Secret Superstars: Week 3
With Week 4 upon us, we’re almost at the quarter mark of the season already with teams beginning to take shape. With storied franchises in the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants still struggling to pick up their first win, and the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs both undefeated, it proves again just how much the league can change from one year to the next.
What doesn’t change year after year is that there are constantly hidden gems waiting to be unearthed throughout the league. With your weekly edition of Secret Superstars, we aim to highlight them and give them their due credit where others may pass over them.
This week we’re focussing on a tight end in Seattle, a running back in Green Bay, a defensive lineman in Cleveland and an undrafted rookie cornerback in Carolina.
Johnathan Franklin, HB, Green Bay Packers
It’s not always easy for rookies to get their opportunities early in their careers, but in the case of Green Bay running back Johnathan Franklin (+2.5); there was the additional road block of not even being the highest drafted player at his position for the Packers this offseason. With Eddie Lacy drafted two rounds earlier than the former UCLA player, Franklin didn’t seem to want to waste a single touch on Sunday.
On the field for 43 snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals, the most of for a Packers running back on the day, Franklin rushed for 103 yards on 13 carries. That included a 51 yard run on 2nd-and-5 with 6:45 left in the third quarter. Cutting back off the pitch, he made another pitch to shake free of safety Reggie Nelson before bursting downfield, with only cornerback Leon Hall stopping him from taking it the distance. On the day he finished with five missed tackles forced and averaged 5.77 yards per carry, giving him an Elusive Rating of 180.3, bettered only by Fred Jackson in Week 3.
Melvin White, CB, Carolina Panthers
With the Carolina Panthers defensive backfield hit with a number of injuries early in the season, it was always going to be important for someone to step up. Few would have predicted that would come in the form of undrafted rookie Melvin White (+3.2), but that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. He didn’t exactly set the world on fire in the preseason, but he did play well enough to make the final roster, with the Panthers likely not expecting to need to use him this much this soon.
With 27 snaps in coverage, Giants quarterback Eli Manning tested him early and often, going after White on six occasions. While he had success in terms of completions, with four receptions charged to his coverage, White only allowed 31 yards through the air. The highlight of his day was obviously the fantastic interception of Manning on 3rd-and-8 with 11:00 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Coming off his coverage of Hakeem Nicks on the outside, White jumped in front of Victor Cruz to snag the turnover and further compile misery on Eli and the Giants. Adding a forced fumble on 1st-and-10 with 11:52 left in the contest, it was a day to remember for a player passed over by everyone in April’s NFL Draft.
John Hughes, DE, Cleveland Browns
In a week that saw them trade away their starting running back, and opt to go with Brian Hoyer at quarterback, few predicted the Cleveland Browns would be able to overcome the Vikings. However, behind some strong performances on both sides of the ball, they were able to do just that. One such performance came from second year defensive lineman John Hughes (+4.1), who followed on from a solid start to the year with his best performance in the NFL so far.
He was impressive all round, grading positively against the run, but it was as a pass rusher where he stood out most. Beating both starting guards to the tune of three quarterback hurries and a sack, all of which came in the second half, he seemed to get better as the game went on. That included notching his final quarterback disruption of the game came on 1st-and-10 with just 47 seconds remaining, beating right guard Brandon Fusco and forcing quarterback Christian Ponder to get rid of the ball earlier than he’d have liked.
Luke Willson, TE, Seattle Seahawks
If a fifth-round backup tight end out of Rice doesn’t scream Secret Superstar candidate then I’m not sure what does. With an impressive performance on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Luke Willson (+4.6) showed that we better start to take notice of him going forward. After a disappointing start to his career, with two negatively graded performances in the opening two weeks of the season, Willson exploded to life in Week 3 to finish the week as our highest graded tight end.
He impressed as a run blocker, where his +1.6 grade was third among all tight ends, but where he really stood out was as a receiver. With 53 of his 76 yards coming after the catch, and all five of the passes thrown to him caught, he gave his quarterbacks a solid target all day. While he was impressive throughout, his catch and run on 1st-and-10 with 8:30 remaining in the game really stood out. Forcing missed tackles from both John Cyprien and Will Blackmon on a crossing route, he had to be tripped at the ankles to finally bring him down on what would up being a 35 yard reception.
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