Secret Superstars: Week 17
With the regular season now over, we get to look forward to the excitement of the playoffs and the build up to the Super Bowl. Will it be a team like Denver or Seattle who wins it all after spending most of the year at the top of our Power Rankings? Or will a team that have stumbled into the playoffs go on a run similar to Baltimore a year ago?
Time will tell, but before we get too caught up in all that excitement, let’s take one final look at the Secret Superstars around the league. These are the players who don’t receive a lot of hype for their play, but who produce beyond what their raw stats suggest when we dig deeper into their performances.
In this week’s regular season finale, we’re highlighting a linebacker and defensive tackle in Jacksonville, a defensive tackle in New England, and a cornerback in Minnesota.
LaRoy Reynolds, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
An undrafted free agent out of Virginia this past April, LaRoy Reynolds (+2.5) first got the attention of the game’s commentators after chasing down a kick returner like a maniac after losing his helmet. While that offered some light amusement early in the game, he also performed well as part of the Jaguars defense in just his second appearance as a defensive player this year.
His best play on Sunday came on 2nd-and-goal with 1:44 left in the first quarter, and was very nearly an even bigger play but for some bad luck. Breaking on an errant Andrew Luck pass intended for T.Y. Hilton, Reynolds was in perfect position to record the first interception of his NFL career. The only problem, however, was that linebacker Paul Posluszny had the same idea, and the two collided leaving the ball to fall incomplete. He played just 10 snaps against the run in the loss, but still managed to record two tackles, both of which resulted in a defensive stop. The sample size on Reynolds is obviously particularly small, but his play in limited duty these past two weeks make him more intriguing as the Jaguars continue to build heading towards the 2014 season.
Drake Nevis, DT, Jacksonville Jaguars
Small samples sizes can both help and hinder players sometimes, with less snaps to make mistakes meaning that a players’ grade can be elevated more by a couple of big plays. Still, you can only work with the number of snaps you’re given and, playing just 17 snaps on defense on Sunday, Jaguars’ defensive tackle Drake Nevis (+3.1) certainly made the most of his. Nevis spent most of 2013 as a member of the Dallas Cowboys but, after arriving in Jacksonville for the season finale, he turned in his highest-graded performance of the year.
On the field for just 10 snaps against the run, his lone tackle came on 2nd-and-9 with 2:13 to go in the third quarter. He stood up right guard Jeff Linkenbach at the point of attack before beating him inside to record a tackle on running back Donald Brown. It wasn’t just when he was making a tackle that his impact was felt though, with him standing up Linkenbach at the point of attack on two other occasions and beating him to force a cut from the running back on another play. Adding a quarterback hurry on 1st-and-10 with 5:49 to go in the first quarter, again against Linkenbach, it’s hard to have expected him to do much more given how little of the field he saw but he’ll have definitely given the Jaguars plenty to think about when they look back over his play.
Sealver Siliga, DT, New England Patriots
As the Patriots clinched a first-round bye with a win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, they did it with the help of an impressive performance from 2011 undrafted free agent Sealver Siliga (+4.5). After arriving in the NFL out of Utah, he played just four defensive snaps in his first two seasons in the league before getting his chance in Week 13 of this year in New England. He’s yet to have a negatively-graded game in his career and, with his snaps increasing in New England, he saved his best for the season finale.
From 29 snaps against the run he was able to make six solo tackles, all of which resulted in a defensive stop. That included beating Bills’ right tackle Erik Pears inside on 1st-and-10 with 10:22 left to play in the first half, easing past him to bring down running back Fred Jackson for a two-yard gain. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Siliga’s play has been his consistency, with just 11 negatively-graded plays from 221 snaps on defense, including none against the Bills. The Patriots have been perennial Super Bowl contenders thanks to their ability to find players that can do a job for them, and they appear to have done just that again in the form of Siliga.
Robert Blanton, CB, Minnesota Vikings
The cornerback position in Minnesota is an interesting one, with plenty of young players who have shown flashes in 2013. One of those saved his best for last, as Robert Blanton (+4.2) had the best game of his two-year career so far, after arriving in Minnesota from Notre Dame via the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Before Sunday, the most notable performance of Blanton’s career was for all the wrong reasons, allowing 161 receiving yards against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 15. Thankfully this week he was noticed for the right reasons, allowing him to close out the regular season version of Secret Superstars.
With five passes thrown into his coverage, Blanton allowed four receptions, but they went for just 25 yards. That was due to some solid tackling, with the second-year man twice making a tackle short of first down yardage on receptions on third down. It meant he allowed just two receptions for first downs throughout the game, with none of his catches allowed going for more than eight yards. He faces a tough battle to see the field in Minnesota with Chris Cook and rookie Xavier Rhodes ahead of him, but more performances like this would make it difficult for the Vikings to take him off.
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