4-Down Territory: Senior Bowl stars, Super Bowl sleepers, matchups, and predictions!
Every week in “4-Down Territory,” Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Luke Easterling of Bucs Wire and Draft Wire go over the things you need to know about, and the things you need to watch, in the NFL right now. With the Conference Championship games in the rear-view, and Super Bowl LVII set with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, there’s a lot to talk about!
00:00 – Intro
01:16 – Which players stood out from 2023 Senior Bowl practices and the actual game?
07:32 – Who is the one Secret Superstar for either the Eagles or the Chiefs who could stand out in the Super Bowl?
12:21 – What is the biggest matchup nightmare for either team in this game?
16:50 – Who do you have winning Super Bowl LVII, what’s the final score, and why?
You can watch this week’s “4-Down Territory,” powered by KIA, right here:
Which players stood out the most at the 2023 Senior Bowl?
(Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports)
Before we get to Super Bowl LVII, let’s look back to the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl, since all but two teams are hyper-focused on the draft right now. Of all the players who participated in the practices and the actual game last week, which one stood out the most to you?
Doug: I have to go with running back Tyjae Spears of the Tulane Green Wave, because this guy is absolutely ridiculous. In 2022, Spears led his team to its best season since 1998 with a 12-2 record, and a 46-45 win over USC in the Cotton Bowl. Spears gained 1,586 yards and scored 19 touchdowns on just 231 carries, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He also had 22 receptions for 256 yards and two more touchdowns. And he wasn’t doing this against sub-par competition – in that Cotton Bowl game, he gave the Trojans fits with 205 yards and four touchdowns on just 17 carries, with one receptions for 14 yards.
Then, Spears went to Mobile, and he was just as unstoppable throughout the practices – just a personified highlight reel throughout the week. Spears isn’t the biggest back at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, and he does have an injury history (torn ACL), but if I’m an NFL general manager, I’m looking at this guy as somebody who can make my offense that much more explosive. Spears forced 63 missed tackles in his final collegiate season, including double digits in his final three games against Cincinnati, UCF and USC, so he’s not just a straight-line guy. I can’t wait to see what he does in the combine drills.
Luke: Spears is definitely at the top of that list. It’s wide-open running back class after the first couple of spots, and Spears could easily be a top-five guy in that group. Some others who really made the most of their week in Mobile: Georgia Tech EDGE/DL Keion White, Michigan State WR Jayden Reed, Wisconsin DL Keeanu Benton, Kansas State CB Julius Brents, Illinois S Sydney Brown. The Senior Bowl is always a great opportunity for prospects to prove themselves, and I think a lot of players took full advantage of that this year. I could easily list another 5-10 guys who boosted their stock this week, and I really can’t think of anyone who really disappointed in a big way, which is also great to see.
Which players have the best chance to be the Secret Superstars of Super Bowl LVII?
(Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
Now, onto the big game. Every year, there’s at least one hidden gem of a player who comes out of nowhere and has the game of his life to propel his team to the Lombardi Trophy. Who is the one Secret Superstar for either the Philadelphia Eagles or the Kansas City Chiefs that you think could be the Secret Superstar of Super Bowl LVII?
Doug: I’ll pick Eagles defensive back Avonte Maddox. He’s missed time with injuries this season, and he’s working through a toe injury to play in the game, but the Eagles’ on-off splits when it comes to Maddox are pretty telling. Maddox has missed 595 possible snaps this season with hamstring, ankle, and toe injuries, and he’s been on the field for just 417. When he’s on the field, Philadelphia’s EPA allowed drops from -0.03 to -0.17, and EPA allowed is better when it’s negative. Philly’s passing EPA allowed dropped from -0.05 to -0.25, completion percentage allowed went from 67.2 to 60.0, yards per attempt from 7.3 to 5.4, touchdown rate allowed from 5.7% to 2.1%, and interception rate rose from 2.7 to 3.3.
