Secret Superstars 2014: Chiefs
As we continue our Secret Superstar series, we move on to the Kansas City Chiefs, whose season ended with an early exit from the playoffs after starting out 9-0. The Chiefs’ offense made a couple small strides of progression in its first season with Andy Reid and Alex Smith. We are going to focus on another player in his first year with the team though, fullback Anthony Sherman.
In recent years, offensive schemes have shifted in the NFL and often it has come at the expense of the fullback position. The underappreciated spot has been devalued from what was once an essential component of an offense to the point that some teams now choose not to carry one on their roster. Although the overall use of fullbacks is in decline, that does not mean the effectiveness of those who play the position is following the same trend.
A fifth-round selection by the Arizona Cardinals, Sherman was the second fullback taken in the 2011 NFL draft. Fullbacks were not a staple of head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s offense, but the team felt he could also make an impact on special teams. In his two seasons in Arizona, he tallied 476 offensive snaps over 27 games. As a run blocker he showed glimpses of successful blocking, but his impact was limited due to averaging fewer than nine run blocking plays per game. Overall, Sherman’s tenure with the Cardinals was average, earning a -2.8 grade on offense and -1.0 on special teams.
Another Expendable Fullback
When Bruce Arians took over as head coach of the Cardinals last offseason, with him came a vertical offensive scheme that utilizes a second tight end in lieu of a true fullback. No longer needed by the Cardinals, Sherman was traded to Kansas City in exchange for cornerback Javier Arenas. While Arenas played sparingly and lasted just one season in Arizona, Sherman found a match in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense with the Chiefs.
Flourishing in Kansas City
Even though Kansas City gave up Arenas to acquire Sherman, his roster spot seemed in question considering the Chiefs’ new general manager, John Dorsey, had spent a sixth round pick on fullback Braden Wilson just four days earlier. However, Wilson played just 16 snaps in the preseason and was subsequently released as Sherman secured the starting job.
Sherman got off to an impressive start, earning an +11.2 run block grade (+12.5 overall) through the first eight games. After a bit of a midseason lull, he finished the regular season strong and ended with the highest run block grade (+16.6) for a fullback since 2008, and second-highest in PFF history. Sherman’s blocking undoubtedly helped pave the way for Jamaal Charles as he regained his 2010 form and ranked 11th of our Top 101 Players in 2013.
Sherman has been successful because he excels at gaining leverage and sealing lead blocks, even though he does not overpower defenders often. That’s not to say he cannot though, as shown below against the Browns from Week 8, with 0:27 left in the first quarter. Sherman takes Craig Robinson head-on, gains leverage, and creates a few yards of movement. Due to the unblocked safety attacking the gap, Charles tries to bounce outside and Sherman does a good job of staying with his defender. As Charles cuts back, Sherman regains his leverage and continues the block until he finishes nearly 15 yards downfield.
Sherman has also been effective performing cut blocks and getting defenders on the ground in the run game. In Week 7 against the Texans (Q1 2:46, shown below), Sherman cuts the outside leg of the playside linebacker perfectly (and with some luck even brings down the backside linebacker), helping Charles reach the end zone. Now, Charles very well may have scored without such an effective block, but it allowed him to nearly walk in without resistance instead of likely having to run through contact for a couple yards.
More Than Just a Run Blocker
There’s no question that Sherman is primarily a blocking back, but his value does span beyond blocking. In the passing game he wasn’t a priority for Alex Smith, but he did make the most of his opportunities when Smith could not find other targets downfield. On his 20 receptions, Sherman picked up a combined nine first downs and touchdowns. In addition, he averaged 8.5 yards after the catch and forced four missed tackles.
With players such as Sherman who have a smaller role on offense, performance on special teams is also vital. Not only did Sherman log an additional 326 special teams snaps in 2013, he made a positive impact by earning a +4.0 special teams grade, including 11 tackles.
Sherman is deserving of more recognition than he received due to the unglamorous nature of the position. However, he is a Secret Superstar not only to recognize his 2013 performance, but we believe he is able to continue his high level of play as he enters his fourth season in the league.
Follow us on Twitter: @PFF