Jimmy Graham Surpassed Rob Gronkowski as NFL’s Best Tight End, Brian Hoyer Has Future as Starter and Other Thoughts

Jimmy Graham, Tyrann MathieuAnother week gone by and there’s even more commotion to try and sort out around the NFL.

Two of last season’s playoff teams are still left winless, three more are under .500, including your reigning Super Bowl runners up, and the Miami Dolphins are 3-0, if you’ll believe that.

The first three weeks of this NFL season have been something of a whirlwind for most teams around the league. Tom Brady is still throwing to a group of never-heard-ofs, except now he’s completing those passes.  Chip Kelly‘s offense continues to run at a lightning-fast pace. Defenses seem to have figured out how to contain Colin Kaepernick, who has thrown four interceptions and no touchdowns in the last two weeks. Oh yeah, and the Denver Broncos still look unstoppable.

There’s so much to break down from the week that was in football, so let’s jump in head-first and see what thoughts and observations are left from Week 3.

**Editor’s Note: Each week, I’ll break down 10 thoughts from around the NFL in the NESN.com “First and 10.” That being said, here are 10 more thoughts from around the NFL after another week of football.

1. Jimmy Graham is the best TE in the NFL – Sorry Rob Gronkowski loyalists, but Jimmy Graham is the best tight end in football. Maybe the great debate will be rekindled once Gronk returns to the field, but right now Graham is on a different level than the rest of the competition. Through three weeks in the season, Graham has even put up better numbers (23 catches, 358 yards and four touchdowns) than every wide receiver not named Julio Jones. He’s also put up more receiving yards (313) over the past two games than any tight end in a two-week span in NFL history. His impact on the Saints’ offense is almost incomparable, and it wouldn’t even surprise me if he broke Gronk’s tight end record of 17 receiving touchdowns in a season.

2. Peyton Manning is positioning himself for a fifth MVP – It’s early, but, right now, Peyton Manning is the runaway favorite for the MVP. Manning has now completed 73 percent of his passes through three games. He’s on pace to throw for over 6,000 yards and he just set the record for most touchdown passes (12) in the first three games of a season. Oh, and did I mention that he hasn’t thrown an interception yet either? Well, he hasn’t. What Manning is doing this season is unprecedented for any quarterback, never mind a 37-year-old who wasn’t even certain to play in the NFL ever again some 18 months ago. At some point, Manning will throw a pick and it’s doubtful that he’ll reach 5,500 yards never mind 6,000. Yet, I can’t help but sit back in complete awe at what he’s doing.

3. RG3 needs a pregame pep talk – The first half has been an ugly time for Robert Griffin III during the first three weeks of the season. RG3 and the Redskins have fallen behind by a combined 67-21 at halftime of their three games this season, and Griffin hasn’t contributed a single score to that total. Griffin has scored each of his five touchdowns in the second half on the year, which is encouraging but Washington still sits at 0-3 in the standings. It’s clear that Griffin still isn’t mentally comfortable with his surgically repaired knee on some plays, I just find it strange that most of those come in the first half. Maybe Mike Shanahan needs to start moving his halftime speech into the pregame routine, and then his quarterback might come around a lot sooner on Sunday.

4. Some 0-3 surprises – There are six NFL teams still winless entering Week 4. Two of them (Minnesota and Washington) were playoff teams last season and four of them — add Pittsburgh and the New York Giants to the aforementioned — were expected to at least compete for a spot in the postseason this year. Each team has their glaring deficiencies: the Vikings need better quarterback play, the Redskins need to find a defense, the Steelers don’t have a running game and the Giants can’t keep Eli Manning off the ground. Don’t expect the struggles to continue throughout the season, as I still expect the Steelers and Giants — I picked each to win their division — to finish with at least a .500 record. Still, it’s surprising to see so many preseason playoff contenders already all but eliminated from contention.

5. Antonio Brown reinvigorated the Steelers’ offense – If you caught any of Sunday night football this week, then you, too, were wowed by the spectacular receiving clinic Antonio Brown put on. He made some catches, including his top-tapping second touchdown grab, which almost made me double take. The Steelers still lost the game, falling to 0-3 on the season, but Brown’s emergence as a deep threat gave Ben Roethlisberger and the offense just the sort of weapon they need to turn things around. I’d say some thanks are in order. Eh, Todd Haley?

6. Chiefs run on their defense – America runs on Dunkin, and the Kansas City Chiefs run on defense — corny, I know. For a third straight week, the Chiefs held their opponents under 20 points. Even more impressive than in the first two weeks, when they limited the Cowboys’ offense (16) and held the Jaguars in place (just two points), this week KC slowed down the Eagles’ fast-paced scoring machine. Defensive end Justin Houston leads the NFL in sacks with 7.5 and the Chiefs as a whole rank fifth against the pass (185 yards per game), eighth in points against (11.3 per game) and first in the league in turnover rate (+9) while not yet turning the ball over on offense.

7. Hoyer’s heroics – Tom Brady‘s former protégé got his first big break on Sunday, getting the nod to start for the Browns, and he took advantage of the opportunity. Brian Hoyer led the Cleveland Browns to their first win of the season and almost twice as many points in four quarters against the Vikings (31) than they scored in their first eight quarters of the season combined (16). Hoyer impressed on the day, completing 30 of 54 passes for 321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. But his crowning achievement was leading a late-game drive down the field and hitting tight end Jordan Cameron in the end zone for game-winning score. Whether or not Brandon Weeden reclaims the starting role once he’s healthy, Hoyer has at least put the issue up for debate.

8. Whatever Marc Trestman did with Jay Cutler, keep him there –The Chicago Bears have a stranger running their offense, because that’s not the Jay Cutler I remember. When Marc Trestman came to town, touting his high-powered offense and making wholesale changes to the roster, many were skeptical if it would work. Well, it does. Cutler has been a different beast this season, completing what would be a career-high 67 percent of his passes and taking just three sacks in three games — a major departure from the 148 he endured in his first 56 games with the Bears. Cutler even truck sticked a defender on his way to a first down on Sunday, rather than his usual cower and slide technique. I’m not sure who this Cutler is, but whatever Trestman’s done has done wonders for the quarterback.

9. Rookie QBs are better than we thought – Remember all that talk about a weak quarterback class — I’m as guilty as they come — around draft time? Well, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel may be making us reconsider that sentiment after three weeks of the regular season. They’re not quite up to par with Andrew Luck, RG3 and Russell Wilson, but Smith and Manuel have both earned their keep so far. Smith ranks 13th in passing yardage with 801 yards so far, and he’s led the Jets to two close, grit-it-out wins already, including one against Manuel’s Bills on Sunday. As for EJ, he’s 20th in the league in completion percentage (59.3 percent) and ranks second to only Peyton Manning in interceptions, throwing just one through three games. There’s no telling if this sort of play will keep up, but both guys are at least turning some heads around the league.

10. DeMarco is the answer in Big D – The Cowboys didn’t throw the ball 50 times on Sunday. Heck, they didn’t even throw it half that much. For the first time in a long time, the Cowboys seem to have a reliable running back to carry the load. DeMarco Murray seemed to be that guy two years ago, gaining 897 yards in only about 10 games as the feature back, but injuries inhibited him from reasserting himself in that role last year. He looked like he was back to his old ways on Sunday, though, running the ball 26 times for 175 yards and a touchdown and adding three catches for 28 yards to that total as well. The Cowboys’ offense will likely still revolve around Romo’s right arm, but at least they know that there’s a dependable guy behind him that they can count on if they choose to.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

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