After the hype, after the failed expectations and excuse-making, after the blockbuster trades, the punchlines and the injuries, Sam Bradford played his best season in 2016.
That performance didn’t attract much attention because it occurred behind an offensive line that could be sued for malpractice, with a running game that was worse. Bradford was also ignored because he is Bradford. He has burned too many writers, inspired too many puff pieces. He is post-hype.
Bradford is an old 29. Conventional Wisdom Twitter already closed the book on his career, reducing him to a punchline unless he earns begrudging respect like late-career Alex Smith. This season is Bradford’s chance. With improved teammates and scheme continuity, he makes a logical pick to quarterback my team of players whom buzz forgot.
The Post-Hype All-Star Team is a collection of players ready to emerge, just as expectations for them have died down.
Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota Vikings: He’s not here for setting the all-time completion percentage record in a dink-and-dunk offense designed to cover up leaky linemen. He’s here because he quietly excelled last season in areas he was once mocked for. ProFootball Focus‘ numbers showed Bradford was the most accurate passer under pressure and most accurate on throws over 20 yards downfield.
While Lacy has stacked headlines for losing weight, he’s been the one limited coming off ankle surgery. Rawls is opening eyes in practice, hopefully a reminder to the Seahawks that he’s the one with three 160-yard games in just 16 starts, including a playoff win this January. Rawls rolls like a mini-Marshawn when given inside runs, yet fantasy leaguers are drafting Rawls seven rounds later than Lynch on average this summer and four rounds later than Lacy. It shouldn’t be a shock if he outproduces them both.
Breshad Perriman, WR, Baltimore Ravens: The signing of Jeremy Maclin appeared to set a pecking order at receiver, with Perriman an afterthought behind Maclin and Mike Wallace. I don’t buy it. Perriman’s speed has stood out as a pro despite a star-crossed start to his career that has included injuries and personal struggles. He’s enjoyed his first healthy practice time as a pro this offseason and his long strides eat up ground faster than cornerbacks realize. It never hurts to agree with NFL.com sensei Gil Brandt, who also believes Perriman can lead the team in receiving this year.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, New York Jets: Suspended for the first two weeks of the season, Seferian-Jenkins is saying and doing all the right things after quitting drinking and entering therapy. He reportedly lit up offseason practices, but he’s largely on this list because of opportunity. With no true No. 1 receiver in sight on the Jets‘ roster, there should be plenty of targets for the former second-round pick of the Bucs to gobble up.
La’el Collins, OT, Dallas Cowboys: There was no bigger NFL story than La’el Collins in early May of 2015. He was a first-round talent who had the rare chance to pick his NFL squad after his agents brilliantly bluffed teams into not selecting him. (At the time of the draft, Collins was waiting to be interviewed in connection to a murder investigation. He was never a suspect.)
After a quiet year starting at left guard in 2015, Collins missed most of last season following a toe injury. Now he’s being asked to take over at right tackle for the retired Doug Free on the best offensive line in football. Collins has a mauler’s mentality when blocking in space and figures to be a GIF-friendly presence on the edge in front of Ezekiel Elliott. If Collins can hold up against top pass rushers on the schedule like Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa, this Cowboys line can get even better.
John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals didn’t know what was wrong with Brown last season. Instead of taking the next step to stardom, he just didn’t look like the same “Smokey” who streaked through secondaries in 2015. By October, doctors determined that Brown carries a sickle-cell trait that was causing leg pain. Doctors also found a cyst in his back which may have contributed to a lack of energy. All systems are now go and his T.Y. Hilton-like skill set remains in place to soar, just a year later than everyone expected.
Dwayne Allen, TE, New England Patriots: It never quite happened for Allen in Indianapolis despite the long-term contract he earned from former Colts GM Ryan Grigson. His punishment for a rough 2016 was a trip to tight end heaven. Whether Rob Gronkowski is healthy or not this season, Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady are just the duo to extract major value out of a versatile tight end who can excel on any down.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Philadelphia Eagles: A fine “Making the Leap” choice on this very site, Jernigan never took the next step in Baltimore after a great rookie season. The Ravens decided that nose tackle Brandon Williams was a more reliable long-term choice and dealt Jernigan for a move up in the third round of April’s draft. Surrounded by talent on all sides (Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham), Jernigan has a chance to eat up one-on-one matchups before striking it rich in free agency.
Alec Ogletree, LB, Los Angeles Rams: Anyone who watched the new season of Amazon’s “All of Nothing” should gain an appreciation for Ogletree’s leadership skills. It feels like he’s been in the league forever, but the 25-year-old should be just hitting his prime. His heady understanding of the game is a great match for new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who should bring out the best in a lot of Rams defenders. (Robert Quinn, who’s had trouble staying on the field since nearly winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, is another candidate to tick up under Phillips.)