Jerry Hughes, Bills
Has given Bills what Colts once hoped he'd give them: consistent speed off the edge.
J.J. Watt, TexansNo explanation needed.
Second Team: Ziggy Ansah, Lions; DeMarcus Ware, Broncos
WinnersKyle Orton:The quiet warrior was sitting on his couch a few months ago, pondering philosophy and retirement. Now he's won three out of four games as a starting quarterback again, with nine touchdown tosses, three interceptions, and eight yards-per-attempt. He's earned himself another five years in the league if he wants them.
FOX Sports, Alex Marvez – Midseason HonorsBiggest surprise (player): Buffalo quarterback Kyle Orton.
When the preseason began, Orton was out of the NFL and E.J. Manuel was Buffalo's starting quarterback. Orton isn't spectacular -- he never was during his previous nine NFL seasons -- but has provided stability at the position after replacing the sputtering Manuel. Orton has a 3-1 record as a starter to put the Bills (5-3) squarely in the playoff race.
On his first day in Buffalo after being picked 4th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Bills, Sammy Watkins got a look around One Bills Drive and met his coaches, Bills personnel and Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas.
Since the Bills switched to Orton at quarterback, Watkins' production has skyrocketed. He has 21 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns in the past four games. Watkins would have four scores if he weren't caught from behind while hot-dogging on the way to the end zone on what proved an 84-yard reception in last Sunday's rout of the Jets.
Watkins, though, does have reason to celebrate for what he has already accomplished. An outstanding new book --Fourth Down in Dunbar by David A. Dorsey (University Press of Florida; $24.95) -- chronicles the challenges Watkins and a slew of other future NFL stars like Deion Sanders and Jevon Kearse had to overcome while being raised in an impoverished part of Fort Myers, Fla.
Dorsey notes that there were others from that area with ample athletic talent who couldn't rise above their surroundings. He writes that Watkins did it despite living in an environment where "drugs could be seen dealt and gunshots could be heard fired from the picnic table outside his home."
This week (sort of) marks the midway point of the NFL season, and although it's still WAY too early to pass judgment on this year's draft class, a few players have already stood out. These are the Offensive and Defensive All-Rookie Teams as we get ready for Week 8.
OffenseSammy Watkins, WR, Bills
If I were Sammy Watkins, every day on the way out of work, I'd give Kyle Orton an uncomfortably long hug. The jump from EJ Manuel to Orton has been just enough to unleash Watkins on any defense that doesn't feature Darrelle Revis. In his two non-Patriot games since Orton took over, Watkins has averaged eight catches and 104.5 yards on 13 targets a game, and he's doing it in a ton of different ways.
The way Watkins accelerates across the field makes game tape look doctored. With enough time, he's impossible to stay with on crossing routes, and on his first touchdown Sunday, he showed off that same speed up the sideline. Right now, there's reason to get excited every time the Bills drop back to pass. It's been a long time since anyone could say that. Since the merger, 12 rookie receivers have gone over the 1,000-yard mark, and with Orton playing quarterback, Watkins is a good bet to be no. 13.
NFL.com, Marc Sessler – Midseason All-Rookie TeamPass-catchers: We aren't including a tight end on this list. Jace Amaro has been the best of a bland bunch, but we'd rather keep an extra receiver and power this offense with an array of four-wideout sets. After all, the deepest class of pass-catchers in eons has fully delivered. ... Benjamin is a big-framed, gritty wideout who looms as a matchup nightmare for lone cover men. ... Watkins has come into bloom with back-to-back dominating performances. He's everything the Bills could have hoped for. Cooks leads all rookies in catches while Brown brings speed that defenses can't contain.
Offensive Rookie of the YearWinner: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (6 votes)
The Buffalo Bills placed a great deal of faith in wide receiver Sammy Watkins in 2014, trading their first-rounder in 2015 to the Cleveland Browns for the rights to move up and snare the former Clemson star.
To this point in his rookie season, Watkins has more than justified that gamble.
The Bills are a legitimate playoff contender at the season's midway point, and a large part of that surprising success can be traced to Watkins wasting no time establishing himself as the team's go-to receiver.
Of course, as great as Watkins has been in hauling in 38 catches for 590 yards and five touchdowns so far in 2014, he still learned a valuable lesson in humility in Week 8.
Watkins had three grabs for an eye-popping 157 yards in Buffalo's blowout win over the New York Jets, but Watkins missed out on a second score after being hauled down from behind while showboating his way to the end zone.
According to Conor Orr of NFL.com, that gaffe doesn't take a thing away from a stellar start to Watkins' NFL career:
Sammy Watkins is incredible. He had gains of 84 and 61 on Sunday and a touchdown, but the one thing everybody will remember was the score that didn't happen. As polished of a product as he is, Watkins learned the hard way that he can be caught from behind. If nothing else for the Jets, the tackle by converted safety Saalim Hakim can be on Rex's hustle reel on Monday.
Given how rare it is for a rookie receiver to make this big an impact this early, it's hard to argue with him.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR**
Brian Billick: Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills. Watkins is coming off back-to-back games of 100-plus receiving yards -- and he would be coming off back-to-back games with multiple touchdowns, had he not celebrated just a little early on an 84-yard reception against the Jets. He now has exactly as many catches (38) and touchdowns (five) as fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin, though Watkins has surpassed the Panthers receiver in yards (590 to 571).
Charley Casserly: Watkins. Tough call here. Watkins has posted good numbers with two different quarterbacks (EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton). And he's a better all-around receiver than Kelvin Benjamin or Brandin Cooks.
Dave Dameshek: Watkins. Early leader Kelvin Benjamin still has a great shot, but he won't catch Watkins unless the latter takes his foot off this gas. No reason to think that'd happen, though, right?
Adam Schein: Watkins. I had Brandin Cooks winning this one before the season, but now it's clearlySammy Watkins. He's a freak.
Michael Silver: Watkins. The QB switch from EJ Manuel to Kyle Orton has been good to him. He'll get out in front of this race and won't be caught from behind.
Offensive rookie of the year:
Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills – How often does a Bills first-round pick work out this well? Watkins is the real deal, though. The game-breaking wideout ranks 12th in the league in receiving yards, 20th in yards per reception, and is tied for 12th in touchdown catches with five. He's slightly ahead of Carolina's impressive rookie, Kelvin Benjamin, in most of those categories (they're tied in touchdowns), so he gets the edge for now.
9. Sammy Watkins, WR, BUF: +0.9
Has the potential to shoot up this list. Is on something of a hot streak now after a cold opening, benefiting from more consistent quarterback play. Really a case that if you eliminate some of his struggles in the first four weeks of the year he'd be pushing the Top 5.
Winners: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills (15 votes), Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers (15 votes)
If the last position was a difficult call, the wide receiver spot is gravy.
Because Sammy Watkins and Kelvin Benjamin aren't playing like rookies.
Both young wideouts are on pace to break the 1,000-yard barrier in their first NFL season. Both rank in the top 15 in the NFL in receiving yards. The duo has combined for 10 touchdown grabs.
Most importantly, both have already emerged as the No. 1 receivers for their respective teams.
With that said, as well as the pair has played, there were bumps in the road in Week 8. Watkins was caught from behind after prematurely showboating on a long catch against the New York Jets.
Benjamin, on the other hand, sat out the first three offensive plays of the Carolina Panthers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks. According to Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer, head coach Ron Rivera was sending a message to Benjamin that "you are accountable just like everybody else."
Growing pains aside though, there's no question that Benjamin and Watkins have been the cream of an exceedingly deep crop of wide receivers in 2014.