Continuing to cover the non-Pro Bowl bases, SB Nation is proud to present the 2013 NFL All-Backup Team. None of these guys came into the season with a starting role, but when a starter went down, these guys went above and beyond the call of duty.
Nick Foles, Eagles - Michael Vick's Week 5 hamstring injury proved to be a blessing in disguise as Nick Foles came in to provide the accurate passing from behind the chains that Chip Kelly's offense needed to thrive. Foles' downfield passing ability and frankly insane 27-2 TD-INT ratio helped the Eagles capture the NFC East and cemented his place as Philly's QB of the future.
Fred Jackson, Bills and Giovani Bernard, Bengals - Fred Jackson looked ready for the glue factory during most of the 2012 season, but the old war horse had plenty of giddyup in 2013. With C.J. Spiller spending a good chunk of the season either injured, ineffective or more vomit-prone than anyone suspected, Jackson stepped into the breach and showed plenty of his old burst and vision while rushing for 4.3 yards a pop, hauling in 47 catches and scoring double-digit TDs.
Gio Bernard served as a "backup" to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but it didn't take much time to see who should see the majority of the touches in the Cincinnati backfield. Bernard was a surprisingly effective inside runner who really came into his own in the passing game, turning in an array of highlight-reel plays and setting the stage for what should be a breakout 2014 campaign.
Honorable Mentions - Pierre Thomas, Saints (Out-rushed Mark Ingram and out-caught Darren Sproles as an indispensable member of the New Orleans backfield); Rashad Jennings, Raiders (Reinforced the Iron Law of Running Back Fungibility by consistently out-playing former first-round pick Darren McFadden)
Harry Douglas, Falcons and Marvin Jones, Bengals - Harry Douglas looked ready for a third straight season of third-banana work behind Julio Jones and Roddy White in Atlanta. But with Jones lost to a broken foot and White dragging around a bum ankle for much of the season, it fell to Douglas to serve as the team's lead wideout for much of the year. Douglas rose to the challenge, notching a 1,000-yard campaign as he helped Matt Ryan keep the passing game respectable amidst the carnage of the Falcons' season.
Marvin Jones started the year on the worse end of a timeshare with the plodding Mohamed Sanu, but surged to the fore to claim the No. 2 receiver job. His season was highlighted by a buck-wild four-TD outburst against the Jets, but he also turned in six other scores while flashing considerable deep speed as well as the size and body control to be a consistent threat in the red zone.
Honorable Mentions - Jarrett Boykin, Packers (Filled in admirably during much of Randall Cobb's absence); Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings (No defense wanted to see this guy running a fly route or coming around the end on a jet sweep by the end of the season)
Jordan Reed, Redskins- Reed drew some Aaron Hernandez comparisons (the good kind) coming out of Florida, and he wasted little time in pushing aside underachievement poster boy Fred Davis to become RGIII's most trusted target in the passing game. A late-season concussion with some scary symptoms put Reed on the shelf, but hopefully he's ready to pick up where he left off in 2014.
Honorable Mentions - Charles Clay, Dolphins (Would have led the list if he hadn't started all 16 games -- did a great job of helping Miami survive the loss of Dustin Keller); Garrett Graham, Texans (When middle-of-the-field mainstay Owen Daniels went down, Graham was able to replicate a good bit of his production for Houston)
Chris Clark, Broncos and Anthony Collins, Bengals - When the Broncos' Ryan Clady went down in Week 2, there was concern in Denver as to how a 38-year-old Peyton Manning would thrive behind a backup left tackle. Things ... seemed to go OK. Manning snags part of the credit himself -- his sheer mastery of the short and intermediate passing game and ability to get the ball out quickly makes him an easy QB to block for. But by any measure, Clark handled opposing pass rushers with aplomb while also helping to enable Knowshon Moreno's comeback season.
If you've been following football for long, this next sentence will sound weird, but here goes -- the Bengals have amassed as much O-line talent as any team in the league. When starting guard Clint Boling was lost for the season, regular tackle Andrew Whitworth kicked inside to guard and Anthony Collins stepped in at left tackle. The Bengals' passing game didn't miss a beat as Collins surrendered pressure on a scant 2.8 percent of his pass-blocking snaps. Tackle-needy teams like the Cardinals or Dolphins should make the 28-year-old Collins a rich man in free agency.
Honorable Mentions - LaAdrian Waddle, Lions (Outplayed starting RT Corey Hilliard when the former was lost in mid-season); Marcus Cannon, Patriots (Turned in twelve sack-free games bouncing between left and right tackle to keep Tom Brady clean)
We may be cheating a bit with Whitworth since he's a starter at tackle, but his strong physical showing after kicking inside to guard for a re-shuffled Bengals OL deserves mention. As you'd expect, he had the feet to hold up in pass pro inside -- but he also had the physicality to bag Pro Football Focus' second-best per-snap run rating among all guards during his time inside. Hats off to a truly versatile talent.
