NFL’s opening week proved once again that predicting outcomes in a perpetually unpredictable league is a fool’s errand.
While a number of stars dominated to kick off the 2018 season, several lesser-known players shocked the football world.
Here are the top unexpected performances from an exciting Week 1:
7. T.J. Watt, OLB, Steelers
11 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 blocked kick
After an impressive rookie campaign, Watt’s play was expected to improve in his second season. A four-sack performance, however, was better than Pittsburgh could have hoped for.
Watt was matched up against Cleveland Browns right tackle Chris Hubbard – a former Steelers teammate – for most of the afternoon, and the sophomore pass-rusher won the battle cleanly.
His four sacks were tied for the second-most in a single game in Steelers history.
6. Jared Cook, TE, Raiders
9 receptions, 180 receiving yards
After arguably the busiest offseason in the NFL, no one was certain how the new Raiders offense would look under Jon Gruden. Apparently, it’s one that will heavily feature Cook.
In an otherwise dull affair, the tight end was Oakland’s brightest star, emerging as quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite target. Cook lined up in multiple spots Monday night en route to a career high in receiving yards.
Despite his elite physical traits, Cook’s performance was somewhat surprising because his recent production had been marred by inconsistency. Over his last four seasons, the veteran had surpassed 100 receiving yards in a game just three times.
Amazingly, Cook now owns the record for most single-game receiving yards by a tight end for three different franchises.
5. Phillip Dorsett, WR, Patriots
7 receptions, 66 receiving yards, 1 TD
With Julian Edelman suspended four games, the Patriots were desperate for another wide receiver to emerge in his absence. Enter Dorsett.
The former first-round selection stepped up big time against the Houston Texans, hauling in more than five passes for the first time in his NFL career and catching just his fourth career touchdown.
Perhaps most surprising about Dorsett’s performance was his rapport with Tom Brady. The young wideout led all Patriots receivers with seven targets (he caught all seven), earning his quarterback’s trust. Chris Hogan was targeted on four passes, while free-agent addition Cordarrelle Patterson was only targeted once.
4. James Conner, RB, Steelers
31 carries, 135 rushing yards, 2 rushing TDs, 5 receptions, 57 receiving yards
Starting in place of Le’Veon Bell, Conner had a game to remember in the Steelers’ slugfest tie with the Browns.
The second-year running back scored two touchdowns in his first career start, including an impressive 22-yard scamper in the third quarter.
In an exciting revelation, Conner was productive as a pass-catcher out of the backfield as well. Not only were his five catches the first five of his career, the young ball-carrier accumulated just 30 receptions in four collegiate campaigns. Conner was not considered a receiving threat as a draft prospect, but if he can continue his involvement in the passing game, the Steelers may have found their long-term replacement if Bell leaves in 2019.
3. Will Dissly, TE, Seahawks
3 receptions, 105 receiving yards, 1 TD
Who saw this one coming?
A fourth-round selection in April’s draft, Dissly was viewed as a stout blocking tight end prospect with work to do as a receiver. We can throw out that scouting report, however, as the rookie shredded the Denver Broncos’ secondary Sunday for a 15-yard touchdown and 66-yard catch-and-run.
Dissly’s first career game was easily one of the most surprising individual achievements of Week 1, considering he caught just 25 passes and three touchdowns during his four college seasons at Washington. The tight end also made some history in his stellar debut.
2. Jets-Lions game
Jets’ offense: 349 total yards, 6-for-14 on 3rd down, 4 TDs
Darron Lee: 7 tackles, 2 INTs (1 returned for TD)
Matthew Stafford: 26-for-47, 286 passing yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs
Whew. Where do we begin?
The Monday Night Football matchup between the New York Jets and Detroit Lions kicked off with a Sam Darnold pick-6 on his first NFL pass. The rookie shook off the play, displaying the poise of a 10-year veteran and leading his team to a commanding victory.
Lee was the star of New York’s defensive output, which was perhaps more shocking than the team’s offensive onslaught. The former first-round linebacker had struggled mightily since entering the league in 2016, particularly in coverage. A number of pundits were ready to label Lee a draft bust, but he kicked off his 2018 campaign in style with two athletic interceptions. The young defender looks ready to break out in his third year.
Stafford’s dismal performance was arguably the most surprising aspect of Monday’s tilt. The quarterback appeared to injure his left knee early on, but otherwise looked baffled by the Jets’ defense, forcing a number of ill-advised throws into coverage. Facing the NFL’s 21st-ranked pass defense from a season ago, Stafford’s struggles were surely not what the Lions were hoping for.
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buccaneers
21-of-28, 417 passing yards, 4 passing TDs, 156.2 QBR, 36 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD
Fitzpatrick’s sensational display against the New Orleans Saints was far and away the most remarkable Week 1 performance. The 35-year-old sliced and diced a talented Saints defense en route to a thrilling 48-40 victory.
Prior to Sunday, Fitzpatrick had thrown for over 300 yards in 13 of his 119 NFL starts, throwing four or more touchdowns in just seven. Averaging a career 6.74 yards per attempt, the veteran tossed completions of 58, 50, 36, and 35 yards, averaging a career-high 14.9 yards per attempt.
If Fitzpatrick keeps his high level of play up during the next two weeks, the Buccaneers will have a hard time going back to Jameis Winston as their starting quarterback. Either way, it was a Fitz-magical performance for the experienced pivot.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)