NFL rosters are more diverse, complicated, and intricate than a typical team. There are the obvious stars, often making the most money and known by everyone, directly at the forefront of media coverage. I mean even my grandma is out there saying how much she likes “that Patrick Mahomes guy” and is “sick of that Tom Brady fella”. This article is not about them.
Hell, it’s not even about the Travis Kelce’s or Rob Gronkowski’s. Nor do I care about the Mike Evans’ or Tyreek Hill’s of the world. Even on the flip side of the ball, you won’t find a name like Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Devin White, Shaq Barrett, or Lavonte David anywhere past this point.
Each roster is made up of 53 guys all with their own stories and skillset that they bring to the table. And in the most hyped up and overanalyzed sporting event of the year, everyone matters. This is for a few of those “other guys’ who just might have a profound impact in the biggest game of their lives.
How could the guy leading the Buccaneers in sacks be considered one of the “other guys”? It quite simply boils down to a lack of recognition. A collection of rising youngsters and more prominent veterans has blinded the media of just how important JPP has been to the Bucs. Like any great player his impact on the field goes way beyond the stat sheet, but his influence this Sunday extends even way beyond the field. Against Kansas City he will be the only player on defense to have started and won a Super Bowl, doing so against Tom Brady with the Giants in Super Bowl 46. He has an excellent opportunity to lead a lot of young Tampa Bay defenders, the same way he was led 9 years ago.
With Eric Fisher out of the game, JPP will have a chance to dominate a makeshift Kansas City offensive line. In their week 12 matchup, he found himself into the backfield on multiple 3rd down plays that resulted in Kansas City field goals. He would probably like to convert more of those pressures into sacks on Sunday, but his presence will be felt regardless. Getting pressure on Mahomes is the obvious key to beginning to slow down Kansas City’s offense, and for Tampa that starts with Pierre-Paul.
On the flipside of pressuring Mahomes, is a guy who will likely be inserted into the starting lineup following Eric Fisher’s injury. After Mike Remmers, who typically starts at right tackle, shifts to the left side, and Andrew Wylie, the normal right guard, kicks outside to tackle, it’ll be Wisniewski filling in the hole at right guard. The microscope will be fixed on Wisniewski early as he makes just his 3rd start of the year for Kansas City, this time in place of a former #1 overall pick.
However, adversity and change are nothing new for the 10-year veteran. After playing his rookie season at left guard in Oakland, he was quickly converted to center, starting for 3 more seasons before signing with Jacksonville for a year. He was then picked up by the Eagles moving back to the left guard for 3 seasons, while starting in, and winning, a Super Bowl on the way. Wisniewski then made his way to Kansas City for a year, playing every snap of their Super Bowl victory last year. He then signed a one-year deal with the Steelers, playing in just one game before being injured and eventually waived, all leading up to his return to the Chiefs. He will be counted on immensely to face a similarly scary defensive front, just as he did a year ago.
The Julian Edleman and Wes Welker comparisons have become just as racist as they are lazy. Standing at 5’9″ his playstyle resembles more of a Tyreek Hill than the previously mentioned players and while we rarely say this about a white athlete, Scotty Miller has freakish tendencies. His sub-4.4 40-yard dash time is the fastest of any of the Tampa Bay receivers and if you ask Kevin King (or anyone on Green Bay’s defense) he can very quickly get beyond any corner in this league.
The only formula that any team has laid down for beating the Chiefs this year was the Raiders in week 5. Las Vegas won that game 40-32, led by Derek Carr who had multiple long touchdowns passes. Henry Ruggs was the leading receiver in that game with 118 yards on just 2 catches. The player on Tampa Bay who projects most similarly to Ruggs and his speed is Miller; and with much more notable playmakers for the Chiefs defense to worry about, he could fall through the cracks and come up with one of the games biggest plays at any given moment, just as he did two weeks ago against the Packers.
If you do a quick Google search on the Chiefs depth chart, it won’t even list Thornhill as a starter for Kansas City. He technically is the backup free safety behind Daniel Sorenson who was considered an “other guy” this time last year. But Thornhill plays just as many snaps as many of the Chiefs starters and will certainly get his opportunities to make big plays against Tampa.
The Buccaneers’ offensive personnel will keep typical linebackers off the field more often than not this Sunday, which is exactly where Thornhill gets his playing time. Used a hybrid rover-type player, he is moved all around the defense wherever he will best benefit the team. While the other Kansas City defensive backs garner a lot of attention, Thornhill is going to have a chance to make a lot of underrate plays as he matches up with Gronk, covers running backs out of the backfield, and even at times line up opposite receivers in the red zone.
Not to mention the fact that while he is a second-year player, he didn’t get the chance to suit up in last year’s Super Bowl after tearing his ACL in week 17 last season. That injury is really what resulted in his move to a backup role, but the former Virginia star is salivating at his chance to make a big play on the grandest stage.
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Happy Super Bowl guys.