Secret Superstars: Week 2
Gordon McGuinness returns with another look at some unheralded players from around the league.
Secret Superstars: Week 2
The second week of the 2013 NFL season has come and gone and with it we saw the third edition of the ‘Manning Bowl’ and another example of how dangerous LeSean McCoy can be, and how much the Eagles are going to use him, under new head coach Chip Kelly.
That’s as much as you’ll hear about that here, though, as once again we highlight four more Secret Superstars that stood out in Week 2. They might be buried too low on a depth chart, or maybe they just had a big game in a way that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Either way, if they caught our attention, we’ll do our best to give them the credit they so rightly deserve.
This week we’re highlighting a running back in Arizona, a blocking tight end in Carolina, a linebacker in Atlanta and a receiver in Baltimore.
Andre Ellington, HB, Arizona Cardinals
Since we began the weekly Secret Superstar series early into the 2012 season, we have already seen a pair of running backs from the Arizona Cardinals and now, just two games into the new season, we have another in the form of Andre Ellington (+2.6). Drafted in the sixth round, likely in no small part to running a 4.61 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, Ellington left Clemson as the fourth highest rusher in the history of the school. Not many sixth round draft picks get the chance to make an immediate impact but Ellington figures to earn a higher workload as the season goes on, provided he continues to make the most of his opportunities.
That’s exactly what he did on Sunday, ensuring that, despite playing just 21 snaps and seeing just six touches of the ball, he had a performance that was worth talking about. We always talk about how important it is for a player to get the most out of a limited snap count and, in forcing two missed tackles from just four rushing attempts, you couldn’t ask for much more from Ellington. The reward for his efforts was his first career touchdown, getting free downfield on 1st-and-10 with 7:38 left in the second quarter. Given how dynamic he looked on a limited snap count, it surely won’t be long until he’s in the end zone again.
Ben Hartsock, TE, Carolina Panthers
Like the ever maligned blocking full back, there’s just never enough love to go around for the old throwback blocking tight end. In a league where tight ends who can do it all are few and far between, teams seem more content to go with the athletic tight end who represent a mismatch against linebackers and safeties across the middle of the field. Despite all that, it’s worth pointing out just how well Carolina Panthers tight end Ben Hartsock (+3.5) played on Sunday.
He would finish Week 2 as our highest-graded tight end, despite not seeing a single pass thrown his way and running just four routes as a receiver. That’s because of how well he performed as a run blocker, barely putting a foot wrong all game. He wasn’t dominant, or was he driving opposing defenders 5 yards downfield with ease, but he was routinely found blocking well inside to give room to the Panthers running backs. Mario Williams may have had a big day as a pass rusher, but he failed to get the better of Hartsock in the running game at all, with the tight end adding solid blocks against Manny Lawson and Arthur Moats.
Joplo Bartu, LB, Atlanta Falcons
While the story of linebacker Brian Banks got all the headlines this preseason, and rightly so given the interest in the story, the Atlanta Falcons quietly got a lot of production from other young free agents at the position in the summer. After a solid preseason, where he would finish with six tackles resulting in defensive stops, and three hits as a pass rusher, Joplo Bartu (+1.8) found his way onto the field as a starter with the Falcons on Sunday.
Seeing all but 14 of the team’s 77 defensive snaps, Bartu graded positively both in coverage and against the run. While he was tested by the Rams passing offense, with Sam Bradford attempting six throws into his coverage, he more than held his own, allowing four receptions for just 28 yards. That included a tackle for loss on 1st-and-10 with 8:29 left in the opening quarter, where he reacted well to meet running back Daryl Richardson in the backfield, bringing him down at the five yard line. He added another tackle for loss against the run, getting the better of tight end Jared Cook in the process. With news that linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is going to miss at least part of the season, this was exactly the type of performance to give Falcons fans hope.
Marlon Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens
With injuries and departures a plenty, it’s worth highlighting how undrafted free agent Marlon Brown has quickly became a key factor in Baltimore’s offense. His play has been up and down so far, with a drop in each of his first two games counter balancing his two touchdowns. Still, in playing 128 snaps in his first two games in the league, this is an undrafted free agent who is going to get his opportunities to contribute. At 6-foot-5, he gives the Ravens a big target for quarterback Joe Flacco and he has already seen 12 passes thrown his way, pulling in eight for 110 yards. Adding his two touchdowns, that gives him a PFF Wide Receiver Rating of 135.4, 10th amongst all receivers.
We’ve yet to see much from him from the slot, with just three targets and two receptions, but that did include a touchdown and, given how often Flacco has gone to him early, he’s clearly someone opposing teams need to keep an eye on in the redzone if they want to avoid giving up touchdowns like the one he score on Sunday. Beating cornerback Chris Owens inside on 2nd-and-Goal with 9:03 left in the game didn’t involve anything flashy, but it highlighted how important he is becoming to the Ravens’ offense.
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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.