Secret Superstars: Week 4
This week's Secret Superstars series by Gordon McGuinness marks a historic first in the PFF annuals, as well as a strong showing by players on bad teams.
Secret Superstars: Week 4
With most teams having played four games at this stage, it means it’s time for many to take stock on the first quarter of the season. So far we’ve seen Peyton Manning set his sights on numerous passing records, surprising 4-0 and 0-4 starts, and the Super Bowl champions struggling along the way.
It also means that it’s time for another look at a quartet of Secret Superstars who caught our attention during Week 4. For anyone unfamiliar with the series, these are the players that don’t necessarily get the credit they deserve, either through not playing enough snaps, or perhaps playing at a position that doesn’t get much attention.
This week we’re highlighting a receiver enjoying a return to past glories in Pittsburgh, a left tackle making a name for himself in Denver, a defensive lineman from Oakland (via London) and a cornerback in Jacksonville who’s making the most of another opportunity.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Lost in the shuffle of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dreadful 0-4 start — including losses on both sides of the Atlantic — has been the play of wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (+2.2). Three seasons after he last saw a significant number of snaps he’s finally getting the opportunity again, and seizing it with both steady, reliable hands. Averaging 16.5 yards per catch through four games, and on pace for just shy of 1,000 receiving yards, we are seeing Cotchery emerge as one of Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite targets.
In Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings in London, he caught all five of the passes thrown his way, racking up 103 yards and a touchdown in the process. That meant Big Ben had a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 on throws to Cotchery, a feat matched by no other receiver who saw at least 25% of their teams’ targets in Week 4. On the year he has still dropped just the one pass, proving he is as reliable as ever, and looks to be becoming more involved in the offense week by week.
Chris Clark, LT, Denver Broncos
While the biggest story in Denver remains the phenomenal play of Manning as the Broncos roll along undefeated, it’s worth pointing out how good a job left tackle Chris Clark (+3.4) has done as a starter these past two weeks. Given how important it is to keep Manning free from pressure on the edges, the fact that he has come in these past two weeks and allowed just a single hit and quarterback hurry is a real testament to just how well he’s playing. An undrafted free agent out of Southern Mississippi back in 2008, Clark is getting the opportunity to showcase himself as a starter for the first time, and is certainly proving himself worthy.
On Sunday he spent much of the game lined up against Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole and, while Cole would come away with two hurries, neither came against Clark. Furthermore, Cole, who has made a name for himself as one of the better run defenders in the league, was held to his lowest grade against the run this season. He may not have been dominant, but Clark more than held his own against one of the league’s best in that regard. However, it’s his play as a pass protector that’s landed him here. After all, you can’t ask for much more in pass protection than a perfect day with no pressure allowed.
Jack Crawford, DE, Oakland Raiders
While we’ve had Secret Superstars of all shapes and sizes here at PFF, this marks the first time a player from the United Kingdom has made an appearance. Taking up football in 2005 after moving across the pond, Jack Crawford (+3.5) took to football quickly, going on to play at Penn State before eventually being drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. He saw just 50 snaps as a rookie, but finally got his chance at more snaps this past Sunday.
On the field for just six passing plays, Crawford was able to register two hits and a hurry, giving him a Pass Rushing Productivity Rating of 37.5, the highest of any defensive end in Week 4. Admittedly it’s a particularly small sample size, but if you’re only going to get the opportunity to rush the passer six times, that’s still an impressive haul to come away with. He was just as impressive against the run, finishing the game with a Run Stop Percentage of 20.0%, with three of his four tackles resulting in a defensive stop. It remains to be seen how much playing time he’s going to get in Oakland, but he certainly did his case no harm this week.
Will Blackmon, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
It’s been another rough start to a season for Jaguars fans, with the team failing to pick up a win in any of their opening four games. Still, if you’re looking for a positive they may have found something in cornerback Will Blackmon (+4.3). After playing just 31 defensive snaps since 2009, Blackmon has started the past three games for the Jaguars, with the highlights coming this past week.
Targeted eight times by Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, he surrendered just three catches for 38 yards. Even more impressively, he was able to pick one pass off, and break up another two. Despite being targeted once every 5.4 snaps in coverage, he was able to finish the game having allowed an average of just 0.88 Yards Per Coverage Snap. He has to have been disappointed to have lost out on the interception called back due to a penalty on 2nd-and-10 with 13:31 left in the opening quarter, after reaching backwards well to snag the errant pass by Luck. However, while the offsides call on Jason Babin may have cost him the stat, it doesn’t prevent us from highlighting how well he played.
Follow Gordon on Twitter.
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.