With our Secret Superstar series reaching its second week, we’ve already highlighted players from seven teams, giving you some potential breakout stars for the 2013 season and even giving one player an awesome new nickname.
Our second week begins with a look at the Cleveland Browns. Though they have been that “other” team in the AFC North for far too long, with their three division rivals combining for five playoff appearances and a Super Bowl championship in the last two seasons alone, the Browns were far more competitive in 2012.
That’s in no small part down to better drafting over recent years, with the team hitting on top picks and finding value lower down in the draft better than they ever have since their return to the league. Though they still have a massive question mark at the quarterback position, the Browns’ future looks brighter than it has in a long time.
So, with more quality players on the roster, who was the one who we felt didn’t get the credit he deserved? Well, on a line that features Joe Thomas and got fantastic production from rookie Mitchell Schwartz, it was left guard John Greco who caught our attention.
Fighting For A Starting Spot
A four-year starter at offensive tackle at Toledo, Greco became a three-time All-MAC recipient. He was then drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. A backup in his rookie year, he played just 174 snaps on offense, Greco gave a good account of himself on the limited opportunities available and was solid in his only start of the season in Week 17 against the Atlanta Falcons.
He found himself in the same backup role in 2009 and, once again, put in decent performances while not setting the world on fire when he did get onto the field. While his 2010 season was similar in terms of snap count, this time Greco did more than play at a solid level. Finishing the year with a grade of +8.9 despite playing just 153 snaps, this was the first indication that he deserved of a starting spot somewhere in the league.
That spot wouldn’t be in St. Louis as the Rams traded him to the Browns for a conditional seventh-round pick, allowing him to follow offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur who had taken the job as the Browns’ head coach. Still, while Shurmur’s familiarity with him may have helped him onto the roster in Cleveland, it didn’t guarantee him a starting job and it took until starting left guard Jason Pinkston went down in Week 6 of the 2012 season for him to see time as a starter.
Greco started with a bang, delivering the best performance of his career in his first start for the Browns against the Indianapolis Colts. Perfect in pass protection, it was as a run blocker that he truly starred. The highest yards per carry for the Browns that day came on runs to either side of him.
Training Camp Battle
While he impressed down the stretch as a starter, Greco will likely have to battle with Pinkston to keep the starting job, especially with a new coaching staff coming in. Having new coaches, though, should allow it to be about who earns the job and, based on the past two seasons, there should be only one winner.
Pinkston started straight out of the gate as a rookie in 2011 and, while he had a couple of nice performances, he was generally unimpressive. Grading negatively both as a pass blocker and a run blocker, he allowed just one sack in his rookie season. Sacks don’t tell the whole story, however, with him also allowing 10 hits and 24 hurries. That all added up to give him a Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) Rating of 95.9, ranking 43rd out of the 55 guards who played at least 50% of their team’s offensive snaps.
Pinkston was better as a pass blocker in the limited amount of action he saw in 2012, with a PBE Rating of 98.0 before his injury. Greco was impressive as a starter, but his own PBE Rating of 96.5 wasn’t much better than Pinkston’s 2011 mark — it was his work as a run blocker that set him apart. Playing 714 snaps, Greco’s run blocking grade of +11.3 was seventh among all guards.
His impressive play was highlighted recently in an edition of Neil’s NFL Daily, showing him to have a positively-graded block on 14.40% of his run blocks, a percentage that was fifth at his position. He’s shown signs of it throughout his career but it looks like now might finally be the time for Greco to get the chance to prove himself over a full season.
When you look at the players at the guard position in the NFL, there are two tiers at the top. The first features Evan Mathis alone, such has been his level of dominance at the position, but in the next tier you have players like Mike Iupati, Marshal Yanda and Josh Sitton. It’s unlikely that Greco is going to put together a season that would put him on par with Mathis but, with 16 starts and a slight improvement in play, it’s not out of the question for him to enter that second tier. First, he has to ensure he wins that starting job. If he does, and continues to play like he has, more people will be talking about him soon.
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