Table of Contents
Not every great NFL performance is given by a well-known player. Just as often as you see the league’s marquee names ball out, there are those under-the-radar guys who rise up at the right time to add weight to their own names.
It happens every week, and we have collected this list of the most prominent Week 2 performances from those players whose deeds outweighed the import of their reputations.
Here are the NFL’s Secret Superstars for Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season.
Through two games with the Buccaneers — his fourth team in the last three seasons — Baker Mayfield seems to have found a home in Dave Canales’ offense. He’s completed 47 of 68 passes for 501 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 105.1 — fifth-best in the league among quarterbacks taking at least 50% of their teams’ snaps. And he’s playing well in all circumstances.
Baker Mayfield finished 14/17 for 223 yards and a TD under pressure, tied for the most passing yards under pressure in a game over the last four seasons (since 2020).
The Bears pressured Mayfield 17 times without recording a sack, tied for the 6th-most pressures without a sack… pic.twitter.com/iN10FDrSak
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 17, 2023
Moreover, Mayfield seems to have the trust and belief of his new teammates, as evidenced on his 32-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans in the third quarter of Tampa Bay’s 27-17 win over the Chicago Bears.
“They’re playing an off-coverage zone look, looking like they’re going to double-team him,” Mayfield said of the play against Chicago’s Cover-3. “On the snap, the safety rolls to the middle of the field, and Mike’s the best go-ball runner against off-coverage in the league. He closes that gap, that space, and then he accelerates after that. So it’s just giving him a chance. Mike, he’s so special, and he’s doing hard work.”
“It was a third-and-long,” Evans said. “We had fumbled the ball on a…second-and-short. Baker made a good play getting back on the ball, and then we called a shot play. I just ran an inside-go, Baker threw a good ball, and I caught it.”
It’s a very nice start for the post-Tom Brady Bucs, who now sport a 2-0 record.
Injuries and ineffectiveness limited Moss’ time in Buffalo — the Bills selected him in the third round of the 2020 draft out of Utah — but after landing with the Colts, Moss had a very nice rebound game on Sunday against the Houston Texans in a 31-20 Colts win. Quarterback Anthony Richardson had Indy’s first two rushing touchdowns, but after Richardson left the game with a concussion, it was up to Moss to keep that ground game going. He finished his day with 88 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, with seven missed tackles forced, and two runs of 10 or more yards.
This 10-yard run in the third quarter showed Moss’ vision, patience, and caterwauling running style in an offense that’s built for running backs to succeed.
The Broncos are still going through growing pains in the Sean Payton-Russell Wilson marriage, and that’s played out on several different levels. But the addition of Mims, the second-round rookie from Oklahoma, has given Wilson the deep threat he didn’t have in 2022. In Denver’s 35-33 loss to the Washington Commanders, Mims caught just two passes… for 113 yards and a touchdown.
Mims is a smaller recover at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, but his 4.38 speed shows up on his NFL tape pretty immediately. On this 53-yard catch in the second quarter, Mims blasted by cornerback Emmanuel Forbes (another great rookie), leaving Forbes with few options in Washington’s Cover-1.
Collins was another receiver who was making explosive plays under the radar last Sunday. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud completed 30 of 47 passes for 364 yards (the most from any quarterback in Week 2), two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 103.5, Collins was his primary accessory. The 2021 third-round pick from Michigan grabbed seven catches on nine targets for 146 yards and a touchdown, and four of those catches were explosive plays.
Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik clearly understood that the way through the Indianapolis Colts’ frequent use of Cover-3 was to have Collins run short and intermediate routes with in-breakers, and this worked over and over again. This 32-yard play, in which 26 yards came after the catch, was just one example.
Selected by the Cardinals with the 24th overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Florida, Humphries — like a lot of rookie tackles — struggled to start his NFL career. He allowed nine sacks and 46 total pressures in 2015, and he’s had vulnerable seasons since (eight sacks and 45 total pressures in 2021), but his 2022 season was a revelation, as Humphries started climbing up the Secret Superstars list with no sacks, one quarterback hit, and 14 quarterback hurries in 382 pass-blocking snaps. Through two games in 2023, Humphries has allowed just one quarterback hurry and no other sacks or pressures in 73 pass-blocking snaps. This is a pretty good indicator that he’s past the back injury that cost him the second half of last season.
Last Sunday against the New York Giants, the Cardinals were unable to maintain the 28-7 lead they had in an eventual 31-28 loss, but Humphries was on point the entire game. On this Josh Dobbs 21-yard pass to Michael Wilson in the first quarter, Humphries gave edge-rusher Oshane Ximines no chance whatsoever to disrupt his quarterback.
Will Fries, OG, Indianapolis Cikts
We’ve already discussed the Colts’ effective run game against the Texans, so let’s give some love to one of the big guys up front. Fries, a 2021 seventh-round pick out of Penn State, had an outstanding game on Sunday. He allowed no sacks, no quarterback hits, and just one quarterback hurry, transitioning from Anthony Richardson to Gardner Minshew after Richardson suffered a concussion.
Moreover, Fries was great in the run game — here, on Zack Moss’ 11-yard touchdown run, Fries gave the Texans a real two-piece, taking on defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins at the line of scrimmage in tandem with center Ryan Kelly, and then heading to the second level to blot out linebacker Henry To’o To’o.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday night, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores chose to work with light boxes and a frequent five-man umbrella up top, which led to the Eagles rushing for 259 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries. When 63% of your defensive snaps are in light boxes, your defensive linemen had better be able to hold up.
That wasn’t true for all of Minnesota’s defensive linemen, but Phillips was the exception. He tied with QuInnen Williams of the New York Jets with five stops in Week 2 — the most for any interior defensive lineman — and he had a sack and a quarterback hurry. When the Eagles ran No. 97’s way, the play usually wasn’t a success.
The Dolphins might have had a problem with premier pass-rusher Jaelan Phillips out of last Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots with a back injury, but Andrew Van Ginkel was not going to let that happen. In Miami’s 24-17 Sunday night win, the 2019 fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin shredded New England’s offensive line with a sack, two quarterback hits, two quarterback hurries, and three stops.
This hit of Mac Jones in the second quarter was Van Ginkel’s most dominating play of the day — he bounced off tight end Hunter Henry and zoomed past right tackle Calvin Anderson to force an incompletion and very nearly pick up another sack.
Pace was a highly productive and versatile linebacker out of Cincinnati, but he went undrafted in 2023 due to concerns about his size. You’d think NFL teams would re-think the effect of speed linebackers in a base nickel and dime defense league even when that speed linebacker is 5-foot-10 and 235 pounds, but it is what it is. So, the Vikings got themselves a steal in Pace, who has a sack, five total pressures, 14 tackles, and six stops through his first two professional regular-season games.
Defensive coordinator Brian Flores has liked to use Pace as a blitzer from just about every gap through the first two weeks of Pace’s NFL career, and he’s quite effective, especially around the middle. On this stunt against the Eagles last Thursday night, Pace crossed the right side of Philly’s offensive line with defensive tackle Pat Jones II, messing up the protection. From there, it was chaos in the backfield, and this set up Danielle Hunter’s spin-move sack from the other side.
Izien, the Rutgers alum, is just the fourth undrafted player in NFL history with an interception in each of his first two NFL games. He joins Philadelphia’s Brenard Wilson in 1979, Tampa Bay’s Ray Isom in 1987, and Carolina’s Robert Lester in 2013. An impressive feat.
So… a smaller (5-foot-10, 197), smart defensive back from Rutgers? How did Bill Belichick not draft this guy in the second round? Through two NFL games, Izien has allowed five catches on six targets for just 26 yards, 13 yards after the catch, one touchdown, those two picks, and an opponent passer rating of 84.7 — so he’s not just about the splash plays.
Deommodore Lenoir, CB, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers had a clear defensive plan against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2 — play a bunch of off-coverage to keep Tutu Atwell and Puka Nacua, Sean McVay’s speed receivers, in check and covered underneath. As Atwell and Nacua combined for 22 catches for 224 yards, it didn’t always work.
It didn’t always work for cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, though the third-year man from Oregon did his level best. In the 49ers’ 30-23 win, Lenoir was targeted 11 times, allowing seven receptions for 85 yards… but just 11 yards after the catch. He allowed no touchdowns and an opponent passer rating of 49.4. That was predicated on the interception he had with 4:58 left in the game. This was Lenoir’s only target of the day in which he was not in off-coverage, and he took full advantage, jumping Matthew Stafford’s intermediate in-breaking throw to Van Jefferson to seal the deal for his team.
Tre Brown, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Sometime, you do something great as a Secret Superstar, and then, someone less secret to the general public comes out and does the same thing you did. Unfair!
Still, let’s focus on Brown’s Sunday against the Detroit Lions in Seattle’s 37-31 overtime win. Brown’s sack came on a fourth-quarter blitz in which be did a great job of okey-dokeying running back Craig Reynolds on the way to Jared Goff…
Geno Stone, Safety, Baltimore Ravens
We’re all a bit concerned about the Cincinnati Bengals’ passing game after two games, and Joe Burrow might have a long-term calf issue, so ugh. That said, we shouldn’t minimize the efforts of Geno Stone, the 2020 seventh-round pick out of Iowa, who has played at a very high level this season. In two games against the Bengals (last Sunday) and the Houston Texans in Week 1, Stone has allowed four catches on seven targets for 18 yards, 16 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, one interception, and an opponent passer rating of 22.6. That’s pretty good.
Stone’s interception against the Bengals is the play of focus here. With 10:48 left in the third quarter, and the Ravens in Cover-4, Stone did a great job of baiting Burrow, who thought he had Tee Higgins for a touchdown on the 3×1 switch release crosser. Stone waited until Burrow was committed, and jumped it for the win.