Secret Superstars for Week 4 of the 2022 NFL season

There are all kinds of reasons that NFL players are underrated and unsung.

Perhaps they’re in systems that don’t best show their skills. Maybe they’re buried on a depth chart. Or, they’re in somebody’s doghouse, and their coaches can’t see their potential. Or, their efforts are relatively unnoticed among their more celebrated teammates. Sometimes, young players haven’t quite put it all together, but there are enough flashes to make you sit up and take notice, and when it does work, it’s all good.

Week 4 of the 2022 regular season featured players at just about every position who showed up and showed out despite their underrated statuses, and here at Touchdown Wire, it’s our job to point them out.

Here are the Secret Superstars for Week 4 of the 2022 NFL season.

Geno Smith, QB, Seattle Seahawks

(Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Through the first four games of the 2022 season as the Seahawks’ post-Russell Wilson starter, Smith has completed 102 of 132 passes for 1,037 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions. His completion rate of 77.3% is the second-highest for any quarterback in the first four games of a season in NFL history (behind only Tom Brady in 2007), and going back to last season when he was Wilson’s injury replacement for three starts, Smith has a four-game stretch from October through October in which he has the fourth-highest completion rate (78.2%) in any four-game stretch in league annals.

This would lead you to believe that Smith is nothing more than a Captain Checkdown, but that’s not the case. His 7.9 yards per attempt average has him tied with Atlanta’s Marcus Mariota for fourth-best in the NFL, and he’s completed seven of 13 passes of 20 or more air yards for 167 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.

This 54-yard play to receiver D.K. Metcalf against the Lions on Sunday shows how Smith can throw deep, across his body, with accuracy and anticipation. Metcalf is up against former first-round cornerback Jeff Okudah, who’s enjoying a renaissance season, but Okudah had no chance on this ball between Smith’s well-timed throw, and Metcalf’s burner speed downfield.

So far this season, the Seahawks are better off with Smith than the Denver Broncos are with Wilson — you could have won a lot of bets with that factoid. If this continues, we’re going to start asking if Smith is the team’s quarterback of the future, as opposed to a placeholder until Seattle can use its own picks, and the picks acquired in the Wilson trade, to grab their next franchise guy.

Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

(Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Remember last offseason, when the Raiders refused to pick up Jacobs’ fifth-year option, and there was talk of trading him once Josh McDaniels came in as the new head coach and offensive shot-caller? We’re thinking that the Raiders, whose offense is burping exhaust in other areas, are glad that trade didn’t happen. In Las Vegas’ 32-23 win over the Broncos, Jacobs went off for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. 116 of those yards came after contact, and Jacobs forced eight missed tackles on those 28 carries.

This 43-yard run has no blocking or scheme to help Jacobs — everything is closed off by the time he gets to the line of scrimmage. If Jacobs can’t create, he’s done.

Fortunately, Jacobs can create — both with explosiveness, and with the ability to blast through contact.

Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

(Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Before the Eagles beat up on the Jaguars last Sunday with 50 run plays despite trailing 14-0 early, Philadelphia running back Miles Sanders had never carried the ball more than 24 times for more than 131 yards. Sanders beat both of those career totals in the Eagles’ 29-21 win, carrying the rock 27 times for 134 yards and he tied his career high with two touchdown runs. Pretty good stuff against what had been the NFL’s best run defense until Philly took it apart.

The offensive line was a huge part of that success, but there were also times when Sanders had to make things happen on his own, and he did. This tough five-yard run from outside zone against the Jaguars’ five man-front proved that Sanders was willing and able to create when things were not at their most favorable up front. This was in the fourth quarter, after Jacksonville started loading the box to stop a run game they couldn’t stop.

Jamaree Salyer, LT, Los Angeles Chargers

(AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

The Chargers took Salyer out of Georgia in the sixth round of the 2002 draft. At 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, Salyer projected as a mauling tackle with some technical stuff in need of fine-tuning, or as a guard with a lot of potential. Salayer played 115 snaps in the preseason, and all of them were either at left or right guard. Then, through the first three games of the regular season, he didn’t play at all on offense — just 17 snaps on special teams.

Then, left tackle Rashawn Slater was lost for at least multiple weeks, if not the rest of the season to a torn biceps tendon, and the Chargers had to re-think everything. Losing a player of Slater’s prominence could be a death blow for any offense, but in went Salyer at left tackle against the Texans, and the rookie couldn’t have done much better were he Rashawn Slater himself.

Salyer allowed no pressures of any kind on  pass-blocking reps, and on this 14-yard Austin Ekeler run, he whooped up on (that’s a technical term, kids) Houston defensive end and fellow rookie Thomas Booker by getting Booker rolling to a place he very much did not want to go.

If you want to see how Salyer did in pass pro? Check the technique on this two-for-one block.

