Secret Superstars: Week 14
This weeks episode of Secret Superstars features the talents of four players who overcame the weather and their foes to be noticed by Gordon McGuinness here.
Secret Superstars: Week 14
Week 14 of the 2013 season was one of the craziest in recent memory in the NFL, with more touchdowns than have ever been scored in a single weekend and improbable finishes and questionable calls allowing Baltimore and New England to win games very late.
With just three weeks left in the regular season teams have to dig deeper into their depth charts to replace injured players, and that means more opportunities for potential Secret Superstars. Plenty of players have got their first shot at being a starter through injury to the current starter, and we’ve already seen players like Tampa Bay’s Bobby Rainey grab that opportunity with both hands this year.
This week we’re highlighting the play of a defensive lineman in Pittsburgh, a linebacker in Buffalo, a cornerback in New Orleans, and a safety in Minnesota.
Cameron Heyward, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers
It might seem odd to find a former first round draft pick listed as a Secret Superstar and it’s not something that usually happens. However, Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward (+5.6) definitely has that feel about him. Drafted with the second last pick in the first round back in 2011, he was relegated to a backup role and almost forgotten about for his first two and a quarter seasons, despite the struggles of fellow former first rounder Ziggy Hood in front of him. The Steelers made the switch in Week Six however, and Heyward hasn’t looked back since, grading at +12.3 since becoming a full time starter.
Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins marked the high water mark of his career in terms of PFF grade, with Heyward getting it done as a pass rusher and against the run. A sack and three hits from 35 pass rushing attempts gave him a Pass Rushing Productivity Rating of 9.3, good for seventh among 3-4 defensive ends in Week 14. He was even more productive against the run however, with three of his five tackles resulting in a defensive stop, coming from 22 snaps against the run, good for a Run Stop Percentage of 13.6%.
Nigel Bradham, LB, Buffalo Bills
Drafted out of Florida State in the fourth round a year ago, Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham (+3.0) has quietly had a very solid second season, with just three negatively graded games in 2013. He has got better as the year has gone on too, grading out at +9.2 from Week Six onwards, despite only seeing his first start of the season in Sunday’s visit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thankfully his first start in 2013 coincided with his highest grade of the year so far, with his play against the run proving to be a particular highlight.
Plays like his tackle on 1st-and-10 with 9:24 left in the game, where he read the play well before beating an attempted block at the second level by right tackle Demar Dotson, highlighted his day as Bradham had a game with few mistakes. Four of his five tackles resulted in a defensive stop, good for a RSP of 12.1% which trailed only NaVorro Bowman and Lawrence Timmons in Week 14. All of this adds up to Bradham making a strong case to feature more going forward, with the second year man looking ready to be a full time starter.
Corey White, CB, New Orleans Saints
With a big win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night, the New Orleans Saints seized control of the NFC South as the season draws to a close. That was in large part due to the play of quarterback Drew Brees, but plenty of other players on the roster stepped up, with no player from the Saints finishing the game with a grade lower than -1.0. Last season’s fifth round draft pick, and current starting cornerback, Corey White (+3.7) did more than that, finishing as our highest graded cornerback in Week 14.
He was one of three starting cornerbacks to not allow a reception on Sunday, with a pass breakup and two incompletions coming from the three passes into his coverage. That gave him perfect Yards Per Coverage Snap and Coverage Snaps Per Reception averages of 0.0. The pass breakup came on 1st-and-20 with 14:28 left in the game, with White getting him arm between receiver Ted Ginn and the ball on a hitch route. It all added up to White having the highest graded game of his career, playing at a level the Saints will be hopeful he can maintain down the stretch.
Andrew Sendejo, S, Minnesota Vikings
Though the Vikings lost in one of the most exciting endings to a game you’re likely to see on Sunday in Baltimore, they were at least able to boast our highest graded safety of the week in the form of Andrew Sendejo (+4.3). Taking over as a starter when Harrison Smith went out injured, the 2010 undrafted free agent out of Rice has been solid, not doing much to get you excited, but not making many mistakes either.
That changed on Sunday however, with Sendejo putting together an impressive performance in coverage. His lone reception allowed was the one yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta on 4th-and-Goal from the one yard line with 2:07 left in the game, but the other three throws into his coverage resulted in two pass break ups and an interception. That’s not counting his diving interception called back by penalty that would have ended the game on 2nd-and-10 with 32 seconds left in the game, as he put together one of the better performances you’ll see from a safety all year.
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Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.