Secret Superstars: Week 11
With 11 weeks of the season in the bag, some of our Secret Superstars from earlier in the year have been able to sustain their efforts in the longer term, proving themselves to be more than just one-game wonders.
Players like Andre Ellington in Arizona, and Jerricho Cotchery and Marvin Jones in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, who all rank in the Top 15 players at their positions so far this year. Cotchery is someone in particular that you don’t hear much about, but he’s very quietly putting together a very solid and reliable season.
This week’s edition has a bit of a Florida feel to it, as we take a closer look at a tight end in Miami, a running back in Tampa Bay, a cornerback in Jacksonville and, just to spice things up a bit, an offensive lineman in Minnesota.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Tulsa, Charles Clay (+4.7) is an intriguing player for a number of reasons. Firstly, his play has been up and down in his second year, seeing his largest role to date. What’s more interesting however, is how the Dolphins use him, with Clay seeing multiple snaps in the backfield, split out wide, in the slot, and as an in-line tight end in every game. His versatility is what makes him an interesting player to look at, but we’re taking a closer look this week more so because he had the highest graded game of his career on Sunday.
Of his 49 offensive snaps against the San Diego Chargers, he saw his highest number of snaps at tight end. However, despite that, those snaps at tight end still accounted for just 22 of his total. His touchdown on 1st-and-5 with 7:54 to go in the third quarter came via a out route ran from the slot, and wound up being one of the best plays you’ll see all week. Catching the ball at the San Diego 35-yard line, he turned up field and burst past linebacker Manti Te’o before running through an attempted tackle from safety Marcus Gilchrist and shaking free from linebacker Donald Butler en route to the end zone.
Bobby Rainey, HB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Not to be out done by a fellow skill-position player in the state of Florida, Tampa Bay running back Bobby Rainey (+5.9) went out and had the kind of performance that has seen only two running backs finish with a higher single game grade since we began grading in 2008. Impressive, considering he saw his first action with the team the week earlier, and is on his third team since August, with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns opting to part ways with him. That’s a move they should be regretting, especially if he can produce more performances like this one.
Rushing for 163 yards, a whopping 118 of them came after contact with Rainey forcing eight missed tackles from 30 carries. To put that yards after contact number into context, in Week 11 just four running backs, including Rainey, finished with more than 118 total rushing yards. He finished the game with the third-highest Elusive Rating we saw all week, as he put on a show that set the bar for all running backs for the remainder of the year.
Alan Ball, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Seeing as we’re showing the love to offensive players that made defensive players look foolish in Florida, it’s only right that we highlight someone from the other side of the ball and, thankfully, Jaguars cornerback Alan Ball (+4.3) made that fairly easy for us this week. A former seventh-round draft pick out of Illinois, Ball had looked solid as a starter early in the year, with only a poor performance against the San Diego Chargers dragging his grade down. He bounced back on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals however, and joins fellow Jaguar Will Blackmon in our Top 25 graded cornerbacks.
Against the Cardinals he was targeted seven times, giving up just three catches for 31 yards. With 44 snaps in coverage, that worked out at an average of 0.70 Yards Per Coverage Snap. That’s impressive, however it was the manner in which his four incompletions came about which really stood out, with Ball getting in and breaking up every one of them. They all came in the first half, with the last coming on 3rd-and-16 with just 22 seconds left in the second quarter, as he matched Michael Floyd stride for stride on a go route before getting his hands between the receiver and the ball.
Brandon Fusco, G, Minnesota Vikings
A year ago we were struggling to understand why Brandon Fusco (+4.1) was seeing playing time over the veteran Geoff Schwartz in Minnesota, with a couple of impressive games failing to hide a season of struggles. The Vikings’ coaching staff has been rewarded in 2013 however, with that pattern flipping and Fusco having just two games where he’s played poorly, and eight where he’s finished with a positive grade. That’s all lead to him being our fifth-highest graded player at the position through 11 weeks, and realistically he’s within touching distance of all of those graded above him bar the incomparable Evan Mathis.
He was nearly perfect in pass protection on Sunday, with just the lone quarterback hurry surrendered, giving him a Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating of 98.1. While that was impressive, and it gave him his fifth game this year where he has surrendered just one pressure or fewer, he was even better as a run blocker. He may not have had any big blocks that jumped out, but lots of solid work, like his block on linebacker K.J. Wright on 1st-and-10 with 2:51 to go in the first quarter, added up to a good day all round.
Follow Gordon on Twitter.