Here, Salyer drops Booker on his butt, and then addresses outside rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in a rude fashion. If Salyer can keep this up… not only are the Chargers in decent shape without Slater, but when Slater returns, perhaps the rookie can shore up this team’s ongoing issues at right tackle? One never knows.

Trey Smith, RG, Kansas City Chiefs

(AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

One of the oddest mysteries of the 2021 season was how the Chiefs completely blew up their offensive line, putting five new starters in there who were all better at gap than zone blocking. And then, they ran far more zone than gap, when they were better (go figure) in gap concepts. This season, Kansas City is incorporating more ass-whomping ideas up front, and Trey Smith, selected in the sixth round of the 2021 draft out of Tennessee, is benefiting as much as anybody.

In 2022, Smith has allowed no sacks, no quarterback hits, and just seven quarterback hurries in a passing game that obviously relies on quarterback improvisation and play extension. And while Smith is an excellent mauler in the run game, check out this :let the bodies hit the floor” rep against Buccaneers defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches on a Patrick Mahomes deep pass.

The Chiefs are much more diverse offensively this season, but there are times when you need to throw the fancy stuff out the window and just erase people on the way to a win. Smith is perfectly constructed to go both ways.

Sebastian Joseph-Day, DI. Los Angeles Chargers

(Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Joseph-Day made last week’s Secret Superstars team despite the fact that he had no pressures of any kind against the Jaguars. Why? Because he had six stops, and he was an absolute terror in the run game. The veteran went with a different paradigm against the Texans on Sunday — he had a sack, a quarterback hit, three quarterback hurries, and three more stops just for good measure.

The sack of Davis Mills was more of a coverage takedown, but this pressure showed how Joseph-Day can just wreck a center (Scott Quessenberry in this case) with a quick grasp-and-go on the way to the quarterback.

So, Joseph-Day has now proven that he has a huge impact on the field whether he’s getting pressures or not. He’s been a great addition to Brandon Staley’s defense.

Haason Reddick, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles

(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The lead story in the Eagles’ Sunday win over the Jaguars was Philly’s run game, but let’s not ignore a defense that gave Trevor Lawrence more than he could handle. Lawrence was sacked four times and lost four fumbles, and Reddick, the Eagles’ new pass-rusher, had two of those sacks and forced two of those fumbles. No. 7 can get to the quarterback in all kinds of ways.

And while Reddick wasn’t specifically targeted in the Jaguars game, he’s also able to impact a quarterback’s decisions.

Through four games, Reddick has four sacks, 10 total pressures, three forced fumbles, and seven stops. The former Cardinals and Panthers standout has stood out even more in his new home.

Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Buffalo Bills

(Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports)

Rousseau had a sack and five total pressures in Buffalo’s win over the Ravens, but his most impactful play of the game had something to do with his ability to get pressure — but it was just as much about his height.

Lamar Jackson’s fourth-down interception to safety Jordan Poyer (more on him later in the article) was predicated on the 6-goot-6 Rousseau beating right tackle Morgan Moses, and getting in Jackson’s face. This caused Jackson to wait on the end zone throw to a wide-open Devin Duvernay, and Poyer was able to get over to make the play.

Von Miller has made a major difference in Buffalo’s defense this season, but Rousseau has just as many pressures as Miller does this season (14), and he leads the team in sacks with five. The proverbial light has come on for the second-year man out of Miami.

Frankie Luvu, LB, Carolina Panthers

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Things are not great for the Panthers this season. They rank 31nd in Offensive DVOA, the Baker Mayfield Experience has not been a favorable one to date, and the “brain trust” of Matt Rhule and Ben McAdoo on that side of the ball is working about as well as you’d expect if you know the history.

That the Panthers are in the middle of the pack on defense is a testament to defensive coordinator Phil Snow, and the efforts of a few valuable players. Luvu, the journeyman undrafted free agent, has been one of them. Luvu has been a plus player in every aspect of his position, from bringing pressure to messing up run fits to coverage, and he showed off his coverage skills against the Cardinals last Sunday on this interception of a Kyler Murray attempt to Marquise Brown on a crosser. It is both an endorsement of Luvu’s skills, and an indictment of Arizona’s offense, that Luvu seemed to get the timing of the route better than Brown did.

Luvu signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Panthers in March; this after he played well last season in rotation on a one-year, $1.1 million deal. Luvu, who has already outpaced his snap count in the entire 2021 season, looks to be one of the NFL’s best bargains.

Tariq Woolen, CB, Seattle Seahawks

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

At his peak, Richard Sherman was one of the ballsiest, and more loquacious,  cornerbacks of his (or any other) era. I got to watch tape with Sherm in 2015, and he said something very important about how young cornerbacks need to get past any bad plays, move on to the next possibility, and seize the moment.

Of course, Sherm said it in his own way.

