Of the two teams competing in the Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, only one rookie of the bunch assumes a starting role with his respective franchise. It’s also worth noting this role was only recently acquired. So where are all the key rookies then?
Well, getting to the Super Bowl takes a special group of men, most of whom are experienced and well-versed in the protocol of the NFL. Nevertheless, rookies from a wide range of positions will be making key contributions in the Super Bowl.
This slideshow guides you through the most important rookies getting set to play in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Note: All of the stats used in the slideshow are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) unless otherwise stated.
Perhaps the biggest contribution Montee Ball had on the Denver Broncos this year was serving as motivation for Knowshon Moreno. After all, Moreno did have a breakout season, surpassing season highs in nearly every statistical category. Moreno aside, Ball did much more than just nip at the heels of his running back competition. He also excelled as a reliable No. 2 option in the backfield.
In 2013, the second-round running back piled up 654 yards on the ground (including playoffs) while averaging an impressive 4.6 yards per carry on the season.
Though only a rookie, Ball is certainly the most experienced of all first-year ball-carriers when you consider he amassed over 5,000 yards rushing and nearly 1,000 carries in four years at Wisconsin.
During the conference championship game against the Patriots, Ball was given his third-highest number of carries as a Bronco (12) and responded with 43 yards on the ground. Clearly quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos have the confidence in their reliable rookie to give him the rock in legacy-defining games.
For Denver, the theme all season has been to get Ball somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 touches a game, a workload that should carry over to the Super Bowl. But keep in mind that yards don’t come easy against the Seahawks. During the season, they ranked seventh in yards allowed while holding teams to under four yards per carry. With that said, 50 total yards for the game would be a significant contribution for this talented rookie.
Luke Willson played in every game for the Seahawks after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. This 6’5”, 251-pound tight end has proved to be a valuable contributor for this offense.
Willson finished sixth among all rookie tight ends this year in receiving yards with 272. Perhaps more impressive, he finished sixth among all tight ends (not just rookies) in catches per target, hauling in an outstanding 76 percent of the passes thrown his way.
Percy Harvin is expected to play in the Super Bowl, which should give Willson some opportunities to catch the defense sleeping on him. This rookie tight end has deceiving speed and a good feel for getting open. He’s also displayed reliable hands by any measure, dropping only two of the 26 passes thrown his way.
Quarterback Russell Wilson will need to take advantage of every available target at his disposal. This is imperative if the Seahawks wish to keep up with Peyton Manning and the most prolific offense in NFL history. In order to do that, Luke Willson will need to contribute in some significant way.
Much to my surprise, it took all the way until Week 15 for the Broncos' first-round stud Sylvester Williams to play at least half of the defensive snaps in a single game. Yet the first time he’s given that opportunity, Williams recorded his first NFL sack only to follow that up with another sack in Week 16 as well.
Injuries and the challenges of transitioning from college to the pros were partly why this talented interior lineman was slow to start the season.
Coming into the draft, Sylvester was one of my personal favorites for a defensive tackle. When it comes to his ability to make plays in the backfield and disrupt defenses, few guys are better. So it should be no surprise that Williams is having a tremendous impact in the month of January. In the final regular-season showdown, he was credited with an incredible five quarterback hurries from a defensive tackle position. That game alone epitomizes his rare ability to wreak havoc in opposing backfields.
Though Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton is clearly the star clog in the middle, the emergence of Williams has helped his impact considerably. These two have allowed a playoff-best 64 yards rushing per game so far. Together, they have the potential to be one of the best tackle combos in the NFL over the next few years.
When you think about the Seahawks’ style of offense, the run game is obviously their bread and butter. Williams and the rest of the gang upfront will play a huge role in shutting down Seattle’s offense. If they can successfully shut down Marshawn Lynch and the running game, the Seahawks have little chance of victory. Mr. Lynch will certainly have to earn every inch come game time.
Jordan Hill may not have played much this season, but the Seahawks are still counting on him as one of their key rookie reserves on defense. Hill isn’t likely to see a whole lot of action, but if an injury or the need for fresh legs should arise, look for this third-rounder out of Penn State to be ready to step up and make something happen.
Effort and a high-intensity motor are the hallmarks of his game, but he hasn’t seen action on defense since Week 15.
Denver could conceivably resort to its fast-paced, no-huddle offense for the majority of the game. If this theory becomes reality, Hill will undoubtedly be catapulted into a role he better be ready for as fresh legs on defense become a high priority.
Though only a reserve in the Broncos' defensive backfield, Kayvon Webster is ready to step up and contribute when necessary. He has played a key role for a rookie in the regular season, filling in while guys like Champ Bailey and others missed time.
According to Pro Football Focus (paid site), Webster held quarterbacks and receivers to less than 60 percent completions when thrown his way. The last time he saw significant playing time was the Week 15 game against the Chargers. Unfortunately, Webster ended up playing his worst game of his brief NFL career that day as Philip Rivers and Kennan Allen torched him throughout the matchup.
This, coupled with the return of Bailey into the rotation, likely explains why Webster has seen his role diminish.
Webster’s role in the Super Bowl may be increased considering cornerback Tony Carter suffered a pinched nerve in the AFC Championship Game, though coach John Fox says “he’s fine,” per Mike Klis of The Denver Post. Expect Carter to play in the game, but depending on how effective he is, Webster may be called upon to step up and contribute.
At the moment, Webster’s real value in the big game is likely to be on special teams and in dime packages. Since the Hawks don’t spread teams out very much, it will probably take an injury or two for this youngster to see much time on defense.
At 6’4”, 332 pounds, Michael Bowie was drafted in the seventh round out of Oklahoma State.
If anything happens to anyone other than the center on the offensive line, Michael Bowie is the first man to step in. His versatility is his greatest asset, evidenced in his rookie season alone as he has played nearly every position on the offensive line.
Bowie started seven games at tackle this season while starter Breno Giacomini missed time with an injury. He also started two games at guard, including a start at left guard in the divisional playoff game against the Saints.
Oddly enough, he went from starting in the first playoff game against the Saints to being listed as inactive in the conference championship game against the 49ers. This makes it very difficult to predict how big of a role Bowie will have for the Super Bowl. Essentially, he can end up being anywhere from a starting guard to listed as inactive all together.
If he does play, however, expect him to be a positive force on that offensive line.
Bowie would be tasked with trying to block one of the better tackles in the game in Terrance Knighton, as well as fellow rookie Sylvester Williams. These beasts up front for Denver are a load to contain, but Bowie certainly has the mass to get the job done.
Pete Carroll might see his versatile rookie as a favorable matchup option against Knighton given their similar gravitational pull on surrounding mass. This means there’s a good chance we see him in the starting lineup, matching one big body with another in an epic showdown deep inside the trenches.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and writes for B/R
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