Ravens vs. 49ers: Under-the-Radar Players Who Must Step Up in Super Bowl
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The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers feature many high-profile stars, but several under-the-radar players must step up in the Super Bowl.
While Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Patrick Willis and Frank Gore are household names, both squads will need contributions from the entire roster. The HarBowl promises to feature bone-crushing hits and smashmouth offense in what should be a game for the ages.
Let's take a look at which under-the-radar players will be keys in Super Bowl XLVII.
Ahmad Brooks, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Second-year star Aldon Smith garners all the attention for San Francisco, but bookend linebacker Ahmad Brooks is the more complete player outside for the 49ers.
The seven-year veteran checks in at a rock-solid 6'3, 259 pounds and utilizes that frame to set the edge in the run game and get after the quarterback. Although he's never topped seven sacks in his career, Brooks has been a consistently good player for the 49ers since joining the team in 2009. San Fran's starting left outside linebacker recorded 46 tackles, 6.5 sacks, six passes broken up, two forced fumbles and a pick-six this season.
A former top high school recruit, Brooks has never lacked talent. Injuries have been his biggest downfall throughout his career, but he's managed to play in all 16 regular-season games the past two seasons.
Though he didn't record a single tackle in the 49ers' NFC Championship victory, his two pass deflections proved critical to stopping the Atlanta Falcons' comeback attempt. Brooks has to provide a pass-rushing threat opposite Smith if San Fran hopes to stop the hot Joe Flacco.
Anthony Davis, OT, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers turned heads at the 2010 NFL draft when they spent two first-round picks on offensive linemen.
Two years later, that decision is shaping up to be a home run.
While left guard Mike Iupati has been the more consistent player, right tackle Anthony Davis has grown into a monster himself.
San Fran traded up two spots to take the talented tackle out of Rutgers, but the dividends weren't immediate. Technique and conditioning issues prevented Davis from realizing his potential during his first two years in the league. However, the 6'5, 323-pound road grader turned it on in 2012, earning a spot on Pro Football Focus' All-NFC West Team.
Davis will have his work cut out for him against the Ravens and their emerging star Paul Kruger. The lengthy outside linebacker recorded a career-high nine sacks in the regular season and added another 2.5 in a Wild Card matchup against the Colts.
If the 49ers hope to keep Colin Kaepernick upright and open holes for Frank Gore, Davis will be key.
Corey Graham, CB, Baltimore Ravens
Corey Graham didn't break into the starting lineup until Week 10, but the former Chicago Bear has been a godsend for the Ravens defense.
The 6'0", 196-pound corner put together his best campaign since 2008, finishing the regular season with 60 total tackles, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and eight passes defended.
His ability to lock down one starting spot eased the loss of star corner Lardarius Webb (ACL).
However, it's been his postseason contributions that have propelled the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
After recording seven tackles, a half sack and two passes defended against the Indianapolis Colts, Graham had a signature performance against Peyton Manning in the Divisional Round. The veteran corner picked off Manning twice, including a 39-yard INT for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Ravens' 38-35 double overtime victory.
Although he didn't come up with any turnovers against the New England Patriots, Graham did record 11 tackles and helped limit Tom Brady to just a poor 62.3 quarterback rating. Graham will have to continue his strong play for one more game as the Ravens try to slow the Kaepernick train.
Bryant McKinnie, OT, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore's tackle tandem features one feel-good story (Michael Oher) and an annual underachiever (Bryant McKinnie). However, Mount McKinnie managed to finally get in shape and play his way into a starting role in 2012.
The mammoth 6'8, 354-pounder was a star at the University of Miami and a solid player for the Minnesota Vikings before his work ethic (or lack thereof), conditioning and attitude led to his release. For a player who once ballooned to nearly 400 pounds, the 2012 season has been a revelation.
With Oher fitting better at right tackle, McKinnie assumed the blindside spot and has performed well. The former first-round pick completely shut down Dwight Freeney in the Raven's opening playoff win, helped hold Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to just one sack and kept Flacco clean in the pocket against the Patriots, as the Ravens won without turning the ball over once.
As good as McKinnie's been, he has his work cut out for him against Aldon Smith. San Fran's top pass rusher has the speed and length to battle against the lumbering left tackle, so this matchup could prove to be a game-changer.
Will the giant tackle rise to the challenge or fall victim to the speedy Smith?
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