5 Possible Secret Superstars for the Patriots in 2014

James ChristensenContributor IMay 30, 2014

5 Possible Secret Superstars for the Patriots in 2014

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    Secret superstars are everywhere. These players might not get the credit, but they are integral to the success of the team.

    The football analytics website Pro Football Focus has done a series identifying its secret superstar for each team. According to Pro Football Focus, Jamie Collins earned the honor for the New England Patriots in 2013.

    The following week in Denver, the Patriots season came to an end, but Collins once again contributed. He did miss a tackle (his third of the year) and was responsible for two first downs and 51 receiving yards to tight end Julius Thomas, but managed to defend a pass to Montee Ball, record six tackles including three stops in run defense, and beat an offensive lineman for a pressure.

    It will be interesting to see what a full season of starting playing time with due for Collins’ game, but he certainly won’t be a secret anymore.

    Here are my picks for five players who could fill that role in 2014.

Dont'a Hightower

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    USA TODAY Sports

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—cited throughout this article—Dont'a Hightower had only an average year in 2013. He ended up ranked No. 10 in the NFL for tackling efficiency, but resided in the bottom half of the coverage rankings.

    Jerod Mayo's return and Jamie Collins' resurgence could alleviate some of those problems.

    Hightower is at his best going forward, and placing him at the "Sam" linebacker position eliminates some of the times that he has to flip his hips and run. It will also allow him to use his size and strength to set the edge and turn plays in to the faster Collins and Mayo.

    It will also be beneficial to see Hightower in a better position to rush the passer. He ranked fourth in the league among outside linebackers for pass-rushing productivity, logging one sack, three hits and 13 pressures on only a handful of rushing attempts.

    Put Hightower in a spot to succeed and he will help your team win, with or without filling up the stat sheet.

     

Kyle Arrington

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    Kyle Arrington could become Super Bowl MVP and some fans of the New England Patriots would still find a reason to loathe him. All Arrington does, however, is provide solid help in the defensive backfield.

    He ranked in the top half of all cornerbacks with his run support, while logging two sacks and a hurry in five rush attempts.

    Most fans might stop after seeing some struggles in coverage—he was near the bottom of the rankings—but when you segregate the data, Arrington's performance in the slot stands out. He was No. 17 in the NFL as a slot cornerback last year.

    With Darrelle Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan and Brandon Browner fighting for positions outside, Arrington is in a position to play to his strengths. Look for him to be an efficient defensive back next season.

Logan Ryan

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    Lost in some of the jubilation surrounding the signing of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner is the very solid season put in by rookie cornerback Logan Ryan.

    All he did in his first season was finish second—to Richard Sherman—in the NFL for quarterback rating allowed by a corner. While he might have been facing No. 2 and No. 3 receivers at times, that is still an impressive feat.

    With a crowded house at cornerback, it makes sense to give Ryan a shot at free safety in 2014. He wasn't great in the slot—bottom half of the league—so when Browner is off his suspension, they won't want to push him inside.

    Safety is a great way to get his ball skills on the field, and you won't lose much in run support. Ryan was ranked No. 12 among corners in tackling efficiency, missing only two tackles all year.

    No matter where he lines up, don't figure that Ryan will be a secret in NFL circles for much longer.

Sealver Siliga

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    Sealver Siliga and the New England Patriots were a good match. Siliga spent time on three NFL rosters in 2013—he was on the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks as well—while New England seemingly went through three dozen defensive linemen looking for a replacement for Vince Wilfork.

    Siliga started playing in Week 13 and immediately made a difference. He finished the season at No. 7 among defensive linemen against the run according to Pro Football Focus, ahead of the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Haloti Ngata.

    While Siliga—like Wilfork—isn't known for rushing the passer, he did finish in the top half of the league in pass-rushing productivity. With Wilfork on a highly incentivized contract, don't count out Siliga playing a lot of snaps in 2014.

Ryan Allen

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Punters can be superstars too. Like my colleague Nick Underhill at MassLive.com, I'm somewhat of a nerd when it comes to punters. I said Ryan Allen deserved an NFL job last July and wasn't too surprised when he beat out Zoltan Mesko to make the roster as a rookie.

    Allen did an excellent job holding in 2013 and punted like a veteran. His 39.6 net average placed him in the middle of the pack, but he is poised to improve on that in his second year. He gave up only 221 return yards on 76 punts, fewer than three yards per kick. Preventing big plays from happening on special teams is one of Bill Belichick's key points.

    If Allen continues to improve, his left leg could be a valuable weapon if and when the Patriots offense sputters out.