Secret Superstars: Week 9
Not a household name? Limited opportunity to shine? No worries. Gordon McGuinness shines the light on a handful of out-of-the-spotlight players who turned in worthy performances in Week 9.
Secret Superstars: Week 9
In an exciting Week 9 we saw Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin explode on the ground, the Chicago Bears win a game by the end of the first quarter, and your usual J.J. Watt domination.
We’ve heard all about all of that, though, and you’re here to see which players stood out beyond the box score, and which players did some damage despite being handcuffed by a limited snap count.
This week we’re highlighting a pair of a first round draft picks being used a little differently in Detroit, a Lions running back making himself a key cog to the offense, a linebacker that gave some positive on a dismal day in Tennessee, and a outside linebacker wowing us in Indianapolis.
Riley Reiff, OT, Detroit Lions
Drafted 23rd overall back in April, Lions rookie offensive lineman Riley Reiff has struggled to crack the starting line up with both Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus holding onto their starting positions. That has led to them trying to get him onto the field more as an extra blocker in heavy formations. On Sunday that went a step further though, with Reiff seeing 33 snaps as one of the team’s primary blocking tight ends.
With just eight snaps as a pass blocker he’ll have been disappointed to give up any pressure at all but in allowing just one quarterback hurry he didn’t look like a liability. It was as a run blocker that he was used primarily, and here he contributed to a Lions attack that scored four touchdowns on the ground. Jaguars defensive end Austen Lane got the better of him on two occasions, once for a tackle for short gain and then later for a holding penalty, but they were his only two negatively-graded plays as a run blocker. The best game of his young career was highlighted on 2nd-and-1 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter. Driving Jeremy Mincey away from the play he, along with tight end Will Heller on linebacker Russell Allen, allowed for an easy run to the outside for the first down.
Joique Bell, HB, Detroit Lions
With Reiff opening up holes in the running game, the opportunity was certainly there for a Lions running back group that has been without Jahvid Best all season. In Best’s absence they were able to run the ball with a fair amount of success on Sunday, with the one-two punch of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell combining for four touchdowns. While Leshoure started the game, it was Bell who impressed us more as he continues to make himself a key part of the Lions’ offense.
With just 13 rushing attempts, Bell had to make the most of every snap he got and, averaging 2.54 yards after contact per carry and forcing two missed tackles, he did just that. His play in the running game was rewarded as he finished the game with 73 rushing yards and a touchdown. As a receiver he added another 36 yards, and forced another pair of missed tackles, with three receptions from the four passes thrown to him. Added together that combined to give him an Elusive Rating of 63.5 for the day. Making his elusiveness all the more impressive was the fact that two of his forced missed tackles came from leaping over defenders, like he did over cornerback Derek Cox on 2nd-and-7 with 11:50 left in the third quarter.
Zach Brown, LB, Titans
I know what you’re thinking, did any Titans player really impress during that 51-20 hammering by the Chicago Bears? But, while the Bears stamped their credentials as contenders with a dominating performance, the Titans can at least be pleased with the play they got from linebacker Zach Brown, who they selected out of North Carolina in April’s NFL Draft. Playing all but two of the team’s defensive snaps, Brown showed up with the best performance of his rookie season so far.
Rarely tested in coverage, he allowed receptions of just 3 and 5 yards from the two passes thrown his way. It was against the run that he really stood out though, making six tackles which resulted in defensive stops from his 34 snaps against the run. He’ll be disappointed by his missed tackle on Armando Allen late in the game, but overall it was his best performance to date. He handled attempted blocks from pulling guards with relative ease, like with 6:10 left in the first half where he got the better of left guard Chilo Rachal to make the tackle for no gain.
Justin Hickman, OLB, Indianapolis Colts
There were plenty of reasons to expect the Colts to struggle much more than they have this season. With the fact that they are starting a rookie quarterback, have a new coaching staff and a switch of defensive schemes leading the list. But while not everyone has taken to the switch to a 3-4 with ease, Justin Hickman flourished as a reserve on Sunday. This game marking the first significant action of his career, Hickman hadn’t made much of an impact heading into Sunday.
When you’re only seeing 18 snaps, you need to make each and every one of them count and that’s exactly what Hickman did against the Miami Dolphins. Finishing the game with two quarterback hits against Jake Long from nine snaps as a pass rusher, he had a Pass Rushing Productivity Rating of 18.8. Against the run he played just seven snaps, making one tackle which resulted in a defensive stop, giving him a Run Stop Percentage of 14.3 percent. It’s the first time we’ve seen this level of play from him, and it was on just 18 snaps, but it’s worth keeping an eye on Hickman to see if he can replicate this form again.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon
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.