The word is getting out about Tariq Woolen, Seattle’s rookie cornerback. Like Sherman, he was drafted by Seattle in the fifth round, and like Sherman, there were some questions pre-draft as to whether Woolen could match his estimable physical abilities to his on-field coverage. Because there ain’t no way any cornerback standing 6-foot-4, weighing 205 pounds, and running a 4.26-second 40-yard dash should last until the fifth round unless something else is going on.

Whatever issues may have prevented Woolen from becoming a high-ranking cornerback in the draft are pretty much gone at this point. He’s allowed nine catches on 17 targets for 138 yards, 45 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 40.4 — firth-lowest in the NFL among cornerbacks taking at least 50% of their defensive snaps.

The Seahawks were having all kinds of trouble with the Lions’ offense in last Sunday’s 48-45 Scorigami pointfest, but Woolen was the exception. He gave up a couple catches underneath, but when Jared Goff tried to hit tight end T.J. Hockenson on a deep crosser at the start of the second half, Woolen wasn’t having any of it.

Or, he was having all of it, with a great route-dive and pick-six.

This was an outstanding combination of athleticism and technique — Woolen played outside, making Goff think he had the opening, and then he used that track speed to close and cover at the right time. Those of us (present company included) who were intrigued by Woolen’s tools, but thought it might take him a year or two to get the hang of things in the NFL should be running through some mea culpas at this point.

Jack Jones, CB, New England Patriots

(Syndication: Journal Sentinel)

With 5:07 left in the second quarter of the Patriots’ eventual loss to the Packers, Aaron Rodgers completed a quick out route to the aforementioned Allen Lazard for 13 yards. Jack Jones, the fourth-round rookie cornerback from Arizona State, was on the coverage, and he was unhappy about the completion on his behalf.

“Personally, I feel like it’s disrespectful to throw an out route on me,” Jones said after the game. “If you can throw the ball past me to get to the receiver, I’m no good.”

Spoiler: Jones has been quite good. The Patriots came into the 2022 season in need of all kinds of cornerback help after losing J.C. Jackson to the Chargers in free agency, and Jones has stepped up through his first four NFL games — he’s allowed six catches on 11 targets for 86 yards, 46 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, that pick-six, and an opponent passer rating of 42.2.

Jones’ snap count has gone from 11 in his NFL debut to 72 against the Packers, so expect more of him on the field.

And possibly fewer out routes thrown by New England’s opponents.

Jordan Poyer, S, Buffalo Bills

(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

When will they learn?

Quarterbacks are still throwing in the general vicinity of Bills safety Jordan Poyer.

When will they learn?

In 2021, Poyer established himself as the NFL’s best cover safety by allowing 13 receptions on 28 targets for 61 yards, 40 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, five interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 13.7. It was not a fluke. Through four games this season, Poyer has allowed three catches on five targets for 33 yards, one yard after the catch, one touchdown, four interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 79.6. When you’ve picked off more passes than you’ve allowed catches, that’s pretty good. Poyer is still a Secret Superstar because… well, if he wasn’t a secret, who would throw the ball anywhere near him?

To be fair to Lamar Jackson, Poyer’s two interceptions against the Ravens last Sunday did not come about because Jackson was targeting him. There was this pick at the beginning of the fourth quarter off a deflection in which Poyer was in the right place at the right time…

So, that’s the real problem when you’re facing Jordan Poyer. Even when you’re not throwing the ball in his general area, you really kind of are.

Talanoa Hufanga, S, San Francisco 49ers

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

The 49ers currently have the NFL’s best defense, and if there’s any justice, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will be a head coach sooner than later. Talanoa Hufanga, the USC alum who dropped to the fifth round of the 2021 draft primarily due to medical concerns, has seen and dispensed some justice of his own this season.

This isn’t Hufanga’s first time on the Secret Superstars roster this season — he made it in Week 2 as well after he made Geno Smith’s life miserable — and we might as well put him on here again, because the secret is out. It seems that he’ll make at least one amazing, game-impacting play per week, and against the Rams on Monday night, it was this 52-ard pick-six with 6:27 left in the game.

“We were just man coverage, locked up with the tight end,” Hufanga said of the play. “They were just running screens all night, I saw a different release than I’m used to, so instead of following my man I turned my head and the ball kind of dropped in my face. I’m not gonna lie, I thought Stafford was going to catch me. My 40 time doesn’t help when it comes to that. I’m grateful to have gone out there with my guys and have fun.”

Linebacker Fred Warner was happy for his young teammate.

“Huf, of all people to get that, he deserves it, man, he’s been playing out of his mind. That was a huge, big-time play in a big time moment.”

Indeed. Hufanga often draws comparisons to Troy Polamalu, but it’s more than just the hair there. Polamalu, another USC alum, has been a mentor since Hufanga’s college days, and you can see an embryonic version of it in Hufanga’s ability to balance playing at breakneck speed, and being right more often than not.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire