By Matthew Slinn
As much as I like writing articles, I love reading them even more. Whilst perusing through the daily sports particulars, I came across a series of works called ‘Secret Superstars‘, on the Pro Football Focus website. The premise is that PFF analysts take a look at their in-depth data (data that doesn’t necessarily show up on generic stats) and highlight players who have been performing well in the NFL without getting much attention for it. Now, obviously I know that the SFL doesn’t have a crack team of football analysts disecting every play and grading every player, but I was immediately drawn to the concept of replicating such a piece for the league; a little light plagiarism never hurt anybody.
Some could say that no contracted player in this league should be ‘secret’ and that they should all stand out on their respective teams, which ofcourse, they do. However, there are 252 contracted athletes in the SFL, more than enough to hide a few gems who are flying under the radar. I initially hoped to find 5 players that fit the profile, covering a range of positions. In the end, I found 9, one at almost every position (I grouped ‘defensive line’ players together as well as ‘safeties’). These guys have performed excellently for their respective franchises, without getting too much of a mention around the league. Here’s who I picked out:
Quarterback – Deacon Nickens
Deacon Nickens is a player whose name almost fell off the map after Week 3 of this season, his team’s poor results being a catalyst for his drop in relevance. However, despite the Renegades’ fairly poor performances of late, Nickens has quietly put together a Top 5 – Top 6 worthy season, guiding Oklahoma City to the 7th best passing offence in the SFL. The youngster often plays with a maturity that defies his years, posting an 86.7 passer rating and a positive TD/INT ratio to boot (21 scores to 17 picks). Nickens is 7th in the SFL in 6-pointers and 6th in yards, stats that are even more impressive when you consider he has been sacked 42 times, with dangerous defensive linemen bullying OKC’s suspect offensive line. Chicago’s main man, ET King also cropped up as a potential player for this list, but with Chicago’s playoff visit, King’s ability has been thrust into the public eye again, just like it was in Season 9. Nickens may not have carried his team to many victories, but he definitely had a great season individually.
Running Back – Donk Bonkers
Anyone who has been a part of the SFL for the last two seasons knows the name, Donk Bonkers, but you barely ever see him mentioned week to week, and yet, he has performed extremely well since joining New Orleans from the Renegades. Bonkers’ rushing totals are extremely respectable, totaling well over 1000 yards at 5.0 yards per carry and a surprising 14 touchdowns. A big reason why I have the Pharaohs’ star on this list is how he has adapted his game to counterbalance a lack of physical presence. Don’t get me wrong, Bonkers is an athletic player, but the SFL is awash with genetically gifted runners who weigh 230+, yet would do well in a track meet. Being ‘only’ 210lbs, Bonkers is slender for his position, which makes his 5.0 YPC look that bit more impressive. Something that also stood out in favour of the NOLA man is his effectiveness in the passing game. Bonkers was a godsend for #1 overall pick, Xander Gold this season, brining in 112 balls and scoring 3 touchdowns, upping his season total to 17. New Orleans were 1 win away from a playoff berth in their maiden season, and Donk Bonkers was the Secret Superstar to their success.
Wide Receiver – Jeff Comeau
Wide recevier was possibly the hardest position to choose from, as there are so many stars to choose from that inevitably, some sit just under the radar. Names like Andre Godspeed, Mickey Martino and Jockamo Jones spring to mind, aswell as Tallahassee Pride mid-season signing, Greyson Willis; a name that has entered the big stage during the Pride’s playoff run, yet he doesn’t get enough credit or the job that he’s done replacing Duke Wilson. After much consideration, I decided to go with Alaska’s secret weapon: Jeff Comeau. Probably the best slot receiver in the league, Comeau is a player who is overshadowed by his more illustrious teammates – Optimus Cline and Robert Merrill. With Cline fighting for the title as best receiver in the league and Merrill routinely having double digit touchdown seasons, it’s hard for Comeau to stand out and make a name for himself. The statistics, however, do not lie. Comeau sits in the top 15 of the league in receptions and receiving yards, aswell as getting in the endzone 9 times for Alaska. These stats would earn him a #1 spot at most teams in the SFL, where I’m sure he would get the recognition he deserves.
