By Conor Oliver
Marcus Mariota has led the Tennessee Titans to a 4-4 record this season. While not spectacular, just eight games into the season, Mariota and the Titans have surpassed their win total for the entire 2015 season. They struggled through that season, finishing with a 3-13 record. Looking at Mariota’s numbers, he seems to have held consistent in his yards per game stat. It is clear, however, that he is becoming much more effective at both protecting and scoring. In all of 2015, he scored 21 total touchdowns (19 pass, 2 run) but this year is scoring at a higher rate with 15 (14 pass, 1 run) already. His interceptions and fumbles are down this year as well.
All of this indicates a more mature and NFL-ready Marcus Mariota. Just in his second year in the league, he is leading his team to gutsy overtime victories (beating Jacksonville 36-32 this past weekend). Even if his stats do not jump off the page, he is clearly becoming an effective NFL quarterback. Still in his second year, his maturation should continue as the Titans push for a playoff spot as the second half of the season begins. If he continues to lead the Titans to victories and captures a playoff spot (a difficult task), Mariota will have a convincing argument to be the 2016 NFL most improved player.
By Charlie Enberg
Last year, the Tennessee Titans won three games. This year, they have won four of the eight played. Last year, DeMarco Murray fizzled in Philadelphia as the Eagles disappointed. He seems to have been fully reenergized playing for the Titans alongside promising talent Marcus Mariota. Through eight games, Murray is averaging a full yard longer per carry. A full yard is a huge difference – maybe Murray just wasn’t meant to play in a Chip Kelly style offense – but he deserves credit for his improvement. Murray looks sharper than he ever did last year and has already surpassed his yardage totals for 2016 in half as many games. Not only is he running it better, but he is getting more touches on the ball. The Titans marked improvement surely comes from Murray’s influence as they finally have other offensive weapons to take the pressure off of Mariota.
Murray is scoring the football as well, with six rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns to his name already. Again, this surpasses his entire total for the 2015 season (in both categories!). Though he did go through an injury scare this week, it looks as if Murray will return for the Titans’ next game. DeMarco Murray’s remarkable improvement after relocating to Tennessee has made the Titans almost a formidable opponent. If he keeps going like this, he’ll be a lock for most
By Eric Fishbin
We are eight games into the 2016 NFL season, and a young man out of the University of Wisconsin has finally established himself as a dominant running back in the league.
Melvin Gordon, a 2015 first round pick, was overwhelmingly disappointing in his rookie campaign. Rushing for 641 yards and losing four fumbles, Gordon did not even manage reach the end zone once. He was a hyped-up rookie, and his collegiate career was record breaking. He won the Doak Walker Award, and Jim Brown Trophy, was a Heisman Trophy Runner-Up, was recognized as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Running Back of the Year, and was a unanimous All-American and 1st Team All-Big Ten player. He even broke the NCAA record for most rushing yards in a game in his senior year with 408 yards against Nebraska.
San Diego Chargers fans looked at his senior year in college, then to his rookie season in the NFL and simply wondered what was going on. Finally, Gordon has found his place in the NFL in his sophomore season. With Danny Woodhead lost to injury for the season, Gordon has become the Chargers’ main guy.
Gordon is second among running backs with eight rushing touchdowns, and he also has two receiving scores. He is the top scoring offensive player besides kickers and quarterbacks, with 60 points. The next closest running back is LeGarrette Blount with 54.
From a fantasy perspective, Gordon has the third most points among running backs, surpassing every second-year back including Todd Gurley and T.J Yeldon.
In the first half of the NFL season Gordon has shown the most growth and development, making him worthy of the title most improved in the league.