Secret Superstars: Week 13
Week 13 was the week of the rookie quarterback in the NFL, with Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III leading their teams with big performances, while the first overall pick, Andrew Luck, rebounded from a poor game to lead the Indianapolis Colts to a late win.
That’s not news to you though, you’ve spent all week debating who the best rookie quarterback is and how good this class ranks all-time. So what about the players that didn’t get the attention of those high-profile rookies? Well, that’s where Secret Superstars comes in.
This week we’re highlighting an offensive tackle in New York, a linebacker in St. Louis, a defensive end in Buffalo and a young cornerback in Denver.
Austin Howard — OT, New York Jets
It’s been a rocky season, to say the least, for New York Jets fans but one bright spot has been the play of right tackle Austin Howard in the past few weeks. Replacing the much maligned Wayne Hunter, who was traded to St. Louis, he struggled early in the year, with a beat down at the hands of Miami’s Cameron Wake a particular low point. Since then, however, his play has improved with just two negatively graded games in the past nine. During this stretch his pass blocking has improved and his run blocking is good enough to see him ranked fifth among right tackles in that aspect of his game.
While he has improved over this period, Sunday was the best performance of his career so far. With no pressure allowed, it marked his first ever game with a perfect Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating of 100.0. That’s impressive, and not something to gloss over, but it was his run blocking that stood out once again. The team gained 58 of their 177 yards on the ground on runs either side of Howard as he routinely handled Arizona defensive end Darnell Dockett. On 1st-and-Goal with 53 seconds left in the third quarter, Howard pushed Dockett away from the play with ease, eventually blocking him to the ground. The Jets could be headed for an offseason of change, but Howard has shown himself worthy of a starting spot on that offensive line, and that’s not something I expected to be saying after three weeks of the season.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar — LB, St. Louis Rams
With the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers nearly playing out a tie for the second time in four weeks, the Rams got a strong performance from linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. An undrafted free agent back in 2008, Dunbar looked downright abysmal for much of his final season in New Orleans last year. In his first season as a member of the Rams he’s had his blips, with the Week 4 performance against Seattle the low point of the year so far, but overall has looked much better.
In Sunday’s game against the 49ers, he went beyond just looking better, with his second-highest graded performance of the season. He was tested four times in coverage by quarterback Colin Kaepernick and, while he gave up three receptions, none went for anymore than 11 yards. As a pass rusher he saw 12 snaps, producing a sack and a hurry to give him a Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) Rating of 14.6. It was against the run that he impressed the most however, with a Run Stop Percentage of 16.1%. That was the highest among players at his position, with all five of his solo tackles resulting in defensive stops.
Alex Carrington — DT, Buffalo Bills
The big news in Buffalo has obviously been the resurgence of big-money free agent acquisition Mario Williams, who looked much more like the player we saw in the past in last week’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lost in all the talk about Williams however, was the stellar play of defensive tackle Alex Carrington who, despite playing just 20 snaps on Sunday, had his most impressive display of the season.
With such a limited snap count he saw just three snaps against the run against Jacksonville, but in making two tackles which resulted in defensive stops — giving him a Run Stop Percentage of 66.7% — he flashed the ability to play the run well. Most of his work came as a pass rusher and, with two sacks from 13 snaps, he finished the game with a PRP Rating of 15.4%. Both sacks came in a fourth quarter that saw him add a batted pass on 4th-and-5 with 1:54 left in the game. Both Mario and Kyle Williams will continue to be the focus of the defensive line, but on Sunday Carrington showed that he can contribute as part of a rotation — good news for Bills fans who expected more consistency from the defensive line this season.
Chris Harris Jr — CB, Denver Broncos
Chris Harris Jr featured as our Secret Superstar in Denver in the offseason and, in a season where the Broncos are emerging as genuine Super Bowl contenders, he continues to shine. Starting the season as the team’s nickel back, he has stepped into the starting line up after the injury to Tracy Porter, missing just four snaps in the past seven games. While he has played well this season, Sunday was his highest graded performance yet and was good enough to lead all cornerbacks in Week 13.
In coverage for 33 snaps on Sunday, Harris saw seven passes thrown his way and, while he did allow four receptions, they totalled just 54 yards and with just 3 yards coming after the catch on all four receptions combined. Not allowing receivers to make a play after the catch enabled him to record two tackles for defensive stops in coverage. Lined up in coverage often against Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams, he broke up two passes including one on a crossing route on 1st-and-10 with 1:26 left in the third quarter. He may have started the season as Denver’s nickel back, but the team will need to think long and hard about whether or not they want to slide Porter straight back into the starting line up, given the strong play of this week’s Secret Superstar.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon