Secret Superstars: Super Bowl XLVII
With a full two weeks between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, you’d think there would be plenty of time for every single topic to be covered. Instead, however, we’ve spent most of this week hearing about Deer Antler Spray or the fact that there are two brothers coaching against each other.
However, Super Bowls, like any game, are often won by players who haven’t had the same attention as the big names that dominated the headlines in the lead up. Here at Pro Football Focus, we like to cast our net far and wide, highlighting those players who do their work and are productive in lesser roles.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at four Secret Superstars who could impact the game on Sunday between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.
Bernard Pierce — HB, Baltimore Ravens
Though the Ravens starting running back, Ray Rice, remains the feature back, and is a better all-around player, it’s not a stretch to say Bernard Pierce has been the team’s best pure runner. Getting stronger as the season has gone on, he has grown quietly into one of the team’s most productive weapons on offense. Coming onto the field for a few series per game, his ability to make the most of every carry has been key throughout the year.
With just seven receptions in the regular season, Pierce still forced four missed tackles, averaging 6.9 yards after the catch per reception. It was as a runner where he did most of his damage however, forcing 21 missed tackles from 108 carries on his way to a 532-yard rookie season. Adding to this, he averaged 3.48 yards after contact per carry, with all of this combing to give him an Elusive Rating of 75.7 — the third-best mark among all running backs.
Pernell McPhee — DE, Baltimore Ravens
After a fantastic rookie season that saw him generate seven sacks, six hits and 21 hurries from 325 pass rushes, Pernell McPhee struggled early in his second season after surgery in the offseason. He lead all defensive tackles with a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 9.2 in that rookie year, but that dropped to 6.5 in 2012. But does that tell the whole story of his season?
While he hasn’t generated pressure at the same rate this year, he certainly improved as the year went on. Through the first seven weeks of the season he registered just a single sack, four hits and seven hurries, despite rushing the passer 203 times. After missing time with an injury the Ravens limited his snaps on his return, and his production improved. Rushing the passer just 68 times in the final five games of the regular season, he registered nine total pressures. His production improved further in the playoffs, with Pass Rushing Productivity ratings of 8.3 and 9.4 in the past two playoff games, which led all 3-4 defensive ends each week.
LaMichael James — HB, San Francisco 49ers
Despite not playing a single snap on offense until Week 14 of the regular season, rookie running back LaMichael James has added something extra to the 49ers late in the year, albeit on a very limited number of snaps. Drafted in the second round of April’s NFL Draft, James may not have the size you look for in an every-down running back, but he came into the league after a productive career in college and looks likely to at least offer something in a reserve role in the NFL.
After finally getting onto the field in Week 14, James finished the regular season with 125 yards from 27 carries. More impressively, he forced five missed tackles from those 27 carries, and averaged 3.37 Yards After Contact per carry, giving him an Elusive Rating of 56.2. He has been even more impressive in the playoffs, rushing for 55 yards from eight carries and forcing another two missed tackles, including a touchdown run in the NFC championship game.
Chris Culliver — CB, San Francisco 49ers
While their offensive candidate may have only started to produce late in the season, the 49ers’ defensive Secret Superstar has been featured all year. Drawing attention to himself this week with his comments at media day, Chris Culliver has been San Francisco’s nickel back since early in his rookie year in 2011.
This year he has been up and down at times, but when he’s at his best, he has been very impressive. In the regular season he allowed just four receptions over 20 yards, mostly keeping receivers in front of him and limiting yards after the catch. In both postseason games so far, however, he has allowed a reception of over 20 yards, and has allowed 28 yards after the catch after giving up just 90 yards in the regular season. Rarely in the slot when he sees the field, with just six snaps in coverage coming from the inside in the regular season, he allowed a reception once every 13.7 snaps from the 493 snaps he saw in coverage.
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