Secret Superstars: 2012 In Review
It’s getting to the time of year when we roll out our Secret Superstars to watch out for in the 2014 season for each of the 32 teams in the league. The series highlights one player from each team who we feel performed better than the credit he was given, or a player who looks poised to impress further this year with a bigger role.
With that in mind, and with three years of the series under our belts, we thought it would be a good idea to look back on our picks from each year and see how we did. As you will have seen from last week’s recap of our 2011 series there have been some impressive hits, and some wild misses, and that continues as we look at 2012.
Arizona Cardinals – David Carter, NT – MISS
As a sixth-round rookie in 2011, Carter finished his first season strong, showing some solid play against the run after flashing some skill as a pass rusher earlier in the year. However, while Carter was a solid choice that year, his career didn’t take off like we’d hoped. His play dipped slightly in 2012 and he saw just 51 disappointing snaps in 2013 with the Dallas Cowboys.
Atlanta Falcons – William Moore, S – HIT
Moore showed big strides as a player from 2010 to 2011, leading to him being our Secret Superstar heading into the 2012 season. While he may not be an elite player in the league, he’s developed into a solid starter in Atlanta, and you would expect him to bounce back from a down year in 2013.
Baltimore Ravens – Pernell McPhee, DL – MISS
Definitely a player who falls into the “what if” category. Heading into the 2012 season McPhee had some issues with his knees which meant he didn’t follow up an impressive rookie season quite like he could have. The Ravens shifted him to outside linebacker last season which further limited his impact — a shame after he showed such promise as an interior rusher as a rookie.
Buffalo Bills – Andy Levitre, G – HIT
2012 would be Levitre’s final season in Buffalo, but he wouldn’t disappoint. Our ninth-highest graded guard that season, he hasn’t finished lower than 13th in each of the past three seasons. Now with the Tennessee Titans, he’s still young enough that we can expect him to perform at this level for some time yet.
Carolina Panthers – Greg Hardy, DE – HIT
Up there with some of our biggest hits from the past three years is Hardy. Back in 2011 he actually finished with a negative grade, but we saw enough of him in flashes to believe he could develop into something special. 2012 and 2013 have seen him become one of the best all-around defensive linemen in the league.
Chicago Bears – Tim Jennings, CB – HIT
We’re willing to forgive Jennings for a subpar second half to 2013, especially after he followed up 2011 with an even better 2012. Like Charles Tillman he’s an excellent fit for what the Bears want to do defensively, and his nine interceptions in 2012 led all cornerbacks.
Cincinnati Bengals – Carlos Dunlap, DE – HIT
A year after naming Geno Atkins the Bengals’ Secret Superstar, we again opted for a defensive lineman in Cincinnati, this time on the edge in Carlos Dunlap. He hasn’t had the same impact as Atkins, but he’s graded out inside the Top 10 4-3 defensive ends each of the past two years, performing well against the run and as a pass rusher.
Cleveland Browns – T.J. Ward, S – HIT
Though he departed for Denver this past offseason, Ward was a fantastic player for the Browns these past two seasons. He has his limitations, but you’ll struggle to find many safeties in the league as good as him near the line of scrimmage.
Dallas Cowboys – Sean Lissemore, DL – MISS
A miss may be a touch harsh on Lissemore, who performed solidly as a reserve for the Chargers in 2013, but he has failed to reach the height of his 2011 season where he excelled against the run. He saw time at both nose tackle and defensive end for Dallas in 2012, but failed to impress at either spot.
Denver Broncos – Chris Harris Jr., CB – HIT
Another big hit from our 2012 class is Harris. His injury late in the 2013 season may hurt him going forward but before then he had quietly become one of the better cornerbacks in football. Comfortable on the outside or in the slot, he’s been amongst our 10 highest-graded players at the position each of the past two seasons.
Detroit Lions – Willie Young, DE – HIT
We might have missed on fellow Lions edge rusher Lawrence Jackson the year before, but Young is much closer to a hit if you look at his 2013 season. Grading positively against the run and as a pass rusher, he should help an ailing Chicago front seven after making the switch to the divisional rival Bears this offseason.
Green Bay Packers – D.J. Smith, LB – MISS
A strong finish to his rookie season saw us opt for Smith as our Secret Superstar in 2012, but a slow start to the season was worsened when he went down for the year after Week 6. Only seeing action on special teams for the Houston Texans in 2013, we can chalk this up as a miss.
Houston Texans – Brice McCain, CB – MISS
If you want a good example of proof that a player’s performance can change rapidly, McCain is your guy. Our 25th highest graded CB in 2011, he fell to 104th in 2012 before tumbling to dead last at 110th in 2013. No longer in Houston, the Pittsburgh Steelers have given his the chance to resurrect what looked like a promising career.
Indianapolis Colts – Samson Satele, C – MISS
Satele sprinkled in some positives during a streaky run as a member of the Oakland Raiders, but that doesn’t stop this from being one of our biggest misses. His best ranking amongst centers in terms of his PFF grade from the past two seasons has been 31st, definitely not what you want from a starter.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Derek Cox, CB – MISS
Cox started just six games in 2011, but flashed some real skill that gave us hope for the future. Sadly, that hasn’t materialized into much since then, with the occasional flash in 2012 outweighed by more poor play, and a really poor 2013 season all around.
