2) Barry Sanders, running back, Lions, first round, third pick overall. Run-and-shoot backs often have gaudy numbers, but Sanders, who's averaging 5.3 yards per carry, would be marvelous in any scheme. At 5'8", 203 pounds, he makes defenders miss him, either by eluding them or stampeding them. "He's one of the best backs I've ever faced," said Minnesota defensive tackle Keith Millard after Sanders had 129 rushing and receiving yards against the Vikings on Oct. 8. "I've never seen anyone break so many tackles. We thought he had silicone on his pants the way we kept slipping off him."
3) Derrick Thomas, outside linebacker, Chiefs, first round, fourth pick overall. "I don't think I've ever been around a linebacker who can run so fast," says Schottenheimer. Thomas is the first exceptional outside pass rusher Kansas City has had in the 1980s. With 7½ sacks, Thomas already has nearly twice as many sacks as any Chief had in 1988. What separates him from the crowd are his quickness and his conditioning. "He has limitless energy," says Seattle's offensive coordinator, John Becker.
4) Eric Metcalf running back, Browns, first round, 13th pick overall. "He's just an amazing little athlete," says Cleveland executive vice-president Ernie Accorsi. The Browns looked as if they had vastly overpaid to move up seven spots in the first round (Cleveland sent Denver first-, second-, fifth-and ninth-round picks), but it has been a great deal for them so far. The 5'10", 185-pound Metcalf is first among AFC rookies in receptions (33), second in rushing yards (377) and first in kickoff-return average (27.4), and he threw a 32-yard touchdown pass against Houston in Week 8.
5) Myron Guy ton, strong safety, Giants, eighth round, 218th pick overall. Two stunning things here. First, Parcells is loathe to play rookies on defense. Guyton is the first in the Parcells era to have started eight of the first nine games. Second, Guyton played Division I-AA football at Eastern Kentucky as a center-fielder-type free safety, yet he has been nearly perfect as a strong safety. He has missed two tackles in nine games.
The best teams at midseason:
The 49ers would have been 8-0 going into Monday night's game with the Saints if one of the NFL's most sure-handed players, running back Tom Rathman, hadn't had the second fumble of his four-year career. It led to the decisive field goal in a 13-12 loss to the Rams. Now San Francisco would have to suffer a grand el foldo to lose the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Niners play five of their last seven games at Candlestick.
The 8-1 Giants have the best secondary and special teams they have had in coach Bill Parcells' seven-year tenure. If Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor are healthy, great things are possible.
The Eagles (6-3) had a brutal first-half schedule—against other teams their opponents had a combined record of 39-17. Philly now faces only two teams, the Vikings and the Giants, that had winning records in the first half.