Some highs and lows from the wild year that was in the NFL …
Best draft class: The Saints had such a banner crop that they could have the NFL’s offensive and defensive rookies of the year in third-round running back Alvin Kamara and first-round cornerback Marshon Lattimore (now of “butt-pick” fame). And first-round tackle Ryan Ramczyk has started since Week 1 while second-round safety Marcus Williams has helped solidify the back end. No team in the NFL has had more snaps from rookies than the Saints. This might turn out as the franchise’s best first-year crop since the 2006 group that included Reggie Bush and Marques Colston.
Best rule change: Sorry, your guess is as good as any when it comes to defining what constitutes a catch. But at least when one is ruled a touchdown, more celebrations are now legal. Roger Goodell and Co. got it right on this one, inspiring all sorts of creativity from the rank-and-file and in many cases even some legitimate exposure for the men in the trenches. The "No Fun League” label is so pre-2017.
Worst excuses for denying opportunity: The NFL needed a rule, or a big behind-the-scenes push from Goodell, to ensure that Colin Kaepernick would have a chance to land another job. The excuses from teams in need for not signing the father of the modern-day NFL protest were just pitiful, including questions about whether he could fit in one system or another or whether his presence would upset the fan base – a notion that dismisses the fans turned off by the apparent blackballing of Kaepernick. Unfortunately, it was a banner year for quarterback injuries. Even worse, Houston’s Taylor Heinicke and other journeymen got into a game this season when Kaepernick did not. The NFL should be ashamed of itself for bypassing on GQ’s citizen of the year.
Worst time for the crime: The one-game suspension for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s post-play hit on Bills rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White was nearly as despicable as the act that drew the discipline. He should have been sidelined for multiple games. Gronkowski took a running start and dived into the back and head area of a player lying face down on the turf. It was the worst bush-league maneuver imaginable, a non-football act in the clearest sense. White could have been seriously injured. The NFL’s enforcement arm blew it, which makes me wonder whether the fact the Patriots and Steelers were poised to clash the week after the one-game suspension was a factor in the meager suspension.
Best franchise healer: Sean McVay. Thanks to the impact of the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, the Rams have gone from worst to first and fielding the league's worst offense to one of its best. Talk about being ready for the big stage.
Worst break from instant replay review: If you’re a Lions fan, you don’t want to hear the words “Golden Tate” and “10-second run-off” in the same sentence. Steelers fans have their own inglorious phrase, “survive the ground,” as attached to Jesse James.
Best community activism: Doug Baldwin, Malcolm Jenkins, retired player Anquan Boldin and others who form the Players Coalition surely moved the needle in attempting to affect societal change through legislation and other measures. No, it hasn’t been smooth, given the pushback from several players who abandoned the group
Worst fan reaction: After the P.A. announcer informed the crowd that Ravens players would take a knee before the national anthem in a prayer for America to embrace “kindness, unity, equality and justice,” prior to a game against the Steelers on Oct. 1, boos rained through M&T Bank Stadium. Never mind that the players then stood at attention for the anthem. The disrespectful message to the players, more than half of whom were African Americans, was just too cruel.
Best disaster relief effort: It began as J.J. Watt’s attempt to contribute something to help victims in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. He pledged the first $100,000, halfway toward the initial fundraising goal. Then it went viral, generating more than $37 million in pledges. What an example of the impact possible when combining star power, social media and altruism. And Watt followed through in becoming personally involved in distributing resources to the needy.
Worst meltdown: They led 28-3 in Super Bowl LI … and now the Falcons need to complete a comeback of their own with a victory on Sunday to avoid missing the playoffs with a Super Bowl hangover.
Best trade: The 49ers got their franchise quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, from the Patriots for a second-round pick and he’s yet to lose (4-0). Just think: The 49ers currently carry the NFL’s longest winning streak … which is making Garoppolo a lot of money as contract talks loom.
Worst practice session: Had to be the day that spectacular rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson went down with a torn ACL, a non-contact setback that instantly extinguished all the buzz surrounding Houston’s season. Yet still wondering what drove Bill O’Brien to decide on Tom Savage as the Week 1 starter.
Best celebrations: The “Electric Slide” by the Eagles. The “sack race” by the Chiefs. “Duck, duck, goose,” compliments of the Vikings. Good stuff, fellas.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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