The Eagles have great outside cornerbacks in Darius Slay and James Bradberry, so when you add Maddox in the slot, that allows Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to work more at safety, and Philly’s defense just comes together. Maddox will be a guy to watch on Sunday.
Luke: I’ll take Chiefs CB Jaylen Watson. Watson barely missed the cut for a third-round grade in my rankings heading into the 2022 NFL draft, but the Chief somehow landed him in the seventh round, and have been reaping the benefits throughout his rookie season. He had a huge pick-six earlier in the season, a clutch one-handed pick last week against the Bengals. He’s got a great combination of size, length, athleticism, ball skills, instincts…everything you want in a corner. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith present a huge challenge for this secondary, but if the Chiefs pull this one out, don’t be surprised if Watson has a huge hand in making it happen.
Which Super Bowl matchup benefits one team the most, as the expense of the other?
(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
What is the biggest matchup nightmare for either team in this Super Bowl – the one thing that will keep coaches up for several sleepless nights trying to figure out this week?
Doug: It is without question the Eagles’ edge-rushers versus Chiefs offensive tackles Orlando Brown Jr. on the left side, and Andrew Wylie on the right. Philly has three edge defenders with double-digit sacks this season in Haason Reddick, Brandon Graham, and Josh Sweat. Defensive coordinator Johnathan Gannon can bring those guys in waves, and Reddick has been especially tough to deal with – he might be the NFL’s best pure pass-rusher right now. Both Brown and Wylie have struggled to keep Patrick Mahomes in the pocket this season. No offensive tackles have allowed more total pressures in the 2022 season than Brown with 56 and Wylie with 53, and both Brown and Wylie are specifically vulnerable to rushes in the back half of the arc. Bad news there is that Reddick, Graham, and Sweat can beat you around the pocket all day.
We don’t know how much Mahomes will be able to elude the rush with that high ankle sprain, and if the Chiefs need to leave extra players in to block in their frequent two- and three-tight end sets, that obviously reduces Mahomes’ options in the passing game. One more reason the Chiefs might want to tailor their offensive game plan to rookie running back Isiah Pacheco than people might expect.
Luke: I would love to disagree just for the sake of debate, but I can’t. This is absolutely the matchup, and unfortunately for Chiefs fans, it reminds me of what KC had to deal with in Super Bowl LV against the Bucs. The pass rush was relentless, the offensive line was inferior, and Mahomes was dealing with a nagging injury in that game, as well. It was a recipe for disaster in that blowout loss against Tampa Bay, and it could be a repeat performance if the Chiefs don’t have a better game plan to deal with it this time around.
Prediction time! Who's winning Super Bowl LVII?
(Cheryl Evans-USA TODAY Sports)
And finally, it’s prediction time. Who do you have winning Super Bowl LVII, what’s the final score, and why?
Doug: 31-24, Eagles. When I finished my piece on the 57 most important players in Super Bowl LVII, which afforded me the opportunity to go back and get forensic on Eagles and Chiefs players, so many things just tipped in Philadelphia’s favor. The Eagles are dominant on both the offensive and defensive line. They can fool you with all kinds of concepts out of 11 personnel, which could make it very tough for Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to be as aggressive as he wants to be. And that Chiefs defense has not been great against the run – kind of a problem against the NFL’s most productive and multiple run game. The Chiefs will make it a close game, but I see the Eagles doing to this opponent what they’ve done to so many this season – just wearing them down over time in every possible way.
Luke: 30-23, Eagles. I just think the Eagles are the more complete team, top to bottom, on both sides of the ball, and they’ve got a superstar playmaker at quarterback in Jalen Hurts who can match Patrick Mahomes. I expect this to be a well-coached game on both sides of the ball, but there are some weaknesses on the Chiefs’ side of things that just don’t exist for Philly. Again, it reminds me of the Chiefs’ last trip to the Super Bowl. The Bucs were clearly the more complete team in that matchup, and it showed bigtime. I don’t expect that kind of blowout this time around, but the Eagles should take care of business and finish off an incredible season with a Lombardi Trophy.