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Florida Gators in the NFL: Dameon Pierce, rising star

Dameon Pierce is quickly establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best running backs — and he’s still the same good dude he’s always been.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Dameon Pierce is a very good football player. In fact, he’s becoming a star in the National Football League after just eight career games.

On the season, Pierce now has 678 rushing yards (6th in the NFL) on 148 carries (5th) with three rushing touchdowns. He’s up to 168 total touches including his 20 receptions with 776 scrimmage yards (16th) and four total touchdowns. Last week was his second career 100-yard rushing game. He’s gone over 100 scrimmage yards five times. The numbers alone make him one of the favorites for offensive rookie of the year.

I had the pleasure of watching each of his career-high 27 runs in person last week in Houston for Thursday Night Football. I was giddy watching his combination of explosiveness, power, speed, and balance. Although he didn’t get in the end zone and wasn’t targeted in the passing game, he almost single-handedly kept the Texans in the game. The best breakdown of what I saw was done by the best X’s and O’s analyst in the game, my NFL Network colleague Brian Baldinger.

One run in particular made me let out a “woooo” as I saw it live from the sideline.

Everything that makes Pierce so great was on display. The speed to get through the hole to the second level, the cut to make the first defender miss, the power to break an arm tackle, the balance to stay on his feet after the hit from fellow Gator C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and the nastiness to finish with a stiff arm on the final defender. Don’t take my word for it, though. Here’s Buccaneers’ running back Leonard Fournette:

Pierce has the most rushing yards by a former Gator since 2007, when Fred Taylor had 1,202 and Ernest Graham 898. When DP eclipses the 1,000-yard mark — likely in three or four weeks — he’ll become the fifth Gator to do it, joining Taylor, Emmitt Smith, Neal Anderson, Rick Casares, and Errict Rhett. He’s already 21st all-time among former Gators in rushing yards — and, again, he’s played just eight career games.

Surely Pierce wants to ball more on the goal line. But even when he doesn’t get it, he’s doing what needs to be done to help the team. Fantasy managers like me cringed when he didn’t get the handoff from the two-yard line, but DP didn’t sulk and instead picked up a free edge rusher allowing his quarterback time to throw the TD pass.

The Texans visit the Giants on Sunday and New York’s defensive coordinator knows what’s coming their way.

Behind those angry runs is one of the funniest, happiest personalities in the game. Anyone who has interviewed him or interacted with him will tell you just how great a person and personality Pierce is.

So, regardless of the yards, the TDs, the records, and the accolades, can we just make a concerted effort to get him on the mic as often as possible?


Week 9 Notables

Hopefully you weren’t surprised at Kyle Pitts’s stat line in week nine. I’ve been warning you for weeks that in the Falcons run-first offense, Pitts is not going to be a consistent source of big numbers. We’ve seen more red zone targets, but overall his production is limited by the offense — and his quarterback’s inaccuracy.

If that pass is completed, Pitts has a 73-yard highlight reel touchdown catch. Instead, he finished the day with two catches for 27 yards. Eventually Mariota will get a few of these horribly erratic deep balls close enough and Pitts will have a game for the ages.

It didn’t take long for the Chiefs to show Kadarius Toney some love. In fact, it was the first play of the game Sunday night.

His second target was on a route I think he can feast on with Kansas City. Yung Joka agrees.

Even when he isn’t a target, Toney can be a plus guy in the Chiefs offense. He’s so strong he can be an effective blocker in the run game or on chips on the edge like this.

Toney, of course, wants the ball and wants to make plays. He was on the field for only nine snaps in his first game in a Chiefs uniform. Andy Reid said that was always the plan and that KT will play a lot more going forward. Still, no harm trying to get in QB1’s good graces.

Demarcus Robinson probably should have three touchdowns in the past two weeks. Each time, Lamar Jackson has missed D-Rob open either in the end zone or with no one in front of him.

Robinson has 12 targets and seven catches in those two games and is probably the Ravens’ best all-around wide receiver so expect more opportunities in the coming weeks.

Jon Bostic made his first start of the season for Washington and had five tackles in a solid all-around game.

Eddy Pineiro rebounded from his worst professional game with three perfect extra points. Evan McPherson’s struggles, though, continued. Money Mac has missed his last two field goals and four total on the season. His FG% is an abysmal 73.3% (tied for 26th). McPherson’s confidence is still high and he’s got the right attitude. A week off this week should do him some good.

A week after suiting up for the first time in his career, Kyle Trask put the uniform away in Week 9. He was back on the inactive list and in street clothes on Tampa’s sideline.

Player of the Week

Most Gators fans were looking forward to Sunday night to see Toney in action with the Chiefs. But the O.G. of former Gators in the league reminded them he still might be the baddest of them all.

