|Peyton Manning has come up big this season. (US Presswire)|
For the third consecutive year, I'm doing this list to let people know six weeks into the season which teams really hit it big with certain offseason transactions. You won't find guys like Buffalo's Mario Williams or San Francisco's Randy Moss or Seattle's Matt Flynn on this list because none of those loud offseason signings has made much of an impact on their respective teams. And you won't find the obvious high draft picks, like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Instead, we'll look at some of the 50-50 moves, the signings that could have gone either way, and some of the steals of the offseason. But just to make it clear, this list can have a short expiration date. In 2010, three of the best offseason transactions were Terrell Owens, a combination of Thomas Jones/Ryan Torain/Peyton Hillis and LaDainian Tomlinson. Where are those guys now?
In 2011, the list included Cam Newton, Jason Babin and Daniel Thomas -- guys who aren't having tremendous 2012 seasons. So, be careful about using the following list for franchise fantasy football. They're doing well now, but this time next year, there's no telling where they'll be.
10. Curtis Lofton, Saints LB: Yes, New Orleans' defense has struggled badly this season, mostly because new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo doesn't have the personnel he needs. But Lofton, a free-agent signing from the Falcons, has helped stabilize the middle linebacker position with the loss of Jonathan Vilma. He leads the team with 54 tackles, and he had an important sack on Philip Rivers that helped New Orleans beat San Diego for the Saints' first win of the season.
9. Todd Bowles, Eagles defensive coordinator: Remember when Bowles took over the Dolphins interim job after Tony Sparano was fired last season and helped Miami to a 2-1 record in the final three games of the season, including a season-finale upset of the Jets? Well, he didn't get the full-time Miami job, and instead went to Philadelphia to be the team's secondary coach. After the Eagles scapegoated Juan Castillo and fired him, coach Andy Reid gave Bowles the DC job. The downside for Bowles: If Reid doesn't survive after the season, it's unlikely Bowles will either. But there's a good chance Bowles could vastly improve the defense and help his own future.
8. Greg Zuerlein, Rams K/Blair Walsh, Vikings K/Justin Tucker, Ravens K: As Walsh and I talked about a few weeks ago, coaches haven't been afraid recently to hand over their specialist positions to young players. In the case of this trio, all are rookies -- Zuerlein and Walsh were drafted in the sixth round while Tucker went undrafted. And all have had a big impact on their teams, combining to make 89.6 (43 of 48) percent of their kicks, and they all have tremendous leg strength -- each of their season-highs has gone at least 55 yards and Zuerlein blasted a 60-yarder in Week 4. In effect, they've been some of the most impressive rookies this season.
7. Jimmy Haslam, new Browns owner: Somebody is excited about the Browns, and that man is the newly-approved owner in Cleveland. Which is good, because there hasn't been much enthusiasm for the Browns this season (or, really, most seasons). But Cleveland fans have to hope Haslam's leadership can finally add some stability to an organization which has had very little since it was reborn in 1999. Every two years it seems like Cleveland is starting over with a new coach, a new team president and a new philosophy. Haslam will expect Joe Banner to steady the team and make it into an elite franchise. For now, there is optimism in Cleveland.
6. Darius Reynaud , Titans RB: Look, Reynaud hasn't had much of an impact at the running back spot (I mean, Chris Johnson has been so good this season), but as a kick returner, Reynaud has been awfully impressive for a guy who couldn't find an NFL job last season. He's second in the league with 600 kick return yards, and he's got a runback of 105 yards this season. But what Reynaud might be best remembered for is throwing this pass during Tennessee's latest revival of the Music City Miracle.
5. Bruce Arians, Colts interim coach: There's no telling how the rest of the Colts season will unfold. But the fact that Arians, in his dual role as offensive coordinator and interim coach, kept the team together the week after coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia was impressive. There certainly was a reason the Steelers didn't renew his contract after last season, but there's also something to be said for successfully steering a team through a tough real-life situation.
4. Alfred Morris , Redskins RB: We've given Morris plenty of props this season, but the 2012 sixth-round draft pick continues to impress. He's fourth in the league with 538 rushing yards, and he's managed five touchdowns and a 4.6 yards-per-carry average. Plus, he's made life easier for Robert Griffin III, who can use play-action passes, end-arounds and option keepers with much more effectiveness because Washington has an active run game. Griffin isn't asked to do as much because Morris has been so good.
3. Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator: Not that the Patriots offense was bad last year -- in fact, it finished No. 2 in the league in total offense -- but bringing back Josh McDaniels to replace Bill O'Brien has invigorated the team. New England is running a Usain Bolt-like no-huddle offense, and the Patriots are getting positive plays out of their running game. Meanwhile, Wes Welker isn't being phased out at all. With that offense -- which is averaging an outstanding 445.3 yards per game, more than 25 yards better than the No. 2 Lions, and which has run 473 plays, almost 30 more than No. 2 Kansas City -- the Patriots, once again, are never out of consideration as a Super Bowl contender.
2. Russell Wilson, Seahawks QB: Not a bad third-round selection for Seattle. Especially since he's knocked off the Packers and Patriots so far this season. Yes, there was talk that Matt Flynn could take over for Wilson if he didn't improve, but Wilson was a standout last week versus New England. Considering his expectations coming into training camp, Wilson has been surprisingly good.
1. Peyton Manning, Broncos QB: Rustiness after a season off? Yeah, a little bit early on. A weakened arm after multiple neck surgeries? Maybe, but not much. A good signing by Denver? Um, yes. The Broncos are only 3-3, but the way Manning led the team back from a 24-0 deficit Monday against the Chargers was pure pre-surgery Manning. Will he ever be the best quarterback in the league again? Probably not. But he's reclaimed his status as a top-five guy, and the Broncos -- who took an expensive risk by signing him as a free agent -- are seeing the rewards.
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