USA Today Images

Under-the-radar players pushing Philly teams forward

Carson Wentz, Fletcher Cox, Malcolm Jenkins, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux ... the city of Philadelphia now has its share of big-time players. Stars, if you will. It feels good to say that because that was not the case all that long ago. 

Gone are the days when James Anderson leads the Sixers in scoring or DGB is starting for the Eagles. There's no denying that talent wins — ask any coach. You can draw up the greatest plays in the world, but if you don't have the players to execute, it doesn't matter. And while the cupboard is beginning to fill with lead actors, let's recognize those understudies who may have snuck up on us a bit to play a bigger role in their team's success than we thought. 

Patrick Robinson
He looked so lost in training camp this summer that many observers, including myself, thought he wouldn't make it to final cuts. He was playing on his third team in as many years and at 29 years old and entering his eighth season, he appeared on his way out of the league. But aided by a move to the slot and a better grasp of Jim Schwartz's scheme, Robinson slowly but surely improved. He's consistently covered well and been a sure tackler. 

Robinson's turnaround is one of the more remarkable storylines of the Eagles' amazing start. Pressed into duty because of injuries, the veteran Robinson and the youngster Jalen Mills have been perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise of the season.

Jake Elliott
Speaking of Eagles coming out of nowhere, when Caleb Sturgis went down after Week 1, it appeared the Birds would be going on the kicker carousel tour, populated by the likes of Mike Nugent and Nick Novak. But to Howie Roseman and crew's credit, they found a winner in Jake Elliott. 

The rookie, a fifth-round pick who was sitting on Cincinnati's practice squad, is a remarkable 8 of 9 from 40-plus yards, 5 of 6 from 50-plus and 1 of 1 from 60-plus. You might remember that 61-yard cannon shot to win the Giants game. 

Excluding a couple of missed PATs in the wet conditions Sunday vs. the 49ers, Elliott has been money.      

T.J. McConnell
While our Sixers focus has been on Embiid's play and health and Simmons' ridiculous skill set, one of the other players who catch your eye and admiration night in and night out was undrafted and given little chance of playing in the NBA out of college. 

McConnell surprised many when he stuck with the Sixers in 2015. Most thought he was nothing more than a "camp body" with no chance of making the team, even one with as little talent as the Sixers. So even after making the team initially, he was written off as just another name in a parade of guys who wore a Sixers uniform during that time. He'd be gone before you knew him, as the club did its best to fill out a roster while trying to lose to ultimately win. 

But each game, each year, McConnell showed his mettle. He's transformed himself into a quality NBA role player, not a novelty with great hair. The mere thought of him guarding a James Harden would have made you cringe a few years ago. But now he is that guy. He has also made himself a decent threat from the outside, something that was not in his arsenal until this year. He's done it through hard work, something not lost on his teammates.

Robert Covington
Covington, much like McConnell, was not drafted coming out of Tennessee State in 2013. And after signing with Houston, he bounced between the Rockets and the G-League, even winning the league's rookie of the year honors. But he was waived in October 2014. 

The next month, Sam Hinkie and the Sixers signed him. Covington came here with the reputation of being a standstill shooter. And while that is still a key component of his repertoire, he's diversified his game and is now one the better stretch-three defenders in the league. He will soon be paid big bucks.  

So while the stars get most of the shine, let's celebrate some of the better supporting acts in the city.