Six secondary standouts from football’s week that was:
1. Devin McCourty, FS, Patriots (NFL) — Not one of New England’s defensive backs had a standout game statistically. Nobody made a very memorable big play or forced a takeaway. So, McCourty gets this spot under the Kawhi Leonard/Andre Iguodala NBA Finals MVP criteria: It’s not so much what he did, it’s more about what he prevented someone else from doing.
Just like Leonard and Iguodala were rewarded primarily for not allowing LeBron James to completely dominate the 2014 and 2015 Finals, respectively, McCourty’s biggest accomplishment in the Patriots’ 34-28 win over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI is that he didn’t allow Atlanta WR Julio Jones to dominate the game.
Jones had four catches for 87 yards and did not score. The most lethal deep-ball receiver in the league didn’t have a reception longer than 27 yards, which was in part due to McCourty, the Pro Bowl free safety who is the Pats’ last line of defense.
McCourty finished the game with five tackles, including one tackle for loss, to win his second Super Bowl championship. And he gets props for announcing after the game that he’s going to skip the Patriots’ visit to the White House.
2. Robert Alford, CB, Falcons (NFL) — If the Falcons hadn’t committed the biggest choke-job in Super Bowl history, Alford would’ve had a legitimate shot at winning Super Bowl MVP.
The fourth-year pro had an 82-yard pick-six in the first half that gave Atlanta a three-TD lead and appeared to be the dagger for Tom Brady and Co. before New England launched its comeback. Alford also recovered a fumble by Patriots RB LaGarrette Blount in the first half that set up the Falcons’ first score. He finished with 11 tackles.
3. Malcolm Butler, CB, Patriots (NFL) — As New England’s No. 1 corner, Butler was the man primarily assigned to cover Julio Jones, but of course the Falcons had a game plan that involved moving Jones around so that one guy wasn’t locked onto him the whole time.
Butler gave up some big plays while covering some of Atlanta’s other receivers — Taylor Gabriel dropped Butler one time like he was Hot Sauce crossing up some poor playground basketball player — and finished with just two tackles, but he deserves his share of credit for keeping Jones relatively in check.
4. Kenny Easley (NFL) — Easley played only seven years in the league, having his career cut short by kidney disease. But in that time he made five Pro Bowls as a strong safety for the Seattle Seahawks, five All-Pro teams (four times a first-teamer), and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1984.
A three-time All-American at UCLA and inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, Easley had 32 regular-season interceptions in the NFL, returning three for touchdowns. He also recovered 11 fumbles and made eight sacks. He had one interception and one sack in the playoffs.
Last week, Easley was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2017 along with running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis, quarterback Kurt Warner, defensive end Jason Taylor, kicker Morten Andersen and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
5. Landon Collins, SS, Giants (NFL) — Collins finished third in the voting for 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, which was awarded to Raiders pass-rusher Khalil Mack on Saturday.
Collins had 125 tackles, five interceptions (one returned for a TD), four sacks, one fumble recovery and 13 pass breakups this past season. He ranked 14th in the league in tackles, just three behind Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien for the most among DBs; he led all DBs in sacks; and he tied for fifth in the league in interceptions.
Collins led a Giants defense that ranked second in the NFL in points allowed, 10th in total yards allowed, and tied for third in rushing yards allowed. New York went 11-5 and made it to the NFC playoffs.
6. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jaguars (NFL) — Ramsey finished second in the voting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, which was awarded to Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa on Saturday.
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 draft had 65 tackles, 14 pass breakups and two interceptions (one pick-six) in his rookie season, starting from Day 1 and often being assigned to cover the opponent’s best receiver. His NFL initiation included 1-on-1 matchups with DeAndre Hopkins, Steve Smith Sr., Alshon Jeffery and Amari Cooper, and he handled himself more than adequately.