Super Bowl 2013: 5 Underrated Stars Who Are Poised to Break out in Big Game
Super Bowl XLVII is full of well-known players, but chances are good an underrated star will make the biggest difference to seal the victory for his team.
Obviously, guys like Ray Lewis, Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco and Patrick Willis will have a huge impact on the outcome of the game. But these guys wouldn't be nearly as effective without some big help from their teammates.
With this in mind, let's take a look at a handful of underrated stars who will shine under the bright lights and extreme pressure of the biggest game of the year.
Chris Culliver, CB, San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are listed as the two starting cornerbacks for the San Francisco 49ers, but Chris Culliver is the team's best pure cover corner.
Culliver is a star in the making.
He features blazing speed (4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine) and good size (6'0" and 200 lbs.), and during his past two years with the 49ers, Culliver has developed into one of the NFL's finest cover cornerbacks.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required), ranks Culliver as its No. 5 cover corner.
I suspect he'll be matched up against Torrey Smith most of the time in Super Bowl XLVII. Of all the cornerbacks on San Francisco's roster, Culliver is the one with the necessary speed and ball skills to potentially negate Baltimore's speedster.
And judging by his performance this season, Culliver won't disappoint. He has a knack for defending balls at their highest point, as he leaps up to intercept them before his receiver has a chance to lay hands on it for a big play.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens
It seems strange to say that Anquan Boldin is underrated, given his success throughout his career, but he hasn't been a major scoring option for the Ravens since 2010.
After scoring seven or more touchdowns in five of his first eight seasons, Boldin has only caught seven touchdowns the past two seasons—three in 2011 and four in 2012.
In three games during the playoffs this year, however, Boldin has caught three touchdowns—not to mention he's caught 16 passes for 276 yards, including two receptions of 50 yards.
By comparison, Torrey Smith has caught just nine passes in the same three games. Teams have been focusing on Smith as a legitimate deep threat, and Boldin has been the beneficiary.
If the 49ers focus on keeping a defender over the top to ensure Smith doesn't score an instant touchdown, you can bet Boldin's hot streak this postseason will continue in Super Bowl XLVII.
Ahmad Brooks, OLB, San Francisco 49ers
Playing on a defense alongside such stars as Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks often gets overlooked.
I guarantee you the Baltimore Ravens won't overlook Brooks, though.
Brooks is incredibly intelligent, as he proved when he forced the Atlanta Falcons into a fourth down late in the NFC Championship game. He immediately diagnosed what the Falcons were attempting to do, and instead of rushing up the field to try and sack Matt Ryan, he rolled to his left and followed Ryan's eyes to deflect his pass attempt.
In fact, there isn't an element Brooks isn't proficient in when talking about 3-4 outside linebackers. He isn't the strongest or fastest guy on the field, but he does everything well.
According to PFF (subscription required), Brooks ranked No. 11 in pass-rush productivity, No. 6 in run stop percentage, No. 5 in tackling efficiency and No. 5 in coverage compared to all the 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL in 2012.
Aldon Smith will continue getting plenty of attention on his side of the field, along with Justin Smith, and Brooks will have his opportunities to make huge plays for the 49ers defense.
Paul Kruger, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
Paul Kruger is the most underrated player in Super Bowl XLVII.
He wreaks havoc on opposing quarterbacks on a weekly basis, and the offensive tackles of the San Francisco 49ers will have their hands full keeping him from doing so on February 3, 2013.
Ahmad Brooks is a more complete player, but you may be shocked to know that Kruger was a more disruptive pass-rusher in 2012 than Brooks' teammate, Aldon Smith, who tallied 19.5 sacks, according to PFF (subscription required).
PFF found that Kruger put pressure on opposing quarterbacks 12.2 percent of the time he lined up as a pass-rusher. According to the site's tracking methods, he logged 10 sacks and 12 hits and 33 hurries in 448 passing snaps.
With Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs demanding attention, Kruger will be a dangerous man on the edge next Sunday. It shouldn't shock anyone if he comes away with a couple of crucial sacks in Super Bowl XLVII.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Since Colin Kaepernick has taken over for Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree has become the team's No. 1 option in the passing game.
The speed of Randy Moss and Vernon Davis, combined with the potent running attack the San Francisco 49ers possess, opens up the middle of the field, which is where Crabtree makes his best gains.
He isn't a speedy receiver, but what Crabtree lacks in zip, he more than makes up for by running strong after the catch. For the 2012 season, he ranked No. 7 in the NFL in yards after the catch, and his production has increased by leaps and bounds during the second half of the year and into the playoffs.
In Crabtree's last seven games, he's caught 50 passes for 714 yards and six touchdowns. He's ready to explode onto the national scene with a monster game in Super Bowl XLVII and prove, once and for all, that he was worth the No. 10 overall pick the 49ers spent on him in the 2009 NFL draft.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78