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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Making the Leap: Top 10 for Week 2

By Wesseling, Chris

  • Around the League Writer

Welcome to Around The League‘s latest weekly feature. This series is an extension of the offseason’s Top 40 “Making the Leap” candidates, with a nod to Baseball America’s “Prospect Hot Sheet.”

One of the most enjoyable aspects of following the NFL is watching young talents develop, injecting a playmaking element that takes opposing teams and casual observers by surprise. A perfect example from last year was Randall Cobb, emerging from special teams weapon and occasional slot receiver to Aaron Rodgers‘ go-to receiver as the season progressed.

The goal of this piece is to highlight part-time players making the leap to difference-makers or unproven young talents ascending to key contributors. Once players have truly made the leap, they will graduate from this running list. Click here for the Week 1 list.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 prospects for Week 2.

1. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings safety


As Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu reach the back-nine of their respective careers, the NFL is in a window without a dominant safety. Smith, our No. 4 “Making the Leap” candidate this offseason, might have the best chance to fill that void. He was all over the field in coverage versus the Detroit Lions and came up big with open-field stops in the run game, finishing with 10 tackles.

2. Nick Fairley, Detroit Lions defensive tackle


Say a little prayer for Carson Palmer this week. The NFL’s most feared defensive tackle duo has taken note of St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn‘s dominance against the Arizona Cardinals‘ offensive line, becoming just the third player in two years to notch three sacks and two forced fumbles in a game. Fairley racked up 1.5 sacks of his own on Christian Ponder last week.

3. Zach Brown, Tennessee Titans linebacker


It’s hard to remember a team going into Pittsburgh and physically manhandling the Steelers to the extent that the Titans did behind Brown and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. One of the NFL’s speediest linebackers, Brown led the way with eight tackles and two sacks in the Week 1 upset.

4. Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns tight end


The inescapable conclusion from last week’s game was that Brandon Weeden‘s wide receivers failed him while Cameron bailed him out with a series of highlight-reel receptions. Cameron moves better than fellow former college hoopster Julius Thomas, making plays that are reminiscent of a young Tony Gonzalez.


5. Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos tight end


No slouch as an athlete himself, Thomas exploited single coverage for the best game by a Broncos tight end since Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe was catching passes from John Elway. If you’ve been listening to the “Around The League Podcast” all summer, then Thomas already is on your fantasy football roster.

6. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins quarterback


Tannehill and  Weeden both started last week’s game slowly. The difference was Tannehill’s ability to turn it around in the second half, taking advantage of plus matchups for Dolphins receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson while the Browns took Mike Wallace away. The 34-yard touchdown pass to Hartline was one of the NFL’s best throws of the week.


7. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals defensive back


Mathieu’s highlight play to chase down Rams tight end Jared Cook, force a fumble and prevent a long touchdown was exactly what we expected when we praised his instincts and natural playmaking ability throughout the summer. He’s the Cardinals‘ answer to the preponderance of three- and four-wide sets so prominent in today’s spread offenses.

8. Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers defensive tackle


The Seattle Seahawks returned the same solid offensive line that paved the way for one of the NFL’s most dominant ground attacks last season. Running back Marshawn Lynch managed just 2.5 yards per carry, as Lotulelei and the Panthers‘ talented front seven dominated the trenches.

9. Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle


Give the swarming Chiefs defense credit rather than assuming the 28-2 final was simply the luck of the draw against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Poe was a monster, racking up six tackles, two sacks, one batted pass and several key stops in the run game. If he plays near that level on a consistent basis, the Chiefs will boast one of the league’s nastiest defenses.


10. Duke Ihenacho, Denver Broncos safety


The preseason sensation carried over his strong play to the season opener, becoming the first Broncos defender since John Mobley in 1997 to record 12 tackles and three passes defensed in one game. Ihenacho is the answer to the skeptics who don’t believe the Broncos defense can sustain last year’s success.

Cold list: David Wilson, Lamar Miller, Brandon Weeden, Jimmy Smith, Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld, Chris Ivory, Terrance Williams, Darius Slay, Lamar Holmes, Jerron McMillian, James Casey, Bacarri Rambo, Marcus Gilbert, Da’Quan Bowers

Watch list: Eddie Lacy, Sheldon Richardson, Chandler Jones, Jurrell Casey, Carlos Dunlap, Bruce Carter, Junior Galette, Tavon Austin, EJ Manuel, T.Y. Hilton, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd, Marlon Brown, Rueben Randle, Julian Edelman, George Selvie, Eric Reid, Alec Ogletree, Mychal Kendricks, Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Cordy Glenn

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