Who the hell are Connor Cooke and Zach Zenner? And why should we care about a backup running back in Pittsburgh?
Because often times in the NFL playoffs, it’s the no-names that rise up to account for those inches that make the difference between winning and losing.
Stars like Aaron Rodgers and Odell Beckham Jr. are gonna do what they do. That’s what’s expected of them. It will be no shock to see Le’Veon Bell run through Wild Card weekend like a hot knife through butter.
But you better take note of the guys who are no longer riding the bench like they were at the beginning of the 2016 season. That way you won’t be surprised when you keep hearing an unfamiliar name come out of the mouth of Joe Buck or Troy Aikman.
Here’s 5 players who are not household names but could help propel their team closer to a shot at destiny in the eventual Super Bowl.
Lamar Miller could be the difference in the game when the Raiders roll in to Houston. Neither team is expected to wow the football-crazed world on Saturday when it comes to offensive explosions. Houston is stuck with Brock Osweiler back at QB1, and a rookie has to take over for Oakland.
Miller is not Adrian Peterson but did rack up 1073 rushing yards on a team without a passing threat to loosen up defenses. Look for Bill O’Brien to lean on the run game with this mundane but steady runner leading the way.
Nobody wants to see the playoffs without Le’Veon Bell giving defensive coordinators ulcers by halftime. But just in case something happens to Bell, the Steelers won’t be undone. They relied on DeAngelo Williams to start the season while Bell was resting (suspended for another failed drug test).
Williams scored three touchdowns in the two wins as the starter and gained 237 in those games. Williams has amassed over 8,000 as a pro, so he is fully capable of stepping in when needed.
Ty Montgomery is just as likely to gain ten yards for Green Bay as he is to go over 100 on the ground versus the Giants. This kid has filled in for the Packers as the team has had backs dropping like flies since midseason. He’s not a true running back, but if he can even come close to his 162-yard day he had versus the Bears in week 15, the Pack will be tough to stop in round one.
Zach Zenner. Everybody loves a good story about a running back that doesn’t appear to even belong in the League. But Zenner is all Detroit has at the moment. Injuries have forced this second-year man to step to the plate. He racked 111 yards in the Green Bay loss to wrap the season up.
Of course, he’ll find the trekking much more difficult in Seattle on Saturday night. Now, this Seattle defense is not the Death Star it once was. Zenner could be the X-factor that helps kick Seattle out of the playoffs in round one for once.
Now for the poor rookie who has been shoved into the limelight. Connor Cook will be the first NFL QB to be starting his first pro game in the playoffs. Kinda like learning to water ski in shark infested waters.
While I wouldn’t bet on Cook if he were dueling it out with Tom Brady, the kid is on even ground with his opposing passer, Brock Osweiler. Cook doesn’t have to light up the scoreboard in Houston. The Texans offense ranked 28th in points per game, just .9 points ahead of the Browns.
We know little about Cook’s pro ability. But we can take a glimpse at his college stats. In three years as Michigan State’s starter he had a TD / INT ratio of 70/21. He’s not incapable clearly, but then again that was college.
To give some comparison though, Russell Wilson had a 92/29 TD / INT ratio in his last three years in college.
I’m not looking for Connor Cook to turn into Russell Wilson over the course of one game. You shouldn’t either, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lead his Raiders to a win on Wild Card weekend.
The playoffs have a way of turning no-names into stars, if only for a weekend.