Honorable Mention - Rodger Saffold, Rams (Another tackle-to-guard kick who was able to get down-and-dirty in the run game and may have established a future for himself on the inside)
Joe Hawley, Falcons - Pickings were pretty slim at center, thanks in no small part to a very healthy season for the league's pivot men. Hawley stepped in at midseason and did an adequate job outside of a Week 17 thrashing by the Panthers' stout front.
Interior Defensive Linemen
Malik Jackson, Broncos and Vinny Curry, Eagles - Considering the types of rotations that go on among most defensive lines, the designation of who is and isn't a "backup" can get tricky. There's no question, though, that Denver's Malik Jackson carved out a much larger role for himself as the season went on and made a case for Pro Bowl consideration thanks to his well-rounded play. He and Terrance Knighton anchored a tough Denver run defense, and chipping in six sacks and 37 hits/hurries made him a key component of the Broncos' pass rush.
There were plenty of questions about how the Eagles' defensive personnel would adapt to the 3-4 in Chip Kelly's first season, but one player who took to the system like a duck to water was Vinny Curry. A former 4-3 end, Curry added some weight for the 3-4 but made his mark as a pass rusher, notching the second-best pass rushing productivtiy mark among all 3-4 ends with at least 50 rush opportunities. Guys like Curry and Brandon Graham provided enough heat to keep the Eagles' vulnerable secondary from getting absolutely exposed down the stretch.
Honorable Mentions - Karl Klug, Titans (The lineman with the league's toughest name was plenty tough on guards and centers tasked with keeping him off the quarterback); C.J. Mosley, Lions (A force on run defense who kept the Lions' front stout against the run while rotating in with Suh and Fairley)
William Hayes, Rams and Everson Griffen, Vikings - While Hayes played behind starting ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long in St. Louis, he took a back seat to few when it came to per-snap productivity. His Pro Football Focus PRP number was sixth among 4-3 ends who logged at least 200 pass rush snaps, and when he subbed into the game, he and Quinn created a massive third-down headache for offensive coordinators.
Griffen has been rotating in with starting ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison for a few seasons in Minnesota, but he made a strong case for a starting role in 2014. Logging 20 run stops (tackles that prevented a successful running play) and a combined 52 sacks/hits/hurries as a pass rusher, Griffen was a bright spot on a struggling Vikings crew.
Honorable Mentions - Brandon Graham, Eagles (It's mystifying why one of the league's most productive per-snap rushers can't get more run); Mario Addison, Panthers (A Southern-fried version of Hayes who managed to create plenty of havoc in opposing backfields despite playing behind two upper-tier starters)
Malcolm Smith, Seahawks and Vincent Rey, Bengals - A rotational player who became a full-time piece after the loss of K.J. Wright, Smith kept the league's premier defense going strong. Smith is undersized but packs plenty of pop, and his speed and savvy in coverage helped the Seahawks' linebacker unit remain part of the secret behind the Legion of Boom's success.
When Bengals' MLB Rey Maualuga went down in mid-season, Rey stepped in and arguably played at a higher level than his predecessor. A well-rounded player who can also provide plenty of heat as a blitzer (he notched three sacks against the division-rival Ravens), Rey made a strong argument to start next season.
Honorable Mentions - Arthur Moats, Bills (An impressive rotational guy in the Bill's fast-improving D)
Byron Maxwell, Seahawks and Tramaine Brock, 49ers - Is it any surprise that the NFC West is deep in defenders? While other divisions' starters get cooked on the regular (*cough NFC East cough*), badass corners rise up like shark's teeth to fill in for fallen starters in the West. Byron Maxwell got his shot after Brandon Browner got popped for PEDs, and the Legion didn't miss a beat as Maxwell proved that he could be just as tough on opposing wideouts.
It took a little while for the 49ers to confirm that Nnamdi Asomugha was well and truly finished as a corner, but once they did they wasted little time in getting Tramaine Brock on the case. Frequently rotating in when Carlos Rogers would kick inside to take on slot receivers, Brock didn't back down from the challenge and bagged four picks from QBs who mistakenly thought he would prove easy pickings.
Honorable Mentions - Orlando Scandrick, Cowboys (The lone bright spot in a dismal secondary, Scandrick shone in the slot as well as outside when filling in for looming mega-bust Mo Claiborne); Brandon Boykin, Eagles (One of the league's top slot men)
George Wilson, Titans and Shiloh Keo, Texans - Wilson grabbed plenty of time as a third safety rotating with Michael Griffin and Bernard Pollard, and laid plenty of licks on opposing ball carriers while allowing a tidy 65.1 QB rating on passes thrown in his direction.
Keo was thrown into a starting role thanks to Ed Reed's slow return from off-season surgery, and ended up keeping that role as Reed's rust turned to rot and strong safety Danieal Manning also went down. Keo acquitted himself well, grabbing an interception and making his spot on the field one of the tougher places to throw for Houston opponents.