Secret Superstars, Week 15
Gordon McGuinness returns to share another shortlist of off-the-radar standouts.
Secret Superstars, Week 15
We’ve now reached the final two weeks of the 2013 regular season, with the year seemingly passing in the blink of an eye yet again. It’s been an interesting one, with plenty of crazy finishes and dominant performances along the way.
It’s also seen a lot of performances that have really flown under the radar, like San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock, for example. Brock started the year as the team’s third cornerback, but started the past five games in place of the injured Tarrell Brown and performed admirably. He hasn’t had many outings that have wowed you — his highest grade on the year a +2.8 performance against the Houston Texans in Week 5 — but solid play throughout, coupled with a low grade of just -1.7, have him as our fifth-highest graded cornerback in 2013.
That’s a perfect example of a Secret Superstar, someone who steps up in place of an injured starter and is deserving of more than just a simple tip of the cap for filling in. Week 15’s Secret Superstars are an offensive lineman in Houston, an edge rusher in Buffalo, a linebacker in Philadelphia, and a corner in Indianapolis.
Brandon Brooks, OG, Houston Texans
No, it hasn’t been a good year in Houston. That much is obvious in a season where they began as Super Bowl contenders but have ended up leading the race for the first overall pick in 2014 and have already fired former head coach Gary Kubiak. Still, in a season that’s gone so poorly, there have been some highlights. The most notable of those is the incomparable J.J. Watt, but if you cast your eyes to the other side of the trenches, you’ll find a young guard who is having a very strong end of the year push. A second-round draft pick a year ago, Brandon Brooks (+5.4) rotated in during the latter part of the 2012 season, and has really kicked on as a full-time starter in 2013.
Sunday marked the highest graded game of his career, but it’s worth noting that he’s had just four negatively graded games all year and currently sits as our 10th-ranked guard in 2013, so he’s not just a one-game wonder. It was a particularly impressive performance on Sunday, though, where he consistently got to linebackers either on pull blocks or just heading straight to the second level. It wasn’t anything flashy, and he wasn’t driving defenders to the ground, but watch what he does on 1st-and-10 with 14:56 remaining in the game. Meeting linebacker Kelvin Sheppard on the pull block to his left, he locks on and drives him back to widen the running lane. Definitely a player who has impressed in his second year in the league.
Darius Butler, CB, Indianapolis Colts
While Vontae Davis may be our fourth-highest graded cornerback in 2013, it was his Indianapolis Colts teammate Darius Butler (+4.5) who caught our attention in Week 15. Starting just five games all year, Butler has been up and down, but the former second round draft pick out of Connecticut had his best game of the season on Sunday, taking advantage of Texans quarterback Case Keenum’s willingness to go after him.
The seven passes thrown into his coverage were the most against any Colts defender in the game, with him giving up just two receptions for 20 yards. More importantly, he was able to get his hands on three of those passes, recording two interceptions and a pass break-up. That all resulted in him allowing an average of 0.54 Yards Per Coverage Snap and a reception once every 18.5 snaps in coverage, coming in at 10th among all cornerback in both categories and putting a bit more ‘up’ into that up-and-down year.
Mychal Kendricks, ILB, Philadelphia Eagles
You may remember Mychal Kendricks’ (+5.5) awful start to the year, where he finished the first month of the season with a cumulative grade of -17.6, missing eight tackles in the first three games alone. Well since then he’s shown a sizeable improvement, never grading lower than -0.6 in the 11 games that have followed. Steady, unspectacular performances up until Week 10 righted the ship, with two strong efforts in the past three really bringing his overall grade up.
With just eight pass rushing attempts, opportunities were limited, but he capitalized with a sack, a hit and a hurry to make the most of those chances. It was against the run where he really stood out, however, including beating Matt Kalil on 2nd-and-8 with 2:12 left in the game to record a tackle for loss. Blowing past him on the inside, he was able to get enough on running back Matt Asiata to send him to the ground. Don’t be put off by what was an awful start to the year, Kendricks has been solid since, and really stood out on Sunday.
Jerry Hughes, OLB, Buffalo Bills
Sometimes all a player needs is a fresh start in a new city, like Jerry Hughes (+3.5) who arrived in Buffalo via a trade with the Colts that saw the former first-round pick exchanged for the previously mentioned Kelvin Sheppard. Hughes is our eight-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker this year, after finishing with a negative grade in each of his first three seasons. Proof, perhaps, that we shouldn’t be so quick to label a player a bust, but more importantly an indication of just how good a fit he has been in Buffalo.
Sunday marked his highest-graded game as a pass rusher this year, matching a season-high of six total pressures but with more impact that in his other six-pressure performance, with a sack, three hits and two hurries this time around. That all came from just 23 pass rushing opportunities, with Hughes finishing the game with a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 20.7. Almost unrecognizable to the player we saw in Indianapolis, he is currently third at the position in terms of PRP, and is still within a shot at finishing at the top of the pile when the dust settles on the season.
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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.