texans rookie speedster Will Fuller without a catch when covering him, and didn’t give up a reception all game through six targets. He is currently the ninth-highest graded CB in the league entering Week 6, with an 84.6 mark.

8. Nick Perry, OLB, Packers

Nick Perry has come out of nowhere this season, suddenly becoming one of the league’s best edge defenders through the first five weeks of the season. His 86.5 overall grade represents a nearly 15-point jump from his 71.9 a season ago, which was no more than one point away from any other year of his career. Perry has five sacks and 24 total pressures so far this season.

9. Landon Collins, S, Giants

Landon Collins looked horrendous as a rookie, but moved closer to the line this season, and his play has been immeasurably better as a result—he simply looks like an impact player in the box. His run defense has remained strong, but by being used around the line of scrimmage, he can cover tight ends and running backs in a way he couldn’t do deep.

10. Adam Vinatieri, K, Colts

Adam Vinatieri was born in 1972. He is 43 years old, and will be 44 by the end of the season. And yet, he might be the best kicker in the league this season. Vinatieri has yet to miss on 13 attempted field goals—five of them have been from 50 or more yards.

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