Each year, the stats-based website ProFootballFocus.com does some number crunching and identifies a "Secret Superstar" for every team -- a fancy title for an unsung hero. On Tuesday, PFF announced the New York Jets' S.S. -- backup nose tackle Kenrick Ellis, whom it lauds for his outstanding play against the run despite limited action (only 210 defensive snaps).
Ellis is a solid choice. I suppose nose tackle Damon Harrison no longer qualifies as a secret; otherwise, he would've been S.S.-worthy. In my opinion, wide receiver David Nelson and right tackle Austin Howard (now with the Oakland Raiders) also deserve to be mentioned.
As for Ellis, the former third-round pick has endured a tumultuous first three seasons (various injuries and a short jail sentence, stemming from an assault charge while in college), but he developed into a consistent rotational player last season. He was supposed to be the starting nose tackle, but he was Wally Pipp-ed in training camp by Harrison. In a backup role, he became a force against the run. With the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ellis in the game, the Jets allowed only 2.59 yards per rush, according to NFL stats. Without him, they yielded 3.40 -- a team-high 0.81 differential.
This is what PFF has to say about Ellis:
Despite never playing more than 16 snaps against the run in a game all season, he definitely made the most of his opportunity. In his first game despite playing just 18 snaps, he had three highly-graded plays thanks to beating his block to make run stops. There was not a single game where he had a negative rating in run defense all season.
He ended up making 17 run stops on 114 run snaps on the season, which gave him a Run Stop Percentage of 14.9 percent. Over the last six years, John Henderson in 2010 was the only defensive or nose tackle with at least 100 snaps against the run and a better Run Stop Percentage. He was also 1.7 percent, better than the second-best defensive tackle in Run Stop Percentage, teammate Damon Harrison. While his strength was in stopping the run, he also had seven hurries on 85 pass rushes.
Though stopping the run is his strength, he did record seven pressures on 90 pass rushes which is decent for a nose tackle. They even tested him out at fullback late in their Week 17 game on a play that consisted of three defensive linemen in the backfield.
Based on his draft position, Ellis has been a mild disappointment, but he continues to improve and will be in line for a free-agent score after the season if he can stay healthy. He's entering the final year of his contract and it'll be hard for the Jets to retain him, considering all the money earmarked for the defensive line in the coming years (see Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson).
Then again, the plan could change if Ellis finally puts it all together.