Watch CBS News

Potential Surprise Stars Of Super Bowl LIII For Patriots

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

ATLANTA (CBS) -- Perhaps the most unbelievable moment in sports history came in the Super Bowl four years ago. We all know it, we all remember it, and we now all know the name Malcolm Butler.

But outside of those who paid close attention to Patriots training camp and preseason in 2014, there weren't many football fans around the world who knew the name Malcolm Butler prior to those fateful events in Glendale. Afterwards, the world scrambled to learn the Butler story, from his time working at Popeye's to his unlikely rise to Super Bowl hero.

This year, we obviously don't know what's going to happen in Super Bowl LIII between the Patriots and Rams. But we can at least try to be proactive. So, if the Patriots do win, here are some people outside of the Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski/Julian Edelman stratosphere of fame who may end up being critical contributors. We're also taking a step back from the Devin McCourty/Stephon Gilmore/Dont'a Hightower level of national recognition.

While most followers of the Patriots will surely know these players well, the average national football fan may end up seeking more information as the game goes on. Here's a shot at being prepared.

J.C. Jackson

J.C. Jackson
J.C. Jackson (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Speaking of undrafted rookie cornerbacks who could make a huge impact on the Super Bowl, the Patriots have a new one.

Jackson, 23, originally signed with the Florida Gators, but left after facing armed robbery charges. (He was found not guilty.) After spending a year at Riverside City Community College, Jackson ended up at Maryland, where he played two seasons. He recorded three picks in 2017 and made 40 total tackles in each of his two seasons. He went undrafted in 2018 but signed with the Patriots.

After making the team out of camp in a crowded defensive backfield, Jackson impressed the coaching staff enough to earn a steady increase in snaps. He ended up playing 38 percent of the team's defensive snaps during the season and starting five games. He's started one of the team's two playoff games, playing 96 percent of the snaps against the Chargers and 98 percent of the snaps against the Chiefs.

He was flagged quite a bit in K.C., a result of his physical style of play. But if the officials are letting them play in the Super Bowl, he could cause headaches for the Rams' offensive attack.

The Offensive Line

New England Patriots v New York Jets
Tom Brady stands behind the Patirots' offensive line. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

You've hear a lot this week about Aaron Donald. Rightfully so. He's a one-man wrecking crew. Along with Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler, there's been lots of talk about the Rams' pass rush and the problems it can present.

But if that threat is neutralized on Sunday night, it'll be due to the work of the big bodies up front. They've received plenty of attention in their own right this week, but America ought to familiarize itself with the following setup: Trent Brown at left tackle, Joe Thuney at left guard, David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard, and Marcus Cannon at right tackle.

Add in Dwayne Allen as a blocking tight end, Rob Gronkowski as a do-it-all tight end who's helped tremendously both as a run and pass blocker, and fullback James Develin to the mix, and that entire function of the Patriots' offense has been among the most impressive aspects of this current run.

If they do their job, they all ought to receive plenty of praise on the game broadcast. (And if, in an unfortunate scenario, one of them gets injured, expect LaAdrian Waddle to step in at tackle or Ted Karras to step in on the interior.)

Kyle Van Noy

Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy strips the ball from Patrick Mahomes. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

A second-round pick playing in his third Super Bowl, Van Noy is far from an unknown. But he still lacks the national name recognition of, say, a Dont'a Hightower.

But last weekend's AFC Championship Game performance should have let the world know just what Van Noy is capable of for the Patriots. In that game, he sacked Patrick Mahomes twice, stripping the ball on one of them, and recording eight solo tackles overall. He also made a very important catch, when he caught a leaping Tom Brady amidst the overtime celebration:

Tom Brady
Tom Brady celebrates after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

He started 16 games this season for the first time of his career, recording a career-high 92 total tackles, while recording one interception and forcing one fumble. He had 3.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits, serving a multi-purpose role in the defense.

He may not have fully risen to Rob Ninkovich/Mike Vrabel status in terms of do-it-all linebackers, but Van Noy seemingly continually gets better at his job. Don't be shocked if you hear his name at a critical moment on Sunday night.

Trey Flowers

Trey Flowers
Trey Flowers (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

OK, locally Trey Flowers is beyond well known. But he's still criminally underrated from a national perspective. Criminally.

Trey Flowers is a monster. That's all you need to know. He's instrumental in stopping the run. He's huge in getting to the quarterback. His sack in Super Bowl LI was one of a handful of plays needed for that comeback to be possible.

Trey Flowers. He's rated better now. But he's not rated properly. He's well known at this point, but he should be getting near-Aaron Donald levels of attention. Trey Flowers is dynamic, people.

Lawrence Guy

Lawrence Guy
Lawrence Guy (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Patriots are going to need to stop Todd Gurley and/or C.J. Anderson from running all over them. Guy may be the central man in that effort.

Pro Football Focus rated Guy as the NFL's 10th-best defensive lineman in 2018, giving him an overall grade of 90 out of 100. For an indication of how much Bill Belichick appreciates Guy's work on the line, look no further than the team's decision to award Guy a $500,000 bonus last year, despite having no obligation to do so.

Another name to keep in mind in the run-stuffing effort is Elandon Roberts.

Cordarrelle Patterson

Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Obviously Patterson's pretty well known, but he's not on a ton of radars this week for his potential impact.

Patterson, 27, is something of a rare breed these days, as most teams lack an explosive kick returner. But Patterson remains very much dangerous, as evidenced by his 28.8-yard average on kick returns this season. He was one of just five players to return a kick for a touchdown this season.

The Rams were good at covering kicks this year, allowing 22.5 yards per return (12th-best in the NFL) without allowing one to be brought back for a score. But as we saw way back in Super Bowl XXXI, it only takes one moment for a kick returner to completely alter a game.

Patterson could also be a surprise contributor on offense, as well. His emergency role this year as a traditional running back helped him develop some really strong ball-carrying ability, and if he hits the corner running on a jet sweep, look out. He's overdue to break one of those.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.