Six secondary standouts from football’s week that was:
1. Jalen Collins, CB, Falcons (NFL) — After the Falcons jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship game, the Packers drove into the red zone and were threatening to score. That’s when Collins stripped Green Bay fullback Aaron Ripkowski and also recovered the fumble. The Falcons scored on the ensuing drive, taking a 17-0 lead and cruising from there to a 44-21 victory and a spot in Super Bowl LI.
2. Brian Poole, CB, Falcons (NFL) — Las Vegas should have a prop bet available on whether or not Poole is going to catch Tom Brady with a highlight-reel hit during the Super Bowl.
In Atlanta’s playoff opener against Seattle, Poole popped Russell Wilson after the Seahawks QB fled the pocket to pick up some yards on the ground. It was a completely clean hit, and yet one of those in which you expect the refs to throw a flag anyway just because quarterbacks aren’t supposed to get hit that hard.
In the NFC title game, Poole made his presence felt again when he leveled Packers QB Aaron Rodgers shortly after Rodgers had thrown the ball. It was another clean shot by Poole (who finished with seven tackles) that wasn’t worthy of a roughing the passer call, but you wouldn’t have been surprised to see a flag due to the viciousness of the hit and the celebrity of the man who took it.
If Poole keeps this up, Brady has at least one hard hit coming his way on February 5 in Houston.
3. Malcolm Butler, CB, Patriots (NFL) — After the inevitable Tom Brady vs. Ben Roethlisberger story line, the most advertised individual matchup in Sunday’s AFC Championship game was the one between Butler and Steelers superstar WR Antonio Brown.
No, seriously: Brown and Butler are co-stars in a national-TV commercial for Visa Checkout and Papa John’s.
In the ad, Butler shadows Brown all over the city before intercepting a Papa John’s pizza that was intended for Brown; but then Brown gets Butler back on the field by blowing past him when Butler gets distracted by believing he has pizza sauce on his face.
In Sunday’s real-life game, Brown didn’t have it so easy. He caught seven passes for 77 yards and was kept out of the end zone while being primarily covered by Butler, who finished with four tackles in New England’s 36-17 victory.
Butler now returns to the Super Bowl, where he first became famous two years ago when, as a relatively anonymous undrafted rookie, he made the interception in the end zone that preserved the Patriots’ win over the Seahawks.
4. Eric Rowe, CB, Patriots (NFL) — New England’s win over Pittsburgh was already well out of hand by the time Rowe intercepted Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and returned it 37 yards to set up a New England field goal. It was the final score for the Pats in their 36-17 victory. Rowe’s INT was the only one of the game for either team.
5. Lorenzo Jerome, FS, Saint Francis (NCAA) — Jerome was named MVP of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (a postseason college all-star game) on Saturday, getting two interceptions for the Nationals team in their 27-7 win over the Americans.
Despite playing at an FCS-level school, Jerome is considered by many to be a top-10 free safety prospect in the NFL Draft. He was all-conference in each of his four years at Saint Francis, intercepting 18 passes in his career and finishing second in the country this past season in kickoff return average with 28.9 yards per return. Jerome scored eight touchdowns in college: three kickoff returns, two pick-sixes, a punt return, a fumble return and a TD catch while playing receiver.
6. Fabian Moureau, CB, UCLA (NCAA) — While the East-West Shrine Game itself was a 10-3 snoozer, some players still made great impressions during the all-important week of practice leading up to the game where NFL scouts are watching everything.
In a draft class that is considered deep in defensive backs, Moreau may have moved into the first-round conversation after his standout East-West Shrine practice sessions, according to some of the NFL Network’s top draft analysts.
Moreau had 31 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups this past season for the Bruins.