Kansas City Chiefs – Tyson Jackson/Glenn Dorsey, DL – HIT
Viewed as busts by many early in their careers, both had really strong seasons against run in 2011, leading us to name then Secret Superstars as a pair. 2012 saw both players performance dip, but Jackson was excellent against the run again in 2013. It was a similar story for Dorsey, who did it with the 49ers after moving to San Francisco last offseason.
Click over to Page 2 for the rest of the 2012 Secret Superstar Reviews…
Miami Dolphins – Matt Moore/David Garrard, QB – MISS
Hurt by the Dolphins selecting Ryan Tannehill in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Moore played just 56 snaps in 2013, while Garrard never saw the field for the Dolphins. In fairness to Moore, his +2.5 grade on 56 is pretty impressive but it’s hard to justify either as a hit when they played so little.
Minnesota Vikings – Chris Cook, CB – MISS
With some solid play before going down hurt in 2011, we thought Cook was ready to break out. That wasn’t to be the case, however, with a so-so 2012 season proving to be the best we would see from him in the past two seasons. He’s missed a bit of time with injuries too, but just hasn’t been good enough on the field.
New England Patriots – Rob Ninkovich, ED – HIT
Limited by some fairly pedestrian performances as a pass rusher, there is no doubting how good he is against the run. Adding to his value is just how much time he seems to be able to spend on the field, with over 1,000 snaps in each of the past three seasons including the playoffs, he has become a huge part of what the Patriots do defensively.
New Orleans Saints – Zach Strief, OT – HIT
Strief might not be the best run blocker around, but he’s very good when it comes to pass protection, something he has shown in the past few years. He’s not the most inspiring choice as a Secret Superstar, but he’s been an important player for the Saints in recent years.
New York Giants – Linval Joseph, DT – HIT
The interesting thing about Joseph is that it was his pass rushing that caught our attention in 2011, while it has been his play against the run that has impressed us the most in the past two years. Moving on to the Vikings this offseason, he looks set to play a key role in Minnesota.
New York Jets – Aaron Maybin, ED – MISS
Maybin looked to have resurrected his career with a strong 2011 season as a situational pass rusher, but our belief that he had turned the corner was perhaps a little optimistic. He didn’t play at all in 2013, and 120 uninspiring snaps in 2012 fell well short of our expectations.
Oakland Raiders – Tyvon Branch, S – HIT
Branch might not be an elite safety in the league, but he has developed into a very solid starter in Oakland. 2012 wasn’t quite as impressive as 2011, and he missed almost all of last season through injury, but we expect him to bounce back this year.
Philadelphia Eagles – Derek Landri, DT – MISS
Landri was dominant as a reserve defensive lineman in 2011, excelling both against the run and as a pass rusher. He started 2012 brightly, but after a strong opening quarter of the season, his high level of play fell away and we haven’t seen it since.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Isaac Redman, HB – HIT
Redman is a player that it feels like the Steelers perhaps didn’t realize what they had. He was always going to be a role player, but 53 missed tackles forced from 237 carries in 2011 and 2012 is hard to ignore. And yet he was cut shortly into the 2013 season. Despite that, we still felt he was a very productive player.
St. Louis Rams – William Hayes, DE – HIT
Though he is somewhat one-dimensional, in the very least Hayes is a very good run defender on the edge. He hasn’t finished outside the top 15 in terms of highest graded defensive ends against the run in the past two seasons despite being limited snap wise.
San Diego Chargers – Cam Thomas, NT – MISS
Thomas is an interesting one in that he’s certainly not a bad player, it’s just that he hasn’t been able to kick on from an impressive 2011 season, which saw him look good in a limited role. Good for a few good performances a season, he’s lacked the consistency that we’d hoped for heading into the 2012 season.
San Francisco 49ers – Ahmad Brooks, OLB – HIT
A lot of 3-4 outside linebackers are successful because of their ability as pass rushers. That’s not the case with Brooks who, if we’re being honest, is pretty average in that regard. However, since becoming a starter in San Francisco, he has really shown his strength to be against the run, with 2012 being the best year of his career so far.
Seattle Seahawks – Richard Sherman, CB – HIT
Between Sherman, Harris and Hardy, this really was a banner year for us in terms of unearthing the leagues hidden gems. We liked what we saw from him in the second half of his rookie season in 2011 when he took over as a starter, and he hasn’t looked back since, staking his claim as one of the best players in the game in the past two seasons.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Michael Bennett, DE – HIT
Bennett caught our attention with some big games in 2011, and followed it up by doing the same in 2012. There were a couple of disappointing games in there too, but when he moved to Seattle last offseason he became an even better player. Thriving in the role there, he finished the year as our fifth-highest graded defensive end.
Tennessee Titans – Karl Klug/Jurrell Casey, DT – HIT
As a rookie duo in 2011 we were impressed by Klug’s ability as an interior pass rusher and Casey’s strength against the run. As their careers have progressed Casey has been able to assert himself as a starter, and took massive strides as a pass rusher last season. Klug hasn’t been able to crack the starting line up yet, but in the very least he’s an excellent rotational guy to have, making life tough for opposing offensive linemen on passing downs.
Washington Redskins – Perry Riley, LB – MISS
There was promise in Riley’s play late in the 2011 season and he started the 2012 season well, as we’d expected. His play really fell off late in the year, however, and he followed that up by having much more struggles than impressive flashes in 2013.
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