Thursday, December 20, 2012

AFC East's 2012 Breakout Players

As a whole this hasn't been such a great season for the AFC East. Only the AFC West has a lower winning percentage league wide, and aside from the Patriots, no team in the division has had a fighters chance at making the playoffs since Thanksgiving. 

Sure, the Jets weren't technically eliminated from playoff contention until they fumbled (and intercepted) away Monday night's game versus the Titans, but not one person with a pair of working eyes watched them play and thought to themselves "that right there is a playoff team". It would have been a colossal fluke due to a super-sized cupcake schedule, but they were eventually done in by their own ineptitude.

But just because the majority of the teams in this division faltered this fall, that doesn't mean that some of their players didn't have breakout seasons in their own right. Let's take a look at some players who burst onto the scene in the AFC East in 2012. 

C.J. Spiller, RB Bills

For the second year in a row C.J. was able to showcase his talents due to a season ending injury to first string running back Fred Jackson. But the with the way he's filled in, don't count on happening a third year in a row next fall. The key to the Bills backfield belongs in Spiller's hands moving forward. 

C.J. is currently 11th in the league in rushing with 1,047 yards on just 161 carries. That comes out to a ridiculous (and league best) 6.5 yards per carry. To put that figure into context, Arian Foster of the Houston Texans is currently 4th in the league in rushing with 1,313 yards, 166 more yards than Spiller. Only it's taken him TWICE the amount of carries to reach that number. He's also averaging 9.5 yards per reception, and is second in the league behind only the immortal AP in rushes of 20+ yards with 11. Look for him to pad his stats in Buffalo's remaining two games versus the Dolphins and Jets and finish up the year with close to 1,700 totals yards and 10 touchdowns.

Not bad for a "backup". 

Shonn Greene, RB Jets

It's hard to look back on the Jets season and not immediately get sucked back into the self inflicted Sanchez/Tebow drama, or the countless and creative ways they managed to lose games, but if you take a second and check out Shonn Greene's body of work you might even be, dare I say, impressed? Sure, the third year back out of Iowa would probably be better suited in a running back by committee situation (something they've just recently implemented with Bilal Powell), but that hasn't stopped him from being pretty effective in the opportunities he's gotten thus far. Green's on pace to set career highs in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns, and should finish up somewhere in the 1,100 yard range.

Shonn bounced back nicely after a brutal start that saw him average just 2.85 YPC with just one touchdown in his first five games. Since then he's averaged a respectable 4.4 YPC with five touchdowns, including two games in which he cracked the century mark. It's painfully evident that New York must clean house this off season, but the more I see Shonn Greene run, the more I think he could be an excellent power back in a time share. Much in the way Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw complimented each other for years in the Giants backfield. 

Devin McCourty, S Patriots

McCourty made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2010, but suffered from the dreaded sophomore slump a season ago. That continued into year three up until the Pats moved the third year defensive back from corner to safety after a mid-season deal for the highly talented, often troubled, Aqib Talib. Sure, management had enough faith left in him that they thought he would be good as the general of the secondary. But I don’t think anything thought he would be this good. New England is 6-1 since moving McCourty to safety, and in that time frame he has 35 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. This isn’t the first time that Bill Belichick has switched up a starter’s position midseason, but it just might be the most effective change he’s ever made.

Brian Hartline, WR Dolphins

After putting up a modest 500 to 600 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons, it's finally starting to look more and more like Miami struck gold on the fourth rounder out of Ohio State. Hartline cemented his role as Ryan Tannehill's go-to guy early in the season, and has already eclipsed the highly coveted 1,000 receiving yard mark in just 14 games. 

Brian's coming out party came in a week 4 loss to the Cardinals which saw him set the franchise record for most receiving yards in a game, finishing up the afternoon with 12 catches for 253 yards and a score. He became a coveted commodity in the fantasy football world, and has backed up his hot start nicely. Hartline is currently 16th in the league in targets and 14th in receiving yards, but most importantly, has played the lead role in "Forgetting Brandon Marshall" to perfection.

Stevan Ridley, RB Patriots

Despite coming down with a case of the fumbles in recent weeks, Stevan Ridley has been one of the most consistent backs in the league so far this season. The second year bruiser out of LSU has rushed for 1,105 yards (9th best) and 10 touchdowns (4th best), but most importantly has made New England’s offense two dimensional for the first time in nearly half a decade. Defenses are now forced to respect the run, which has opened up more one on one opportunities for Brady to exploit downfield. There’s no questioning the fact that Ridley is capable RB1, and look for him to cause headaches for AFC East opponents for the foreseeable future.

[via TD Daily]

-fresh @danye33

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