Tight End – Cody Scott
Around the wider SFL community, nobody talks about Cody Scott. Even after his recent selection for the Pro Bowl, his name was barely mentioned at all. To know Scott’s true impact, you need to be a person who looks at statistics in detail, watches games at a high clip and really fills their life with the SFL. Scott has quietly put together a home run hitting season, tieing Tybeerious Bovine for most receiving touchdowns amongst tight ends, with 6. He also boasts a crazy 20.2 yards per reception, the highest in the SFL for any player, which is even more astounding considering he made nearly 50 catches. Despite St. Louis’ rough season, Scott has been a huge bright light and the Gladiators should make it a priority to keep him in St. Louis over the off-season.
Defensive Line – Kevin Bane
Another player whose anonymity is largely down to the quality group he plays with is Tallahassee Pride defensive end, Kevin Bane. The 6’5 pass rusher who plays on the left side of the line registered 11 sacks and 6 run stops for a loss during the regular season, backing that up with 4 sacks in the playoffs, cementing himself as one of the best players at his position in the league. Let’s state the obvious – Bane plays opposite the best defensive end in the league in Taqwuan Hale, but that doesnt stop him being the best pass rusher on 90% of the teams in the SFL, a fact that should become more obvious as he enters free agency. One player I tussled with the idea of mentioning is rookie defensive tackle, Rhett Sawyer. Sawyer replaced Griffin Brown on Tulsa’s defensive line after Week 2 and has been a game changer ever since. Look for his profile to increase next season.
Linebacker – Blake Craize
It speaks volumes that Craize didn’t make the Pro Bowl by popular vote, rather by virtue of statistical performance. The 260lb rookie didn’t even play a full season of matches, yet finds himself near the top in every major statistic that we judge linebackers on. The Indianapolis Red Devil posted 111 tackles (88 of which were solo tackles) and 18 tackles for a loss, solidifying Indy’s run defence and laying the foundations for one of the best defenses in the SFL. Craize is moving into free agency this winter to seek new opportunities on a new team. Whoever picks him up is getting possibly the best young ‘backer in the league.
Safety – Blake Chance
The second ‘Blake’ in succession to make this list, Chance is an experienced campaigner who consistently plays at a high level for the Houston Hyenas. The best way to highlight Chance as a ‘Secret Superstar’ is to compare him directly with strong safety counterpart and Pro Bowler, Eddie Gauge. Both Chance and Gauge made 106 tackles this season, with the former actually making 14 more solo tackles with 84, aswell as nearly doubling Gauge’s tackle for loss totals. Why is this important? Strong Safety is generally seen as the more ‘close to the line’ position, and Gauge is (quite rightly) a Pro Bowl strong safety, making it ever more impressive that Chance has outplayed him in this area. Against the pass, Gauge has 4 more interceptions than the 6’3 free safety, but 10 pass deflections show Chance’s range in the secondary. Going into his 6th season, Blake Chance is probably the best kept defensive secret in the SFL.
Cornerback – Matthew Sprous
The second Tallahasee player to make this list and the younger half of the Sprous brothers, Matthew Sprous plays at a near elite level every week, shutting down receivers and lowering opposing quarterbacks’ accuracy percentage. Being 6’4 in height is a rare physical gift for a corner, and Sprous has used this to full effect, knocking down 18 passes (2nd most in the SFL behind Pro Bowler, Pat Ketza) and showing that he will rarely get beaten on a deep ball. Overshadowed by his more experienced brother, Sprous needs to practice securing the ball and turning those deflections into picks. Elite level corners make more than 2 interceptions in a season, and increasing that number should increase the profile of the young rookie.
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