Secret Superstars for Week 3 of the 2022 NFL Preseason: The Defense

With the final cuts just around the corner (every team needs to get their rosters down to 53 by 4:00 p.m. Tuesday), view the final week of preseason as a kind of Hunger Games. At this point, no he’s not just trying to impress his coaches and teammates but he’s just trying to hang on to the spot he has on the roster or push himself hard enough to make other teams notice.Maybe one of those teams will pick you up if you get cut .

Our secret superstar list for that final week of preseason has a lot of guys who may have evaded the Turk (the guy who comes to your room, knocks on your door, and quietly asks you to take your playbook to the manager’s office). head coach to let him know he’s off the team), or have done enough to remove any doubt about their veracity as starters in the league.

Time is ticking, oxygen is running out and everything is about to be real. Here are the under-the-radar players who did the most to advance their cases for themselves in Week 3 of the 2022 preseason. Since there were so many of them this week, we’re splitting the list into two parts. The Secret Superstars All-Offense team is here.

Sam Williams, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

(Troy McClure voice)

“Hello. I’m Sam Williams, pass-rusher for the Dallas Cowboys. You may remember me from plays like the silliest passer penalty of the 2022 NFL preseason. But I’m also a second-round rookie from Mississippi, and I’m trying to make my way in the NFL. This preseason, according to the good folks at Pro Football Focus, I racked up one sack, four quarterback runs and four stops in 132 plays. When my Cowboys faced the Seattle Seahawks on Friday night in our last preseason game, I was the first defender to force Seattle left tackle (and fellow rookie) Charles Cross to buckle under any kind of pressure.

“As Mr. McClure himself has said, ‘My good looks paid for that pool and my talent filled it with water!’”

Derek Rivers, EDGE, Houston Texans

(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Selected by the Patriots in the third round of the 2018 draft out of Youngstown State, Rivers has bounced around the league ever since, never amassing more than two sacks and eight pressures in a season. The Texans signed him to a one-year deal in March, and he was very solid this offseason. He had three sacks and 11 pressures in three games, and against the 49ers last Thursday, Rivers (No. 95) was a real problem for San Francisco’s outmanned offensive line, as this tackle for loss showed.

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Unfortunately, Rivers suffered a torn biceps in the San Francisco game, which means that he’ll miss the 2022 regular season. It’s a shame, as Rivers had put some really good plays on tape, but that’ll have teams looking at him in 2023.

Tashawn Bower, EDGE, Las Vegas Raiders

(Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

The Vikings signed Bower in 2017 as an undrafted free agent out of LSU, and he moved between Minnesota and New England over the next few seasons. Perhaps new Raiders head coach and former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels took note of Bower’s talent — Las Vegas signed Bower in April, and the veteran did his best to stick this preseason, with four sacks, 11 total pressures, and 10 stops in 159 total snaps. Those four sacks led the NFL this preseason, as did Bower’s five tackles for loss.

Bower (No. 96) presented serious problems for New England’s beleaguered line last Friday; he gave his old team what for with two sacks, a quarterback hurry, and four stops. This strip-sack of quarterback Brian Hoyer, in which Bower beat left tackle Justin Herron, was perhaps the splashiest play of a most impressive preseason.

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Matthew Butler, DI, Las Vegas Raiders

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Speaking of Raiders defensive linemen… new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has an abundance of riches with which to deploy his multi-faceted pressure packages. When you have Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones terrorizing tackles off the edge, that’s a good thing. And Butler, selected in the fifth round of the 2022 draft out of Tennessee, might be a hidden force multiplier on the inside. He was especially disruptive against the Patriots with a quarterback hit and four quarterback hurries, but he’s been a surprise standout throughout.

Grover Stewart, DI, Indianapolis Colts

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Stewart isn’t a secret here at Touchdown Wire — in 2021, we named him as the NFL’s best pass-rusher from the one-technique position, wreaking havoc between the guard and the center. Playing alongside DeForest Buckner will get you one-on-one opportunities, but Stewart can also create his own.

My favorite rep from Stewart against the Buccaneers last Saturday came with 7:31 left in the first quarter. This tackle for loss was an extension of the old Joe Greene “Stunt 4-3,” where Greene would line up at an angle, blow through the guard and the tackle, and blow up anything that moved. The 2017  fourth-rounder from Albany State continues to excel.

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Frankie Luvu, LB, Carolina Panthers

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Luvu played his first three NFL seasons with the Jets after they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Washington State in 2018. The Panthers signed him to a one-year deal in 2021, just in time for Luvu to excel in Phil Snow’s multiple defenses, and Carolina followed up with a two-year, $9 million deal in February.

Against the Bills on Friday, Luvu validated his team’s faith in his potential. He was all over the place as an off-ball linebacker, a blitzer in mug looks at the line of scrimmage, and an aggressive run defender.

Luvu (No. 49) also showed potential as a sideline-to-side defender who can blow up a screen pass from the middle of the field, when such things are required.

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Nahshon Wright, CB, Dallas Cowboys

(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

If you want a reason that former Falcons head coach and current Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will eventually get another shot as a head coach… well, you can start with the fact that Dallas’ defense rose from 23rd to second in DVOA in 2021, his first year there. Want another reason? Take a look at all the young defenders showing up and showing off under Quinn’s tutelage.

Wright, the 2021 third-round cornerback out of Oregon State is one of three Cowboys defenders in this week’s Secret Superstars list, based on his outstanding performance against Seattle’s passing game (such as it is these days). Wright allowed two catches on six targets against the Seahawks for eight yards. He also had this interception, and overall, he allowed an opponent passer rating of 2.8.

Last time we checked, that’s pretty good.


Greg Stroman Jr., CB, Chicago Bears

(AP Photo/David Richard)

The 2021 Bears had one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses, especially against the deep ball, where they allowed 11 touchdowns and had no interceptions on passes of 20 or more air yards. New head coach Matt Eberflus no doubt has his share of insights on how to fix that from his time as the Colts’ defensive coordinator, and the team went secondary-heavy at the top of their draft with second-round cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker.

Stroman, the former Washington (NFL) cornerback who hasn’t played since the 2020 season, showed against the Browns on Saturday that he’d like to help with that improvement process. He gave up two catches on six targets for 12 yards, this interception, an opponent passer rating of 2.8. Moreover, Stroman looked impressively sticky throughout routes he was covering when it was time to match receivers.

Michael Jackson, CB, Seattle Seahawks

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The Seahawks are a team in transition at just about every position, which leaves a lot of openings for enterprising young players. Jackson, a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2019 who has also spent time with the Patriots and Lions, looks like such a player. He’s allowed just six catches on 17 targets for Seattle this preseason, and though he has no interceptions, the tape shows a guy who’s been close more often than not. What has impressed about Jackson most of all is his intelligent aggressiveness when going after the ball — he has the speed and acumen to run routes with receivers, and he knows how to time his attacks for the ball.

“He’s played well,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said of Jackson on August 23, three days before he shut down just about every Cowboys receiver in his vicinity. “I’m really anxious for him to get another shot at it to do it again. I think he’s been one of the surprises to really step to the front not just to play and be a good ball player, but to really step up and make plays and make things happen, and very aggressively as well.”

So far, so good.

Jalen Pitre, S, Houston Texans

(AP Photo/Matt Patterson)

On Monday, Texans head coach Lovie Smith refused to name rookie running back Dameon Pierce as his Week 1 starter, despite the fact that Pierce has demolished the two NFL defenses he’s faced so far.

Smith had no similar reticence about the starting status of Pitre, the second-round rookie from Baylor who has reminded some (okay, me) of an embryonic Tyrann Mathieu with his ability to play all over the field, doing everything from blowing up run fits to covering the deep third and deep half with aplomb.

“I’ve told you about Jalen Pitre, that doesn’t mean I’ll tell you about everything else,” Smith said. “If I was going to tell you, I would’ve come out here and said that. We’re not naming any more positions. Since Jalen Pitre has been in the starting lineup the entire time that he’s here, that’s an easy one. With our running back position, I think you can see why we’ll kind of wait for that.”

Alrighty then! In any event, Pitre has more than earned Smith’s confidence. Opposing quarterbacks tested Pitre with three targets this preseason, and he didn’t allow a single completion. Smith has to love how aggressive and accurate Pitre is as a run defender…

Smith also had to like this play, where Pitre (No. 5) locked George Kittle up from the line of scrimmage, preventing Trey Lance from going to the easy outlet, and allowing cornerback Steven Nelson to break up the deep pass.

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“What we notice, is when you’re making a whole lot of big flash plays,” Smith said after the 49ers game. “Jalen has been consistent throughout. He’s a smart player. He’s been like a sponge as far as learning. But he’s going to be around the ball. That’s what we’ve seen since OTAs. I’m excited about going forward with him and him lining up for us when Indy comes into town.”

And there you have it.

Israel Mukuamu, S, Dallas Cowboys

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Another Cowboys defender in this piece? Verily. Dallas took Mukuamu in the sixth round of the 2021 draft out of South Carolina, and he played just 20 defensive snaps in his rookie campaign. There may be an uptick in 2022. In this preseason, Mukuamu allowed three catches on six targets for 47 yards, one touchdown, an opponent passer rating of 76.4, and these two interceptions — once against the Chargers in Week 2, and one against the Seahawks last Friday.

The play prior was this: Mukuamu (No. 24) crashing into the backfield to slow Chargers running back Joshua Kelley down.

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