Secret Superstar: Phillip Adams
We’ve been naming Secret Superstars for years now. Players who, in limited opportunity, have shown they have what it takes to assume a larger role. These players, like many on the bottom half of NFL rosters, have talent, but were either blocked on the depth chart by bigger names or simply needed more seasoning.
For the Oakland Raiders in 2012, being blocked by an established vet wasn’t a common issue. There was bound to be an opportunity sooner or later as Reggie McKenzie was into his first year of playing “Flip That Roster”. In fact, at certain positions during the year, bottom-of-the-roster players were not only unblocked, but were being thrown, face-first, into the starting lineup.
This was the case for the cornerbacks. With the previous season’s starters discarded and affordable injury-concern replacements shelved (with injuries, of course), the path to starting on Sundays was wide open. Safety Michael Huff was called on to move to the line and man one spot and Patrick Lee the other until Ron Bartell made a temporary return. Brandian Ross got a shot at one point, and others were pulled up from the practice squad or brought in to provide bodies and some semblance of depth.
It was late in this shuffling process that Phillip Adams got his turn, but in true Secret Superstar fashion, he impressed in glimpses.
Sneaking into the bottom of the draft by turning his All-MEAC selection and notable pre-draft workout into a seventh-round selection by the San Francisco 49ers, Adams had cleared the first hurdle. From there, though, he would set out on a trail of spot snaps, releases, re-signings, and injuries that marked his 2010 and 2011 NFL seasons.
While with the 49ers, Adams saw action for just 77 defensive snaps across nine games, surrendering six catches, two of which went for short touchdowns. And then the injuries began. A gruesome broken ankle on a kick return in Week 16 would effectively end his term with the team and he was let go just prior to the start of the 2011 season.
The New England Patriots – always on the hunt for defensive back talent – scooped up Adams two weeks later, but his standing as the last man on the roster meant he would be signed and released repeatedly as other needs arose. In all, he logged another 180 defensive snaps for the Patriots and secured his first career interception along the way, but one release too many saw him taken back across the country when the Seattle Seahawks made him a December addition.
There was no playing time to be had in Seattle and for the second time in as many seasons, Adams survived the offseason only to turn in his playbook on cut-down day.
The rebuilding Raiders called hours later and Adams had latched on to his fourth team before starting his third season in the league.
The Right Situation
There probably weren’t many destinations in the league that would make a hungry, young corner happier than Oakland. With the players who had dominated playing time in recent years removed from the equation and those plugged into the top spots seen as veteran stop-gaps, there would eventually be an opportunity.
Adams opened his run with the Raiders as a special teamer, returning punts and covering kicks, but began to see time on defense midseason as the team scrambled to deal with their depleted DB corps. A rough 19-snap afternoon in Week 7 against Jacksonville that included first-down and touchdown receptions allowed to Cecil Shorts, a muffed punt, and a missed tackle on Rashad Jennings could have sent another packing, but Adams hung around and continued to collect small handfuls of playing time.
From that point forward, Adams earned positive coverage grades each week (a cumulative +7.4 in that span) and notched interceptions in consecutive games against quarterbacks from opposite ends of the spectrum — Brandon Weeden in Week 13 and Peyton Manning in Week 14 — and that Thursday Night game against Denver was where Adams made his mark.
Putting in by far the most extensive single-game work of his career (56 of 84 defensive snaps), Adams also posted his best-ever coverage grade, +4.0. In an active night, he logged five tackles, a pair of defensive stops, gave up just two catches on five targets for only six yards, and added a pass defensed to the aforementioned pick. This standout performance against Manning and the Broncos earned the emerging cover man his first career start in the team’s next game.
Unfortunately for Adams, the story in that start was his second sustained concussion in three weeks. He would recover and be cleared in time to retain his starting role for Week 16, but was forced from that contest as well – this time with a groin injury that would end his season.
Not tendered as a Restricted Free Agent when the 2013 league year got underway, the Raiders instead re-signed Adams to a one-year, $630,000 deal to be a part of a cornerback stable that is once again in flux. Michael Huff has moved on, veterans Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins were added, slot corner Joselio Hanson was brought back, and D.J. Hayden was selected in the first round of April’s draft.
This being a position where depth is essential, having a clutch of capable hands on board is big positive. Adams will no doubt have his work cut out for him if he hopes to climb back into consideration for a major chunk of playing time – not to mention the hit his return duties have taken with the addition of Josh Cribbs — but the experience gained, and skill shown in his brief 2012 display should see him in better standing at the outset than in previous years.
Adams’ response to veteran competition and ability to shake his injury record will determine whether or not he has a place with the 2013 Raiders, but given the chance, all signs point to him being worthy and from what we’ve seen, he’s an excellent example of a Secret Superstar.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @PFF_Rick