You’ll hear plenty about the Tom Bradys, James Whites, Julian Edelmans and Rob Gronkowskis of the world during the lead-up to Super Bowl LIII. Stephon Gilmore, Trey Flowers, J.C. Jackson and Devin McCourty will garner plenty of attention, too.
It takes more than stars to win a Super Bowl, however. Here are six less-heralded New England Patriots players who could play important roles in the team’s matchup with the Los Angeles Rams this Sunday in Atlanta:
James Develin, fullback
Sony Michel and the Patriots’ offensive line have received deserved praise for the resurgence of New England’s running game, but don’t forget about Develin, who played a season-high 41 offensive snaps in the AFC Championship Game.
One hundred sixty-eight of Michel’s 242 rushing yards in these playoffs have come with Develin on the field, and the veteran fullback has served as the lead blocker on all eight of the Patriots’ postseason rushing touchdowns (five by Michel, three by Rex Burkhead).
Only the San Francisco 49ers ran more plays out of 21 personnel than the Patriots did this season, and you can expect another heavy workload for Develin against a Rams team that ranked dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per carry.
Phillip Dorsett, wide receiver
A forgotten man during the short-lived Josh Gordon era, Dorsett has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Patriots’ last three games, including a 29-yarder late in the first half of last Sunday’s overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Brady has shown a willingness to look Dorsett’s way in key spots, and the 26-year-old wideout has rewarded his quarterback by catching a team-best 76.2 percent of his targets. Dorsett has a smaller role in the passing game than Edelman, Gronkowski or White but could see opportunities if the Rams devote too much attention to those three.
Joe Thuney, left guard
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald might be the best player in the NFL at any position, and 14 1/2 of his league-leading 20 1/2 sacks this season have come against opposing left guards. That makes Thuney, who’s played every single offensive snap this season and whom Bill Belichick called one of New England’s best players, the first line of defense against LA’s game-wrecking superstar.
Lawrence Guy, defensive tackle
The Rams boast two talented rushers in Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson, and Guy, while not a household name, is one of the NFL’s better run-stuffing D-tackles. He was Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest-graded interior defender against the run this season and 10th-best overall at his position.
Guy, Malcom Brown and potentially Danny Shelton (if he’s active) will play important roles on Sunday.
Jonathan Jones, cornerback
Jones was relegated to dime duty during the second half of the regular season, he surprisingly saw his playing time skyrocket last week when he was on the field for a season-high 79 percent of defensive snaps in the AFC title game.
The third-year pro was the player primarily responsible for covering Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill, and he, safety Devin McCourty and cornerback Keion Crossen teamed up to hold the All-Pro to just one catch on three targets.
Jones’ speed could be utilized again as New England looks to contain Rams wideout Brandin Cooks.
John Simon, edge rusher
Like Jones, Simon has taken on a more prominent role this postseason, playing 56 percent of defensive snaps in the divisional round and 60 percent in the AFC Championship after playing no more than 42 percent in any regular-season game.
The versatile veteran has made plays both as a run defender (one tackle for loss against the Los Angeles Chargers) and as a pass rusher (half a sack vs. Kansas City), and he’s regularly used in the “amoeba” defense that’s stymied Patriots opponents on third down since its unveiling in Week 13.
Thumbnail photo via Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports Images
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