Offensive Player Rankings, Week 5: Russell Wilson leads at quarter mark

Each week in the 2020 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. Now, let’s get to it — the Week 5 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.

Russell Wilson is, hands down, the best player a quarter of the way into the 2020 NFL season. The MVP candidate is at his peak in terms of mental awareness — operating at Tom Brady/Peyton Manning levels — and his physical ability is elite. Wilson has been an underrated player over the last few seasons, with the Seahawks generally being middle-of-the-road through the season and getting hot late. This year, all eyes are on Wilson after his record-setting 4-0 start — the last time Seattle started 4-0 was in 2013, when it won the Super Bowl — but he’s always been this player.

The biggest improvement I’ve seen with Patrick Mahomes is his ability to better get through his progressions. He’s taken ownership of the Chiefs’ offense — but not by making every play dynamic. Mahomes is getting the ball to the right players; in turn, this is making his dynamic plays (you know the ones) more effective. He’s a scary player when he has that kind of ownership of the offense, and he can still put the cape on and be the superhero if needed.  

As long as he’s on the field, Lamar Jackson will be the equalizer, because defenses simply don’t have enough guys to cover him on top of his supporting cast. I still need to see more consistency in the passing game; he can achieve that by getting into a rhythm early. The main reason Jackson isn’t in the top two here is his difficulty dealing with second-half deficits. He’s phenomenal with a lead when the Ravens can stick to the game plan, but Jackson must figure out how to battle and come out on top when playing from behind. 

For years, Aaron Rodgers trusted only himself in a system where he could pick and choose what to do, both at the line of scrimmage and mid-play, and he’d often throw the ball away if his go-to target (lately, Davante Adams) wasn’t available. Now, Rodgers is trusting his play-caller Matt LaFleur and his supporting cast, made up of a number of unheralded pass-catchers. He’s giving players chances to make plays — and they are (see: Robert Tonyan). It certainly helps that Rodgers isn’t facing a ton of pressure or getting hit; he’s been sacked three times in four games.

Alvin Kamara is the reason the Saints’ offense has stayed in games without its top receiver, Michael Thomas. Since 2019, when Kamara has been on the field without Thomas, the star running back has averaged 8.3 receptions, 90.0 receiving yards and 163.3 scrimmage yards per game. Sean Payton has used Kamara in the pass game since Kamara came into the league in 2017, but the coach has done a great job spreading everyone out and letting his best player go one-on-one against a linebacker. At times, watching Kamara take over on a given play is like watching Kobe.

It’s rare that a quarterback becomes a more accurate thrower after arriving at the NFL, but that’s exactly what the Bills’ QB has done. Josh Allen had a 56.2 career completion percentage at Wyoming and hovered around that mark over his first two NFL seasons. In Year 3, however, Allen has honed in on his receivers, completing 70.9 percent of his pass attempts. Allen has excelled when throwing intermediate and deep passes this season, leading all passers (min. 10 attempts) in completion percentage (70.6) on passes of at least 10 air yards, per Next Gen Stats. Allen’s arm strength is right up there with the best; he’s making the kinds of throws I make with a Nerf Turbo football in the backyard, not in an NFL game. With the way Allen’s playing right now, the Bills have a shot to go deep in the playoffs.

As good as Rodgers is, Aaron Jones is the key to the Packers’ offense. With Davante Adams, Allen Lazard and other wideouts sidelined, defenses are loading the box and keying on the dynamic running back; even so, Jones is thriving as a perfect fit in Matt LaFleur’s system. Averaging 5.1 yards per carry in his career, Jones has confidence, home-run hitting ability and passing-game prowess. I’ll take a player with his effort and production every time.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. George Kittle is my favorite player in the NFL. The 49ers tight end does everything that’s asked of him and more while exerting maximum effort on every play. In one play against the Philadelphia Eagles, Kittle caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, stiff-armed an invisible player, stiff-armed the defender when he closed in, then dragged a slew of Eagles with him for a few yards before getting tackled for a big gain. Ultimately, he turned a negative play into a 30-yard play (thanks to a facemask by the Eagles). The weird thing is, even taking into account everything he does with the ball in his hands, Kittle is almost more fun to watch as a blocker. He’s like an angry offensive tackle who can run wheel routes on defensive backs, and every week, I find myself waiting for the All-22 Coaches Film to load just so I can watch him block. So glad he’s back on the field — I’m sure the Niners are, too.

