Secret Superstars is our weekly feature where we’ll be highlighting great play from under-the-radar players.
While we’ll give most weight to performance in the week just gone, an out-of-the-blue game isn’t going to sway us too much. We are looking for some degree of confidence this wasn’t just a one-off thing, whether it be played in other games this year, in college, etc.
Despite signing a three-year contact extension in the offseason, Duke Johnson Jr. was an afterthought in the Cleveland Browns’ offense through the team’s first eight games. He averaged just 5.25 touches per game, ranking outside the top-60 among running backs with at least one touch in Weeks 1-8.
That all changed in Week 9, as new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens nearly doubled his average touch count in the Browns’ Week 9 affair with the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson turned 10 touches into 86 yards and two touchdowns. His 78.4 single-game grade tied with Atlanta Falcons’ Tevin Coleman for all running backs with 25-plus offensive snaps this past week.
Fourth-year cornerback Steven Nelson, a 2015 third-round pick who underwhelmed in his first three years in the league, is quietly having the best season of his NFL career. After earning an impressive 85.0 single-game grade against the Browns in Week 9, Nelson owns a 77.4 overall grade that ranks 14th among NFL cornerbacks with 200-plus defensive snaps on the year. He also ranks tied for 11th in passer rating when targeted (68.1) among the same group of cornerbacks.
New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney earned a season-high 83.7 single-game grade against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football in Week 9, improving his season grade to 74.4 – which ranks seventh among all qualifying guards. Propping up his high grade, Thuney allowed zero total pressures against Green Bay’s fearsome interior defensive line (i.e. Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels). He has now allowed just 11 total pressures in 348 pass-block snaps, which is good for the eighth-ranked pass-blocking efficiency (98.4) among guards with 250-plus pass-block snaps.
For some of the Atlanta Falcons’ faithful, all hope was lost when both Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal went down with season-ending injuries. Second-year San Diego State product Damontae Kazee, however, has kept the team’s safety play afloat with his stellar play on the back end.
A boundary cornerback with the Aztecs, Kazee has exceeded expectations in his transition to safety in the NFL, as he’s earned the sixth-highest overall grade (81.4) among safeties with 250-plus defensive snaps in Year 2 of his career. A testament to his consistency, Kazee has earned a single-game grade under 65.0 just once this season and is coming off a season-high 78.8 single-game grade in Week 9.
Adam Humphries’ Week 9 performance was incredible, as he all eight passes thrown in his direction for 82 yards, four first downs and two touchdowns in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ comeback attempt against the Carolina Panthers. The latter of his two touchdowns was the most impressive, as he made multiple defenders miss and fought through contact to stretch the ball across the goal line for a much-needed score.
With DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans stealing the show, Humphries didn’t have the impact he’s capable of having in Weeks 1-8. Humphries’ play in Week 9 may be the tip of the iceberg in terms of his potential down the stretch.