With the 2012 season rapidly approaching, why not spend some time casting an eye over some players who impressed enough in 2011 that we dubbed them our Secret Superstars?
That’s right, we went through all 32 teams and picked one player who was on the roster at the time of writing who we thought would excel if given a chance. This marks the second year we’ve done it and you can see how our 2011 crop performed here.
As for 2012? Well, click on the link for each player to find out why they’ve made believers out of us.
Buffalo Bills – Andy Levitre: The Bills’ guard started off the year playing superbly before he was forced into covering left tackle and even center as the team’s injuries caused all sorts of problems.
Miami Dolphins – Matt Moore and David Garrard: This one isn’t looking so good after injury knocked would-be starter Garrard out of contention, while Moore was beaten out by rookie Ryan Tannehill. Things can change quickly though…
New England Patriots – Rob Ninkovich: It looks like the Patriots will be asking a lot of their first-round rookies on defense. Fortunately, with players like Ninkovich on the team they’ve got guys who can do a number of things well when called upon.
New York Jets – Aaron Maybin: From Bills bust to Jets pass-rushing saviour? The transformation hasn’t been quite that radical, but Maybin looks like one of the few players on the Jets’ roster capable of consistently generating pressure.
Baltimore Ravens – Pernell McPhee: With Terrell Suggs out indefinitely, the Ravens need McPhee to do what he did last year–only they need the same kind of productivity with an increase in snaps. He made life hard for many a guard as a rookie and will be looking to do the same in 2012.
Cincinnati Bengals – Carlos Dunlap: The only thing that can slow down Dunlap is his durability. Injuries have blighted his early career and prevented him from assuming a bigger role, but there’s no arguing with how consistent a pass rusher he is.
Cleveland Browns – T.J. Ward: The Browns’ safety is capable of making plays and has looked the part since being a Day 1 starter. If he stays on the field, more and more people will recognize his talent.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Isaac Redman: With Rashad Mendenhall down and the way Redman carried himself last year, we had high hopes for Isaac before preseason. A recurring injury has dampened this hope somewhat, but we’re still intrigued to see how he handles an increased role.
Houston Texans – Brice McCain: It’s a passing league and so we’re entering an age where a slot corner is more valuable than ever before. McCain was poor playing on the sidelines, but flourished in the slot, turning himself into one of the leagues stars at the position.
Indianapolis Colts – Samson Satele: Losing Jeff Saturday hurts, but the Colts may get a little more power in the running game with the addition of Satele.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Derek Cox: When Cox was terrible, the Jags wouldn’t take him off the field. Now he’s turned a corner and his health can’t keep him on it. Such is life, but if it can be rectified this year, Cox will be looking to build on a breakout start to 2011.
Tennessee Titans – Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey: Two defensive tackles taken from the same draft class, both who produced as rookies. One was a penetrating pass rusher, the other a rock in run defense. The league will get to know about these two before long.
Denver Broncos – Chris Harris: Another slot corner specialist, he made the position his own with a number of impressive displays. Not bad for an undrafted free agent in a lockout year. If he can take a step forward, watch out.
Kansas City Chiefs – Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey: Neither man has been what you’d expect from a Top 5 draft pick, but they’ve developed into two of the stoutest run defenders around. They don’t move up field much, but then they don’t get moved by linemen all that much either. Vital cogs in what the Chiefs’ defense can do.
Oakland Raiders – Tyvon Branch: Maybe the only safety in the league who can cover the athletic tight ends and limit their production. Branch has the kind of varied skill set that sees him take on a number of roles (sometimes to his detriment). A unique talent.
San Diego Chargers – Cam Thomas: May not get a chance to show it with Aubrayo Franklin in town, but took a huge step forward in 2011.
Dallas Cowboys – Sean Lissemore: As productive a Cowboy as there was last year on a per-snap basis. Yet to handle a full-time load, but made so many plays in 2011 you were surprised he played as sparingly as he did.
New York Giants – Linval Joseph: The oft-forgotten man in the Giants’ defensive line rotation. Others get the press, but Joseph, in his first season starting, quietly emerged as an above-average defensive tackle. Another step forward, and with more play like his postseason performances, and he could be so much more.
Philadelphia Eagles – Derek Landri: One of the most explosive first steps of any defensive tackle, Landri excelled in a limited role with Philadelphia. Back in a scheme that suits him, his preseason showing suggests he’ll be making more than a few plays in the backfield.
Washington Redskins – Perry Riley: It took the Redskins long enough to realize that Rocky McIntosh wasn’t the answer. When they did, they found they may have had a star on their hands in the shape of Riley. The inside linebacker will get a full season to show what he can do, and that should excite fans in Washington.
Chicago Bears – Tim Jennings: Not a fancy corner, but a perfect one for a Cover-2 defense. Jennings rarely lets things get behind him (that Seattle game aside), didn’t give up a touchdown in 2011, and is extremely good when it comes to supporting in the run and screen game.
Detroit Lions – Willie Young: Already enhanced his reputation with a superb preseason, Young was the most productive Lions defensive end on a pressure per snap basis in 2011. His speed off the edge is hard to handle, but he’s not just a one-trick pony. That should see him eat into snaps in a deep rotation.
Green Bay Packers – D.J. Smith: Will get his chance with the injury to Desmond Bishop. Not what we envisaged (we hoped his snaps would come at the expense of A.J. Hawk) but when he filled in as a rookie flashed real play-making potential.
Minnesota Vikings – Chris Cook: Has had plenty of off-the-field troubles, but possesses rare physical talents that, in theory, present him as a guy who can match up with some of the more dominant receivers in the league.
Atlanta Falcons – William Moore: In a league low on play-making safeties, Moore’s knack for making them is something to watch. Injuries have slowed him during his first three years in the league, but with some luck and added consistency, he could make a name for himself.
Carolina Panthers – Greg Hardy: Did a good job generating pressure, but looked worn out at times with a heavy snap count. If the Panthers can manage him better, he could be more than just the guy on the opposite side to Charles Johnson.
New Orleans Saints – Zach Strief: Had his doubters before the season, but took his opportunity to start superbly. Good in pass protection and in the run game, there’s more credit to go around on that Saints’ offensive line now that Carl Nicks has moved on.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Michael Bennett: Feasts on bad tackles, and does so on every down. One of those rare defensive ends who teams should consider running away from such is his presence in making defensive stops and redirecting runners.
Arizona Cardinals – Dan Carter: Can Dan Williams be counted on to play an entire season? That may not be such an issue if Carter can build on a strong 2011. Solid depth who flashed play-making ability.
St. Louis Rams – William Hayes: Reuniting with Jeff Fischer could be what it takes to get Hayes’ career back on track. Will have to catch on as a backup with Robert Quinn and Chris Long looking so impressive, but gives the Rams the option of spelling both men without a huge drop-off… if he finds that 2010 form.
San Francisco 49ers - Ahmad Brooks: With so many stars on the 49ers’ defense, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. The every-down Ahmad Brooks rarely lets his team down, making plays in base and nickel packages.
Seattle Seahawks – Richard Sherman: Thrust into a starting role, you’d expect a rookie cornerback to be eaten up by quarterbacks. Instead, the physical Sherman was more than up to the task and is primed to make an even bigger name for himself in Year 2.
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