Super Bowl XLIX  


Offbeat Super Bowl MVP candidates: Jermaine Kearse and more


The Super Bowl is the ultimate showcase of star power, with Pro Bowlers routinely making pivotal plays throughout. However, history suggests an unheralded player could make the biggest play, the one that determines which team gets to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at game's end.

Last year, we watched Seattle Seahawks OLB Malcolm Smith rise from relative obscurity to become the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII. This year, I again expect a lesser-known guy to deliver a momentum-changing play that alters the outcome. Given some time to reflect on which players could be in position to make those plays, I've come up with six unconventional Super Bowl XLIX MVP candidates:

Seattle Seahawks

1) Jermaine Kearse, WR: The Seahawks' passing game ranked near the bottom of the NFL in the regular season, but Russell Wilson will need to make some plays through the air to move the ball consistently against the Patriots. Though he's viewed as the Seahawks' WR2 entering this contest, Kearse is the vertical playmaker Wilson leans on in the clutch. The third-year pro has 12 receptions of 20-plus yards over the past two seasons, including seven in 2014. Most importantly, Kearse has been a sensational postseason performer, notching touchdown receptions in four straight playoff games.

With the Patriots intent on slowing down Marshawn Lynch and limiting Doug Baldwin's effectiveness as the Seahawks' WR1, it's quite possible that Kearse's penchant for delivering "explosive" plays in the passing game could be the deciding factor in Super Bowl XLIX.

2) Kam Chancellor, SS: As one of the founding members of the "Legion of Boom," Chancellor frequently sets the tone for the Seahawks' suffocating defense with his physicality, toughness and playmaking in the back end. In Super Bowl XLVIII, Chancellor ignited the flame with his teeth-rattling shot on Demaryius Thomas in the early going. Against the Patriots, he could set the tone with a big hit on LeGarrette Blount in the hole or a statement blow to Rob Gronkowski in space.

Beyond establishing the tempo with his physicality and toughness, Chancellor could put a blanket around the Patriots' passing game by winning his one-on-one battle with Gronkowski on the perimeter. The All-Pro tight end routinely feasts on defensive backs with his imposing size, strength and aggressiveness, but Chancellor possesses the length, power and grit to hold his own against the Patriots' most explosive offensive weapon. If Chancellor neutralizes Gronk's overall effectiveness on Sunday, the safety could walk away with MVP honors.

3) Bruce Irvin, OLB: The Seahawks' defense is full of long, rangy athletes with the speed and agility to thrive in multiple roles along the front line. Irvin is a hybrid edge defender capable of wreaking havoc off the edges as a situational rusher or snuffing out tight ends as an aggressive defender in space. As a result, Irvin has the potential to fill out a stat sheet with sacks (6.5 sacks in 2014; 16.5 in his three-year career), interceptions (three career INTs, including two pick-sixes in 2014), forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.

Facing a New England offense predicated on timing and rhythm, Irvin could play a vital role as an active defender on the perimeter. From occasionally matching up with one of the Patriots' talented tight ends to putting his hand in the dirt and pursuing Brady on edge pressures, Irvin will have the opportunity to make a deciding play that propels the Seahawks to their second straight championship.

New England Patriots

1) LeGarrette Blount, RB: Despite recording largely pedestrian regular-season totals over the bulk of his career, Blount's been one of the Patriots' most important playmakers in the last two postseasons. He is the first player in NFL history with three-plus rushing touchdowns in multiple playoff games (in the 2013 AFC Divisional Round and the 2014 AFC Championship Game) and he has posted two of the top three rushing performances in Patriots postseason history. Blount gives New England the requisite hard-nosed workhorse runner needed to thrive against physical defenses in the postseason.

Seattle has been vulnerable against the run at times this season, and Blount could become the focal point of a conservative game plan built around a ground-heavy approach. From attacking the belly of the Seahawks' defense with a number of punishing inside runs to attempting to turn the corner on a handful of stretch/sweep plays, Blount needs to be an effective runner to keep the Pats on schedule against the top defense in football. Given the Patriots' 46-1 record under Belichick when the team has a 100-yard rusher, Blount's play and production will be critical to New England's success on Sunday.

2) Jamie Collins, LB: The Seahawks' top-ranked rushing offense will put tremendous pressure on New England's front seven. The brilliant execution of the zone-read by Wilson and Lynch will not only test the discipline and gap integrity of the unit, but it will challenge the overall toughness and athleticism of the defense. With the scheme forcing Pats linebackers to make a number of one-on-one tackles in space, Collins must be a dominant force to keep Seattle's running game under wraps.

Checking in at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Collins could be asked to play the quarterback or running back on the option; his ability to make fundamental plays at the point of attack will be crucial to holding Seattle under 4 yards per carry. The Patriots have struggled against teams utilizing various zone-read elements this season (see: September games at Miami and Kansas City), making it imperative for Collins to scrape and attack his assigned player. If Collins can help New England's front seven contain Wilson and Lynch on the ground while also making a few timely plays against the pass, he could finally get the attention he deserves as an emerging star in the league.

3) Julian Edelman, WR/PR: Despite the fact that Gronkowski is the Patriots' most potent offensive weapon, it is possible that Edelman could be the team's most important player in Super Bowl XLIX. The slippery slot receiver has amassed 197 receptions and 10 touchdown grabs over the past two regular seasons. Edelman has been targeted 10-plus times in six straight games and remains an effective complement to Gronkowski when the Patriots use a two-man game with various stack and bunch alignments. With the Seahawks poised to implement a variety of bump-and-run tactics, Edelman must win his fair share of battles between the hashes to keep the Patriots' passing game on track.

For all of Edelman's expected contributions as a receiver, I believe that his ability to make plays as a returner could be the reason he snags MVP honors. He has four career punt-return scores, notching 18 returns of 20-plus yards in six seasons -- impressive production for a veteran returner. Given the Seahawks' occasional struggles covering punts this season, Edelman's play in the kicking game could make him a Desmond Howard-like hero on Super Bowl Sunday.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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