We’re now over a third of the way into the season for most teams in the league, and we’re starting to see which squads are for real and who still has some work to do before we can believe them to be contenders. We’re also seeing which players are performing at a high level throughout, and those who are much more up and down.
From that we can see which of our Secret Superstars are more than just one game wonders, with players like Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington continuing to deliver after their appearances here.
This week we’re casting our eye over the performances of a wide receiver in Cincinnati, a running back in St. Louis, a defensive lineman in Denver, and a cornerback in Kansas City.
Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
While the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense is held back by the limitations of quarterback Andy Dalton, you certainly can’t fault the efforts of the Bengals organisation for putting talent around him. Investments in skill positions like tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovanni Bernard have added to the weapons on offense, but on Sunday we were also treated to a strong performance by second-year wide receiver Marvin Jones (+3.3). A fifth=round pick a year ago, Jones is already just 11 yards shy of the 201 yards he put up as a rookie.
What really stood out against the Buffalo Bills was his ability to make things happen in space, with two plays in particular highlighting his talent. On 1st-and-10 with 13:47 remaining in the first quarter, he caught the pitch from Bernard on a reverse, leaving him with plenty of open field. His initial burst took him 20 yards downfield, but in cutting inside of linebacker Jerry Hughes he was able to buy himself another 14 before being brought down by Jarius Byrd. Then, on 2nd-and-15 with 7:40 to go in the same quarter, he took a screen pass for 42 yards, again showing that impressive burst to get past the Bills defenders.
Zac Stacy, HB, St. Louis Rams
After parting ways with Steven Jackson after nine seasons this past offseason, the St. Louis Rams added rookie running back Zac Stacy (+2.3) in the fifth round of April’s draft. Originally expected to see a small role in his first year, he suddenly looks head and shoulders above his colleagues at the position in St. Louis, rushing for 157 yards in the past two weeks. Impressively, 99 of those yards have come after contact, with Stacy proving how difficult he is to take down during a strong showing against the Houston Texans in Week 6.
In Sunday’s game he averaged an impressive 3.0 yards after contact per carry and that, coupled with his six forced missed tackles, proceeded to give him an Elusive Rating of 90.0, the best mark of any starting running back in Week 6. Two of those missed tackles came on 1st-and-10 with 5:01 left in the first half, as he burst past linebacker Darryl Sharpton before shaking off another attempted tackle from safety Ed Reed. Stacy has shown that he’s capable of carrying the load for this offense, and it’s going to be interesting to see if he can continue his strong start as we get deeper into the season.
Malik Jackson, DT, Denver Broncos
There hasn’t been much secret about the success of the Denver Broncos so far this season, with the team continuing to prove themselves as the best in the league week after week. However, with a future Hall of Famer at quarterback, and plenty of weapons for him to throw to, it’s easy for some of the lesser-known members of the team to be overlooked. Once such player is second-year defensive lineman Malik Jackson (+4.0). A 2012 fifth-round draft pick out of Tennessee, he has already surpassed his total number of snaps played from his rookie year, giving a good account of himself both as a pass rusher and against the run.
Against the Jaguars on Sunday he registered two sacks and a hurry on 29 pass rushes, but it was against the run where he really stood out. On 2nd-and-17 with 3:30 to go in the third quarter he recorded a tackle for loss, tossing aside the pull block by left guard Will Rackley to bring Maurice Jones-Drew down in the backfield. Finishing the game with all three of his tackles resulting in a defensive stop, his Run Stop Percentage of 18.8% was second-highest at his position in Week 6. It was the highest graded game of his young career, and gave us a glimpse of what may be the makings of a strong second season.
Marcus Cooper, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Every year we see late-round rookies come into the NFL and perform well, and in Kansas City that’s exactly what’s happened with cornerback Marcus Cooper (+3.1). Drafted out of Rutgers in the seventh round of April’s draft, Cooper has seen extensive playing time and started two of the past three games. Looking like a wily veteran as opposed to a rookie, he’s currently our eight-ranked cornerback through the first six weeks of the season, with Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders vaulting him into the Top 10.
The Raiders went after him on 10 occasions, finding success early with a touchdown pass to Denarius Moore. That success was short-lived however, with Cooper breaking up two passes and picking off another in the second half. The interception, coming on 2nd-and-5 with 4:18 left in the game, was particularly impressive as he jumped the route to beat Moore to the ball, returning it into field-goal range and allowing the Chiefs to extend their lead. On the season he has allowed a reception just once every 17.5 snaps in coverage, third among all starting cornerbacks and, if he keeps going like this, he’s not going to be a Secret Superstar much longer.
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