Believe it or not, there will be players suiting up for Super Bowl 50 not named Cam Newton or Peyton Manning.
The history of the Super Bowl is dotted with players like Jack Squirek, Larry Brown and Malcolm Butler, relative unknowns who became household names in the Super Bowl.
The Panthers and Broncos reached the Super Bowl with the help of players who aren’t instantly recognizable but could rise to stardom in Super Bowl 50. Here’s a list of those players as well as some under-the-radar MVP candidates.
While the Panthers and Broncos battle to win coveted hardware, Thomas Davis will be playing with some hardware in his arm. The outside linebacker broke his forearm in the NFC championship game and will play in Super Bowl 50 with a plate and 12 screws in his arm according to ESPN.com. Davis, 32, was named First Team All-Pro for the first time in his career this season. He intercepted four passes, had 5.5 sacks and forced four fumbles, all career highs. He also made 75 tackles this season, one behind team leader Luke Kuechly. While Kuechly is the face of the Panthers defense, safety Roman Harper told The Charlotte Observer that Davis is more physical. That style of play could force a key turnover Sunday.
C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman share the running back workload for the Broncos. It’s tough to tell which one will emerge in any given week. One of them has to make an impact in Super Bowl 50. If the Broncos can’t move the ball on the ground, the Panthers pass rushers can pin their ears back and get after Peyton Manning. Anderson has carried the ball 55 times in the last four games and Hillman has carried it 51 times. Anderson has been a little more consistent in the playoffs. He ran the ball 15 times in the divisional round and 16 times in the AFC championship game, totaling 72 yards both times. Anderson failed to average four yards a carry in any of the first six games of the season, but could make people forget that disappointing start with a big game on Sunday.
Ted Ginn could go from ninth overall draft pick in Miami to non-factor in San Francisco and Arizona to a punchline for his dropped passes in Carolina to unlikely Super Bowl hero. Ginn dropped 10 passes this season, tied for second in the league according to Sporting Charts.
Prop Bet Fun #4 (thanks DC): Demaryius Thomas Plus Ted Ginn Jr Total Drops: 2.5
— cynthia frelund (@cfrelund) February 3, 2016
Ginn also tied for 10th in the regular season with 10 touchdown catches and averaged 16.8 yards per reception, tied for fifth among players with at least 40 receptions. Ginn showed how dynamic a playmaker he can be with his reverse-field, 22-yard touchdown run in the NFC championship game. He’s dangerous as a receiver, runner and punt returner. He was fifth in the league with an average of 10.3 yards on punt returns in the regular season. The meandering path of Ginn’s career would fade into the background with a game-breaking play on offense or special teams in Super Bowl 50.
Despite playing less than 50 percent of the Broncos’ defensive snaps, linebacker Shaquil Barrett tied with Von Miller for the team lead with four forced fumbles and was tied for third with 5.5 sacks. Barrett made his debut as a starter in place of an injured DeMarcus Ware in Week 6 and had 1.5 sacks, nine tackles, a forced fumble and a pass defended in a 26-23 overtime win at Cleveland. Barrett used to put sugar on his pasta, according to the MMQB, and went undrafted in 2014. The Broncos put him on their practice squad while he straightened out his diet. That tale could gain a lot more traction if Barrett makes a splash play or two in Super Bowl 5o.
Shaq Barrett is so good at turning the corner at the top of the pocket. Did it last week for a sack, would’ve had another if ball wasn’t out
— Mitchell Schwartz (@MitchSchwartz72) January 24, 2016
Rob Gronkowski caught eight passes for 144 yards and a touchdown against the Broncos in the AFC championship game. A lot of teams have trouble stopping Gronkowski, but the Broncos defense is average at best against tight ends. Denver ranked in the bottom 10 during the regular season with 914 yards allowed to tight ends. Greg Olsen caught more passes (77) than Gronkowski during the regular season. Olsen has a shot at being the first tight end to be named Super Bowl MVP.
If a tight end is named Super Bowl MVP for the first time, it probably won’t be Vernon Davis. He’s had just one pass thrown his way since Week 15 of the regular season. However, Levi’s Stadium is Davis’ old stomping grounds. There might be a little wrinkle in the game plan for the 32-year-old who was traded from the 49ers this season. Fellow tight end Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes in the AFC championship game, so he’ll get special attention from the Panthers defense. Davis, on the other hand, might come out of mothballs to help block the Panthers’ pass rush. Perhaps he’ll catch the defense napping and make a key catch or two.
Kurt Coleman was tied for third in the NFL with a career-high seven interceptions during the regular season. He added two interceptions in the NFC championship game, and somehow he’s still flying under the radar. Both of Coleman’s interceptions on Carson Palmer came when he was providing double coverage underneath. If Manning, with his declining arm strength, falls short on one of his intended targets, the pass could fall right into Coleman’s wheelhouse. Coleman is playing on his fourth team since 2013. He began his career with the Eagles, signed with the Vikings in 2014 before being released and then caught on with the Chiefs before coming to Carolina this season. The safety could go from the fringes of the NFL to a key role in the Super Bowl.
After T.J. Ward left the AFC championship game with an ankle injury early in the fourth quarter, Rob Gronkowski caught four passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. To that point, Gronkowski had four catches for 67 yards and no touchdowns.
Broncos safeties Darian Stewart (knee) and T.J. Ward (ankle) were limited. Both are expected to play in #SB50.
— Joe Person (@josephperson) February 4, 2016
The Broncos face another elite tight end in Greg Olsen and will need Ward to keep him in check. The strong safety also is a candidate to spy Cam Newton and keep him from hurting the Broncos with his mobility.