P.S. I firmly believe Nick Mullens would’ve stayed in Sunday’s game had he just targeted Kittle, who caught all 15 of his targets, on every pass play. 

A lot of running backs have a hard time transitioning from a downhill running scheme out of I-formation to a pass-friendly spread formation. But Ezekiel Elliott, who has bought into being a willing pass blocker, does a good job as a checkdown option for Dak Prescott, and he’s on pace for a career-high mark by season’s end. But, with Zeke getting more involved in the pass game, something’s gotta give: his rushing attempts and yards. Elliott’s on pace for season lows in both categories in seasons in which he’s played at least 15 games. I’m not holding this against him, though, because his aggressive, punishing running style makes him the last player defenders want to tackle.

Defenses have a tough time covering Travis Kelce for four quarters, and it’s impressive that he puts up numbers week after week while receiving a majority of the attention. In the first three weeks of the season, the New England Patriots held tight ends Mike Gesicki, Greg Olsen and Darren Waller to a combined 39 yards. Kelce had 70 receiving yards in Monday night’s win, and even left a few more out there. A player who keeps defensive coordinators up at night, Kelce (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) moves like a receiver and can run every route on the route tree. If you take him off the field, the Chiefs are a completely different team.

Plain and simple, DeAndre Hopkins is the best No. 1 wide receiver in the game right now. He’s been at the top of the receiving ranks for quite some time, so it’s scary that he’s posting career marks in his first year in Arizona (84.8 catch percentage, 9.8 receptions per game, 99.3 receiving yards per game). Hopkins is a real problem for every defense, and double- or triple-teaming him doesn’t always work. In fact, it rarely does.

Stefon Diggs was always impactful during his days in Minnesota (unless he was taking plays off), but he’s taken his game to another level in Buffalo. The first-year Bill makes the contested catches and is a top-three player in terms of route-running every time you turn on the film. Working with maximum confidence and a quarterback who trusts him, Diggs is in the midst of a career season: 403 receiving yards (tied for first in NFL), 100.8 receiving yards per game and a 74.3 catch percentage. 

Hopefully, the Cowboys’ defense figures it out soon — and by soon, I mean yesterday. Dak Prescott‘s out there carrying the team and asking the D, essentially, “You coming with me or not?” The rest of the offense is on the same page as Prescott — the unit is on a record-setting pace, with Prescott on pace to hit the 6,000-yard mark if he keeps this up. He’s taking advantage of his talented supporting cast and giving his team a chance to win every time out. If only the defense could say the same.

The Minnesota Vikings have started to use their star running back more over the last few weeks — with 140-plus scrimmage yards in each of the last two games — and the offense has performed much better as a result. Dalvin Cook was a home-run hitter early in his career, but he’s developed more crust around the pie edges since. He’s running with more power, can turn a nothing gain into a 5-yard run, excels in goal-line situations and plays a major role in the passing game. He’s the perfect fit in Gary Kubiak’s offense. Minnesota just needs to continue to use him.

Derrick Henry is a big reason why the Titans (3-0) have carried last year’s success over to 2020. The 2019 NFL rushing champion keeps the opposition honest and opens up the passing game for Ryan Tannehill and Co. Even though the Titans have played one less game than most of the rest of the league (their Week 4 contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak), Henry still ranks in the top five in the rushing ranks with 319 yards on the ground. If Henry can stay on the field, he has a good shot to be the first player to lead the league in rushing yards in consecutive seasons since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and ’07. 

DROPPED OUT: Nick Chubb, RB, Browns (previously No. 10); Cam Newton, QB, Patriots (No. 11); Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals (No. 13); Davante Adams, WR, Packers (No. 14); Darren Waller, TE, Raiders (No. 15).

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8

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