At this time a year ago, Adrian Peterson's dip in the fountain of youth inspired Around The NFL's Chris Wesseling to identify the afterthought acquisitions making early impacts for their new teams. Through three games this September, it's a pair of defensive playmakers leading the list of bargain signings and fruitful trade fliers.
1) Shaq Barrett, OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A rotational edge rusher in Denver going back to the heady days of Super Bowl 50, Barrett opted for a one-season audition in Tampa Bay to self-correct his value on next year's open market with a shot at a starting opportunity. The early returns are his wildest dreams come to life: The 26-year-old has become the centerpiece of Todd Bowles' defense. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence. After earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his three-sack performance in Week 2, Barrett topped himself with four more sacks as the undercard in Daniel Jones' smashing Broadway debut. Once DeMarcus Ware's understudy, Barrett has tied New York Sack Exchange legend Mark Gastineau for the most sacks (eight) in the first three games of a season. That's eight more sacks than the Broncos have amassed as a team.
2) Jamie Collins, LB, New England Patriots
Following Patrick Chung's footsteps in New England's Prodigal Son career path, Collins came crawling back to the Patriots' fold on a bargain-basement contract that contains just $250,000 in guarantees. One of only three versatile defenders league-wide aligning as interior linemen, edge defenders and inside linebacker on at least 15 percent of their snaps (teammate Dont'a Hightower and Detroit rookie Jahlani Tavai are the others, per Next Gen Stats), Collins finds himself spearheading a dominant, veteran-laden Patriots defense that has a chance to become the first since the 1934 Lions to open the season without allowing an offensive touchdown in four straight games. Pro Football Focus' top-graded linebacker, Collins is the only NFL player to generate two sacks and two interceptions this September. As if those feats aren't impressive enough, he also owns the league's highest stop rate (13.3), an advanced metric that tracks how many times a tackle constitutes a failed play for the offense. If Barrett is the surprise favorite for NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors, Collins is the AFC's equivalent.
3) John Brown, WR, Buffalo Bills
Spurned by Antonio Brown in their efforts to inject playmaking ability into a decrepit receiver corps, the Bills threw their wideout allowance at Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley and Ravens deep threat "Smokey" Brown. While their initial trade target embarked on a self-sabotaging path of destruction that has ultimately left him without an NFL home, Brown and Beasley have helped scattershot quarterback Josh Allen boost his completion rate from a dismal 52.8 as a rookie to a respectable 64.1 through three games this year. The Chargers' Keenan Allen is the only player with more receiving first downs than Brown (15), who is averaging 15 more yards per game than during his lone 1,000-yard season of 2015.
4) Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Chicago Bears
After former Bears safety Adrian Amos defected to Green Bay in the NFL's oldest rivalry, All-Pro Eddie Jackson lured his former Alabama Crimson Tide teammate to Chicago. Cast aside by the Packers at last year's trade deadline, Clinton-Dix settled for a one-year, $3 million deal while trying to rehab his value with the Monsters of the Midway. Adding to a surplus of big-play threats in the Bears' ballhawking secondary, Clinton-Dix picked Case Keenum's pocket twice on "Monday Night Football," returning one of the interceptions for the game's first score. Clinton-Dix and Jackson might just rival the NFC North tag-teams of Amos and rookie Darnell Savage as well as Minnesota's Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris as the league's premier playmaking duos at the back end.
5) Tyrell Williams, WR, Oakland Raiders
Williams touched down in the event horizon of Antonio Brown's black hole, swallowed up by the attention lavished upon Oakland's May-September romance with the fallen Steelers star. Once Brown burned his way out of town, Williams ascended to the No. 1 role, finding pay dirt in each of his first three games on the receiving end of Derek Carr's passes. Just five receivers in the league -- including Washington's hotshot rookie, Terry McLaurin -- have been more productive this season, according to Football Outsiders' DYAR metric.
6) Carlos Hyde, RB, Houston Texans
The Chiefs were widely expected to cut Hyde when the desperate Texans came calling, willing to part with underwhelming offensive lineman Martinas Rankin in exchange for an inside runner to pair with new scatback Duke Johnson after leading rusher Lamar Miller went down with an ACL injury in late August. Even with a letdown versus the Chargers last week, Hyde is averaging a career-high 4.8 yards per carry while adding a tackle-breaking power element that was noticeably missing from Houston's ground attack in recent years. He's tied for seventh in Football Outsiders' DYAR rushing metric. Not bad for a guy given up for dead by three teams (Chiefs, Jaguars and Browns) in the past calendar year.
7) Kenny Stills, WR, Houston Texans
Hyde isn't the only trade target paying early dividends for coach Bill O'Brien. The blockbuster deal that finally delivered O'Brien's white whale on Deshaun Watson's blind side was billed in football circles as a heavy mortgage to acquire Laremy Tunsil and a throw-in wide receiver. It didn't take Stills long to troubleshoot that narrative, shocking a nationwide audience with a spectacular 37-yard touchdown catch in the closing moments of a thrilling season opener at New Orleans. Far from a one-play wonder, Stills leads the Texans with four receptions of 20 or more yards.
8) Clay Matthews, LB, Los Angeles Rams
The poster boy for the NFL's 2018 emphasis on quarterback protection, Matthews spent his 10th and final Green Bay season watching backup Kyler Fackrell outplay him. Hellbent on a return to his Southern California roots, the 33-year-old practically begged the Rams to bring him home as a cut-rate veteran hoping to win a second Super Bowl title before calling it a career. Taking full advantage of Aaron Donald's disruption on the interior, Matthews has already notched more sacks (four) than he totaled all of last season.
9) LeSean McCoy, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
McCoy had reached a crossroads in Buffalo, averaging a paltry 3.2 yards per carry behind a threadbare 2018 offensive line which featured several starters no longer in the league as the 2019 season commenced. The Bills did McCoy a favor when they dumped his salary at final cuts, allowing the 31-year-old to return to the bountiful backfield of Andy Reid, where screen plays and pitches have spawned open prairie land for two decades. Exploiting the spacing and suspense element in Reid's high-flying offense, McCoy is hurdling cornerbacks in the rain and dancing into the end zone as Kansas City's leading rusher.
10) Devin Smith, WR, Dallas Cowboys
What a difference a year makes. Stilted and stifled under former coordinator Scott Linehan, the Cowboys' ultra-efficient aerial attack is the envy of the league under precocious new play-caller Kellen Moore, who is suddenly sitting on an embarrassment of riches. A second-round pick with the Jets in 2015, Smith suffered a pair of ACL injuries before his pro career ever got a chance to find footing. He even fell out of the league last season, ultimately resurfacing in Dallas with a reserve/futures contract in January. When potential breakout star Michael Gallup was sidelined by a knee scope last week, Moore turned to Smith, a former deep threat who has showcased a more well-rounded skill set going back to a strong preseason. The Week 2 win over the Redskins won't be the last time Smith finishes a game as Dak Prescott's leading receiver.
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