With 98 career sacks before the ball was snapped, the Texans still decided to try blocking Carlos Dunlap with a running back? Yikes. Sack #99 was like taking candy from a baby.

Dunlap combined with Chris Jones for another sack in overtime giving Dunlap 99.5 career sacks. He could pass the century mark as early as this week.

Dunlap finished Sunday’s game with 1.5 sacks, four tackles, four pressures and two QB hits. On the season, he’s up to 3.5 sacks, 18 tackles, 11 pressures, seven tackles for loss, and two passes defended.

Play of the Week

As the Eagles said, guess who?

C.J. Gardner-Johnson now has five interceptions on the season, all of them in the last four games. Entering this season, he had five picks combined in his first three seasons.

As his teammates are well aware, Ceedy Duce is looking for a contract extension. Since the Eagles acquired him in August, he’s been nothing short of phenomenal on the backend of their defense and as a leader in the locker room.

By the way, the only other time a former Gator has led the NFL in interceptions? Reggie Nelson had eight in 2015.

Here are all of the Week 9 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

Carlos Dunlap, KC, DE

Week 9: 1.5 sacks, 4 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 QB hits, 31 snaps (61%)

Dameon Pierce, HOU, RB

Week 9: 27 rush, 139 yards, 47 snaps (78%)

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, PHI, S

Week 9: 1 INT, 25 return yards, 3 tackles, 1 PD, 59 snaps (98%)

Marcus Maye, NO, S

Week 9: 11 tackles, 68 snaps (100%)

Keanu Neal, TB, S

Week 9: 10 tackles, 57 snaps (100%)

Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE

Week 9: 2 rec (7 targets), 27 yards, 42 snaps (69%)

C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB

Week 9: 8 tackles, 37 snaps (50%)

● Alex Anzalone, DET, LB

Week 9: 7 tackles, 70 snaps (95%)

Marco Wilson, ARI, CB

Week 9: 5 tackles, 61 snaps (84%)

Jon Bostic, WAS, LB

Week 9: 5 tackles, 43 snaps (65%), 6 ST snaps (21%)

Tommy Townsend, KC, P

Week 9: 6 punts, 47.2 avg

D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT

Week 9: 63 snaps (100%)

Demarcus Robinson, BAL, WR

Week 9: 1 rec (4 targets), 12 yards, 34 snaps (50%)

Jonathan Bullard, MIN, DT

Week 9: 2 tackles, 35 snaps (55%)

● Zach Carter, CIN, DT

Week 9: 1 tackle, 25 snaps (51%), 3 ST snaps (10%)

Trent Brown, NE, RT

Week 9: 63 snaps (100%)

Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Week 9: 69 snaps (100%)

Eddy Pineiro, CAR, K

Week 9: 3/3 XP

Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Week 9: 0/1 FG, Miss 48, 6/6 XP

The Limited

Kadarius Toney, KC, WR

Week 9: 2 rec (2 targets), 12 yards, 9 snaps (9%)

Brandon Powell, LAR, WR

Week 9: 1 rec, 4 yards, 3 KR, 21.0 avg, 2 PR, 6.0 avg, 5 snaps (9%), 17 ST snaps (52%)

● Kaiir Elam, BUF, CB

Week 9: 3 tackles, 26 snaps (43%)

T.J. Slaton, GB, DT

Week 9: 1 tackle, 18 snaps (29%), 3 ST snaps (23%)

Marcell Harris, NYJ, LB/S

Week 9: 15 ST snaps (65%)

Van Jefferson, LAR, WR

Week 9: 0 rec (5 targets), 20 snaps (35%)

● Feleipe Franks, ATL, TE

Week 9: 4 snaps (7%), 7 ST snaps (29%)

● Stone Forsythe, SEA, T

Week 9: 2 snaps (3%), 5 ST snaps (19%)

● Teez Tabor, SEA, S

Week 9: 5 ST snaps (19%)

The Inactive

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., DAL, OLB: Bye Week
  • Malik Davis, DAL, RB: Bye Week
  • Taven Bryan, CLE, DT: Bye Week
  • Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR: Bye Week
  • Max Garcia, ARI, G: Inactive (Shoulder)
  • Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE: Injured Reserve
  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB: Inactive

The Practice Squad

  • Freddie Swain, MIA, WR
  • Jarrad Davis, DET, LB
  • Jeff Driskel, HOU, QB
  • David Sharpe, BAL, T
  • Jeremiah Moon, BAL, LB
  • Jabari Zuniga, SEA, DE
  • Duke Dawson, PIT, DB
  • Quincy Wilson, PIT, DB