Ahead of the divisional round of the 2020 NFL playoffs, here’s a safety-heavy look at one player from each remaining team who could make a big difference Saturday or Sunday despite not being the center of attention at the moment.
Los Angeles Rams S John Johnson III: Especially if Aaron Donald isn’t 100 percent due to a rib injury, the underdog Rams might need the underrated Johnson to step up in the secondary. At the very least, he can allow Donald and Co. to pin their ears back on Aaron Rodgers by limiting running back Aaron Jones as a rusher and a receiver.
Green Bay Packers edge Rashan Gary: The sophomore first-round pick doesn’t get as much attention as Za’Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander, Darnell Savage, or Adrian Amos, but he quietly put up 3.5 sacks and increasingly promising Pro Football Focus grades in the final five games of the regular season. If veteran Andrew Whitworth handles Smith up front, a lot could fall on Gary’s shoulders.
Baltimore Ravens S DeShon Elliott: This came down to Elliott and fellow safety Chuck Clark, both of whom have performed extremely well under the radar in their first full seasons as NFL starters. But Elliott is likely to play a bigger role in pass defense against MVP candidate Josh Allen.
Buffalo Bills S Jordan Poyer: Not only will the steady veteran be tasked with playing a huge role in limiting Lamar Jackson’s damage on the ground, but Poyer has a knack for the big play, and it might take just one of those to make the difference in wha’s expected to be a very close game.
Cleveland Browns LB Sione Takitaki: The Browns defense is oft-maligned beyond Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, but the second-year third-round pick has flashed playmaking ability during the second half of his debut season as a starter off the ball. He intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in the wild-card round.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins: Watkins is fighting a calf injury and coming off a season that lacked a single 85-yard performance, but he put up 288 yards in last year’s playoffs and could be set for another big January. If Ward handles Tykree Hill, a lot could fall on the veteran Watkins against Cleveland.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Antoine Winfield Jr.: The sensational rookie might not be deep under the radar at this point, but Winfield is still overshadowed by Tampa’s stacked front seven. He’ll be counted on heavily against Alvin Kamara in particular.
New Orleans Saints: S Marcus Williams: Meanwhile, the relatively well-known but still underrated Williams has the playmaking ability to alter Sunday’s game with a turnover off of Tom Brady and Co. Brady will have to consider him while focusing on Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore.