Secret Superstars of the preseason: Week 2

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As the preseason rounds to a close and NFL teams are looking down the barrel of final cuts, it’s more important than ever for those players on the bubble — or in the near vicinity of the bubble — to show all they can do. Not only to stick with their current teams, but also to make their attributes obvious to other teams if they are cut for whatever reason.

Not every player on this week’s Secret Superstars list is a bubble guy, but each player used Week 2 of the full preseason as their times to shine — at just the right time.

Kurt Benkert, QB, Green Bay Packers

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Benkert spent three seasons with the Falcons, mostly on their practice squad, before the Packers signed him in May. With Jordan Love recovering from a shoulder issue, and no urgency to get Aaron Rodgers any preseason reps, head coach Matt LaFleur made Benkert his main man against the Jets last Saturday. The Virginia alum, who has never played in a regular-season game, acquitted himself well in LaFleur's offense, completing 18 of 25 passes for 151 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Benkert showed the ability to hurl the ball downfield accurately on the move (a requirement in this offense)... https://twitter.com/joepkipp/status/1429181583475585036 ...and his touchdown pass to tight end Jace Sternberger was a nice example of touch and placement under a bit of pressure. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1429194393337180163 Benkert managed to impress the best quarterback on the roster. “I think the great thing as you saw tonight, and we saw it during the week practicing against them, our twos and threes were out there on both sides of the ball against their 1s for most of the first half, and we held our own and played really well,” Rodgers said during a second-half interview with the team's TV network. “I’m proud of Kurt. I think he did a really nice job in the pocket, moving around, improving over the last time he was out there. I’m really happy for him. He’s a good young kid.“ Not that Benkert is going to leapfrog Jordan Love for the QB2 spot, but it's always nice to have a quality QB3 in case things fall apart -- and perhaps a QB2 if things really fall apart with Rodgers after the season's done.

Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, New England Patriots

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Stevenson, the fourth-round rookie out of Oklahoma, made our Secret Superstars team last week as well. We try to avoid week-to-week repeats, but when you put up stats like this... https://twitter.com/PFF_Fantasy/status/1428545703203069952 ...and you keep getting it done on plays like this... https://twitter.com/BenBrownPL/status/1428530569713958918 ...and you invite comparisons to former rookie running backs like this... https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1430199290735972352 ...respect must be paid. Our Laurie Fitzpatrick recently did a tape piece on why and how Stevenson is such a great fit in New England's run schemes, and so far, he's proven every bit of it. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/08/24/rhamondre-stevenson-fits-perfectly-within-patriots-power-gap-style-run-scheme/

Marquez Callaway, WR, New Orleans Saints

(Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports)

Callaway made the Saints' roster last season as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, catching 21 passes on 27 targets for 213 yards and no touchdowns in Drew Brees' final season. The buzz has been all over Callaway's name this preseason, especially with Michael Thomas' injury situation and fraught relationship with the franchise, and through two games, Callaway has done a lot to earn it. Callaway leads all NFL receivers with 165 yards through this preseason, and most of that came on two deep passes from Jameis Winston when the Saints took on the Jaguars Monday night. There was this ridiculous 43-yard touchdown with 12:17 left in the first quarter, in which Callaway appears to be asking for a PI call AND making an incredible catch at the same time... https://twitter.com/espn/status/1429961537330966563 ...and this 29-yard touchdown from Winston in which cornerback Shaquill Griffin just couldn't keep up. https://twitter.com/MySportsUpdate/status/1429967387605053444 “I think he’s just an incredible football player,” Winston said of Callaway after the game. “I mean, the guy was undrafted, right? Who missed out on that guy? I’m happy that we were able to get him. It speaks volumes of our organization and how they see talent. The thing about him, man, it’s like when he’s out there, it’s like we’re playing little league football. He loves it so much; he has no fear in his heart. He has elite energy. He’s out there playing football. It’s fun to have teammates out there that see the game the same way that you see it and just really love taking advantage of these opportunities.” We don't yet know what the post-Brees passing game is going to look like, and who will be under center for the start of the regular season, but it's safe to say that Callaway has cemented his role as a big part of it.

Ben Powers, OG, Baltimore Ravens

(Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

The Ravens took Powers in the fourth round of the 2019 draft out of Oklahoma, a college team that generally asks its offensive linemen to work a ton in gap power schemes. A nice fit for this particular NFL team, who runs more gap and pulling schemes than any other. Powers had just 30 snaps in his rookie season, but that jumped up to 654 in 2020, as the Ravens tried to re-work their guard picture following Marshal Yanda's retirement. Powers didn't allow a single sack last season (just 12 total pressures) on 315 pass-blocking reps, but when you center your offense around the run game as the Ravens do, you want guards who can beat the daylights out of defensive tackles. Against the Panthers last Saturday, Powers did that from the left guard position to defensive tackle Derrick Brown, the seventh overall pick in the 2020 draft, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 326 pounds. https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1430191939455004680 If Powers continues to show these nasty finishing characteristics, he'll be a real asset to that line in transition.

Charles Omenihu, IDL, Houston Texans

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A fifth-round pick in 2019 out of Texas, Omenihu has enjoyed two nice NFL seasons as a rotational inside/outside pass disruptor. He's flown under the radar in the Texans' franchise disarray, but at the very least, he should get more recognition on a Houston roster that's full of twos and threes, with very few ones. Omenihu was certainly on point last week against the Cowboys, with two sacks and three stops. The same guy who had 32 total pressures on 340 pass-rushing snaps in 2020 could be even better in 2021. https://twitter.com/MarkBermanFox26/status/1429247431489773571

Samuel Eguavoen, EDGE, Miami Dolphins

(Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

Edge-rusher Samuel Eguavoen signed with the Dolphins in 2019 after three years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. That season, the Texas Tech alum started six games, amassing 3.5 sacks, five quarterback hits, 13 quarterback hurries, and 18 stops in 621 snaps. The 6-foot-0, 227-pound Eguavoen proved to be a valuable rotational do-it-all player, playing everywhere from the edge to the box to the occasional rep at free safety. Eguavoen didn’t see as much time last season, but he had shown a few things. So, there was a bit of prologue for a breakout preseason performance from Eguavoen. It’s safe to say, though, that nobody expected Eguavoen to do what he did against the Falcons on Saturday night — he put up four sacks in Miami’s 37-17 win, and backup quarterback Felipe Franks had no idea what to do with him. https://twitter.com/MiamiDolphins/status/1429239354426380288 https://twitter.com/MiamiDolphins/status/1429247019688906758 Not bad for a guy who missed joint practices due to his presence on the COVID list. “I think any time you talk about Sam, you’ve got to talk about a guy who is a very diligent worker," Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer recently said. "He takes his craft very seriously, so any time he has success, for the amount of effort and time and energy he puts in, you’re obviously happy for him. I think he did a lot of good things out there for us, there are some things we can work on and correct. As far as being physically and mentally tough and working hard, Sam exemplifies all of those things. It’s always good to see him out there having success.” It may help that Eguavoen is playing for more than just himself, as he pointed out after his monster game. “I’d say my little brother, really," Eguavoen said, when asked what drives him. "You know, he has epilepsy. I don’t know if you all know that, but he has epilepsy so he has random seizures all the time and little things that we take for granted in life like driving to the grocery store or going out to eat with your friends and things like that, he doesn’t have that lifestyle. He’s always in the house until somebody takes him somewhere. So it’s just like, when I’m here, I’m so locked in on football, sometimes I end up forgetting about him, but I know who I’m doing it for, and then once I get back home in the offseason, I’m just like, man, he’s been doing the same thing every single day, so I try to do the most I can with him in the offseason and hopefully I make enough money, have a long enough career where I can take care of him and stuff for as long as I can." An easy guy to root for, really.

Byron Murphy, CB, Arizona Cardinals

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Cardinals selected Murphy at the top of the second round in the 2019 draft out of Washington, and let's just say that things didn't start well. No cornerback allowed more touchdowns in the 2019 season than Murphy with 10, and he had just one interception, allowing 71 catches on 104 targets for 665 yards, and an opponent passer rating of 113.7. Murphy did improve in 2020, as he moved to more of a slot role and gave up 57 catches on 82 targets for 576 yards, just two touchdowns allowed, and an opponent passer rating of 97.4. Murphy had no picks last season, so you'd certainly like to see more ball-hawking skills coming into his third NFL campaign. Against one Patrick Lavon Mahomes II last Friday, Murphy did show that he's been working on that. https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1430208388248580099

Juan Thornhill, S, Kansas City Chiefs

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

It's not that Thornhill can make a case as the Chiefs' most valuable defender -- that goes to either Chris Jones or Tyrann Mathieu -- but last season, the second-year safety from Virginia stated his value in his absence. Kansas City allowed a lower completion percentage (63.3 to 64.4), yards per attempt (7.5 to 7.1), passing touchdown percentage (8.9 to 4.1), and passing EPA (0.2 to -0.01) when Thornhill was on the field, patrolling the deep third and the slot. Thornhill's work on this interception of a Kyler Murray pass last Friday is a pretty good summation of his attributes, and if he's healthy in 2021, that's one more reason to expect an uptick from the Chiefs' defense this season. https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/1428894930953334790

Elijah Molden, DB, Tennessee Titans

(George Walker IV / Tennessean.com-Imagn Content Services, LLC)

The 2021 safety class was an odd one, with very few true deep-third erasers and a whole lot of hybrid guys. That was certainly the case for Molden, who ranked fourth in Touchdown Wire's list of the safeties in this class, and played all over the place for the Washington Huskies -- over four seasons as a multi-position defensive back, Molden played 1,158 snaps in the slot, 68 at free safety, 228 snaps in the box, 64 snaps at cornerback, and 40 snaps along the defensive line. For his collegiate career, he allowed 102 receptions on 157 targets for 1,037 yards, 492 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, five interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 74.7 (44.9 in 2020). He was really good in deep coverage in 2020, allowing five completions on 13 targets for no touchdowns, with two forced incompletions on passes of 20 or more air yards. On a recent episode of the Touchdown Wire Podcast, Titans safety Kevin Byard had a lot of good things to say about his new teammate, who Tennessee selected in the third round. https://open.spotify.com/episode/7eYDKI85ZWeVl1J3qLE7Ub?si=7qbWpxexSk2wfV3-YtJrUw&dl_branch=1 "He's just a smart, savvy guy," Byard said. "Even being a rookie, just watching his movement skills, he has good movement skills, and he's a good cover guy. He came into meetings asking all the right questions. I'm super-excited to see him out there in the preseason, getting his feet wet. Him bring a corner, a slot corner, whatever, I think he's going to be a great addition to our secondary." So far, so good. Through two preseason games, playing primarily in the slot, Molden has allowed six catches on eight targets for 23 yards, 14 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, and an opponent passer rating of 77.1. And he's already showed that he has no issue throwing his body around to make big plays. https://twitter.com/PFF_AustinGayle/status/1429518936165523459 There's also the matter of being in the right place at the right time, which Molden was here when Bucs rookie quarterback Kyle Trask threw a ball off the back of Molden's helmet, which led to a Clayton Geathers interception. https://twitter.com/UCFALUMNI/status/1429615058460549123

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