Now that we’ve finished bringing you our Secret Superstars of 2012, it’s only fair that we take a look back at last year’s crop and see how they handled the PFF spotlight.
When we decide on who to name as each team’s Secret Superstar we generally focus on a couple of areas: players playing all the time while getting very little recognition, or players playing very well in limited snaps.
2011’s list featured many of both and we’re going to take a look at their 2011 seasons to see if it tells us anything about the group that just replaced them.
There were several of 2011’s Secret Superstars who had fine seasons, but two of our selections were real out-of-the-park home runs:
The Entire O-line, HOU – We cheated somewhat with this selection, but were proved right with the unit playing its best football last season for the finally playoff-bound Texans. Houston had the league’s best offensive line in 2011, allowing them to dominate teams on the ground and set up their play action passes with great success. Unfortunately for Houston, they lost the right side of that line this offseason as they said goodbye to RT Eric Winston and allowed RG Mike Brisiel to seek more money in Oakland. Offensive lines are built on cohesion, especially zone blocking units, so Houston is gambling that they can replace them and not suffer.
Geno Atkins, DT, CIN – Atkins had played well in 2010, but only really as a situational pass rusher on the interior. Whenever the Bengals tried to ramp up his playing time he looked to struggle against the run. We talked up his play and looked for him to develop in 2011, but he went beyond that and became a legitimate stud. Atkins continued his excellent pass rush and actually became even more dominant in that regard, but also learned how to use his quickness and aggression against and run. He became a real force in all areas of the game.
Though those two were the only real knockouts, there were another 10 who enjoyed fine seasons after being named Secret Superstars:
Vonnie Holliday, DE, WAS (in 2010, ARZ in 2011) – Saw just 159 snaps, but played well enough to earn a +6.1 grade.
Danieal Manning, S, CHI (in 2010, HOU in 2011) – QBs had a rating of just 70.5 throwing at him in 2011.
Joe Mays, MLB, DEN – Earned a +11.7 grade against the run on 653 snaps
Lawrence Jackson, DE, DET – Earned a +12.6 grade overall after fine play against both pass and run on 341 snaps.
Scott Wells, C, GB – Was our fourth-ranked center on the season, allowing just two sacks.
Brad Meester, C, JAX – Also allowed just a pair of sacks, was our 11th–ranked center.
Anthony Fasano, TE, MIA – Put together a solid all-around season for the Dolphins, scoring five touchdowns.
Jim Kleinsasser, TE/FB, MIN – Blocked well for Minnesota, playing most of the year at fullback.
Brandon Spikes, MLB, NE – Brings an added impact to the Patriots’ run D, stepped it up in the playoffs.
Mike DeVito, DT, NYJ – One of the league’s best run-stuffers, made 25 stops from 27 tackles.
Fred Robbins, DT, STL – Quietly had a good year against the run with a +11.1 grade.
These six players had average seasons overall; not standing out too much one way or the other.
Josh Wilson, CB, BAL (in 2010, WAS in 2011) – Free agent signing, beaten for five TDs, was inconsistent in new home.
George Wilson, S, BUF – Started strongly then fell away, had 83 tackles.
Stephen Bowen, DE, DAL (in 2010, WAS in 2011) – Expectations were high but was just average despite seven sacks.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, PIT – Fell behind Antonio Brown in the attack, had just 22 receptions.
Antoine Cason, CB, SD – Allowed seven TDs and seven penalties on the season, graded exactly average (0.0) in coverage
Raheem Brock, DE, SEA – Regressed in 2011, failing to generate as much pressure with just eight QB knockdowns.
For one reason or another, this group had down years, though at least one seemed to be as a direct result of being asked to play out of position.
Kroy Biermann, DE, ATL – Didn’t excel as a situational player, grading negatively across the board.
Chris Gocong, OLB, CLE – Seemed miscast in Browns D, struggled outside D’Qwell Jackson.
Wallace Gilberry, DE, KC – Saw only 374 snaps and couldn’t generate significant pass rush, with only one sack on the year.
Chilo Rachal, G, SF – Khaled Elsayed saw big potential from Rachal, but he was benched for RG Adam Snyder–never good.
Quincy Black, OLB, TB – The Bucs’ linebacking corps went AWOL in 2011; Black earned the poorest grade of the three at -20.9.
Jason Jones, DE, TEN – Moved to DE where he wasn’t nearly as effective, just three sacks from 398 pass rushes.
Unfortunately for the 32 players we’ve recently named as Secret Superstars for 2012, it seems like there is a PFF injury curse at work … at least if 2011 is anything to go by. For those of you doing the math, that leaves seven players whose seasons were ruined by injury of one kind or another.
Dan Williams, DT, ARZ – Was playing OK before a broken arm ended his season.
Geoff Schwartz, G, CAR – Missed the whole of 2011 with a hip injury, now with Vikings.
Jonathan Goff, MLB, NYG – Missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL after starting all 2010, now with the Redskins.
Lance Moore, WR, NO – Played well when he could, but was hampered by groin and hamstring injuries all season.
Matt Shaughnessy, DE, OAK – Shut down in October with shoulder surgery, ending his year.
Antonio Dixon, DT, PHI – Season ended in early October after tearing his triceps.
Justin Tryon, CB, IND (in 2010, NYG in 2011) – Was dumped by the Colts after friction with Jim Caldwell, picked up by the Giants before breaking his arm, ending his season.
So there you have it, a review of every Secret Superstar from 2011 to place this year’s group in some context. This time next year we will likely have some injuries, some poor and average seasons, but also some similarly impressive seasons and a couple of no-longer Secret Superstars we can point to.
Which players will they be?