Bill Belichick’s reputation as a general manager has taken a hit since Tom Brady left New England.
Meanwhile, players like Davante Adams and Derek Carr are gaining respect as the former Fresno State teammates enjoy career years.
Midway through the 2020 season, performance has altered perception all around the NFL. Here’s a look at who’s up and who’s down:
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DALVIN COOK: While running backs have generally been devalued during this pass-happy era, Cook is showing the impact a big-play back can make. He leads the NFL with 858 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing one game with an injury. He has rushed for 369 yards the past two weeks and his four games with at least 130 yards rushing are tied for the most in a season since Ezekiel Elliott had five in 2016.
DAVANTE ADAMS: Aaron Rodgers’ favorite receiver in Green Bay has developed into one of the NFL’s top targets. Adams has 53 catches for 675 yards and eight TDs in just six games. He’s the first NFL player with at least 50 catches, 600 yards receiving and eight touchdown receptions over his first six games of a season. Adams already has three games with at least 10 catches, 150 yards and a TD. The only previous player to do that was Calvin Johnson in 2012.
DEREK CARR: After three straight losing seasons when the Raiders failed to average 20 points per game in any of them, it was fair to wonder if Carr would ever get back to his 2016 form. He’s been even better so far this season thanks to a more aggressive style that has led to more deep passes, as well as scrambles. The addition of speedy rookie Henry Ruggs III has helped increase Carr’s average depth of pass by more than a yard, helping the Las Vegas quarterback rank fifth in the league in passer rating at 110 with 16 TD passes compared to only two INTs.
BRIAN FLORES: A Belichick coaching disciple is finally showing signs of living up to his mentor with Flores’ performance in Miami. After losing his first seven games last year with a Dolphins team that appeared to be tanking, Flores helped Miami rebound to a 5-4 finish. The Dolphins have only built on that this year by starting 5-3 and now appear to have a young QB to build around in Tua Tagovailoa.
ROOKIE QBs: Three quarterbacks went in the top six picks of the draft and the early returns are positive.
Joe Burrow went No. 1 to Cincinnati and opened the season as the starter. He has the third-most yards passing (2,272) for a rookie in his team’s first eight games.
Justin Herbert, the sixth pick, became the starter for the Chargers in Week 2 and already has 17 TD passes in seven games, including at least two in the past five games.
Tagovailoa took over for Miami in Week 8. He struggled in his first start but then threw for 248 yards and two TDs last week at Arizona to lead the Dolphins to a 34-31 win.
BILL BELICHICK THE GM: This season was billed as a referendum on who had a bigger impact on New England’s six Super Bowl titles: Belichick or Brady. While nothing can take away from Belichick’s reputation as a coach, his failures as a GM are showing up this season. He has not drafted a player who made the Pro Bowl since Jamie Collins in 2013, and the lack of playmakers on offense has played a big role in the Patriots’ 3-5 record.
NFC EAST: The division whose teams have combined for more Super Bowl championships than any other (13) is off to the worst start to a season since the merger. The NFC East has combined for a 2-17-1 (.125) record in non-division games through nine weeks, the worst winning percentage since at least 1970. The only wins came when Philadelphia beat San Francisco, and Dallas topped Atlanta.
NEW YORK QBs: The Jets and Giants each used top-10 picks on quarterbacks in the past three drafts, with the Jets trading up to take Sam Darnold third overall in 2018 and the Giants selecting Daniel Jones with the sixth pick the following year. Now it’s possible both teams could be looking for QBs again in next year’s draft. Darnold’s 65.9 rating is the lowest among all qualified QBs, and Jones’ 13 turnovers are the second-most in the NFL.
DWAYNE HASKINS: The quarterback taken after Jones in the first round in 2019 has already lost his starting job. Haskins started the first four games of the season for Washington before getting benched and now seems to not have much of a future with the franchise.
MIKE EVANS: After six straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons to start his career, Evans was a big part of the attraction for Brady to join Tampa Bay. Evans has been a productive threat near the end zone with seven TD catches, but six of those have come on passes from inside the 10. He hasn’t done much else, however, with just 34 receptions for 437 yards on the season.