Brandon Fusco has earned Pro Football Focus’ “Secret Superstar” designation, meaning he’s flown under the radar as a top performer for the Minnesota Vikings:
When the season came to a close, Fusco’s +14.5 overall grade was bested only by Louis Vasquez and Larry Warford at right guard, and Fusco’s +11.6 run block grade ranked fifth among all guards. He was an average pass blocker (+0.9), but he showed significant growth from 2012. His Pass Blocking Efficiency jumped to 15th out of 59 guards and he gave up one or zero pressures in ten of the 15 games. Fusco may not have had many big blocks that stood out, but his solid play was quite consistent throughout the year.
Indeed, Fusco may have been the best performing lineman on the roster despite improvement from Phil Loadholt and big names like Matt Kalil and John Sullivan playing alongside him. He is Pro Football Focus’ 9th-ranked guard overall, and as Matt Claassen at PFF indicates, the third-best right guard in the league.
As PFF indicates, Fusco’s career as a starter began poorly, and he won what was an open competition at right guard seemingly by virtue of injury—Geoff Schwartz had been rotating with Fusco, but could not take significant preseason snaps nor be available for the beginning of the season due to an abdominal injury.
Schwartz did end up rotating with Fusco late in the season and significantly outperformed him, leveraging that into a one-year contract with Kansas City, then signed with the New York Giants, where he is the presumed starter at left guard.
Despite that rocky start and worrisome season, Fusco played extremely well in 2013. It was games like his in Chicago (+4.9) that earned him such a positive showing, and he proved to be the run blocker the Vikings were hoping for when they drafted the mean Rimington Award winner from Slippery Rock.
In addition to his run-blocking prowess, Fusco held his own in the passing game as well. Only giving up two sacks (along with only four quarterback hits and 17 hurries), he was Minnesota’s best pass protector—every other starting lineman gave up at least four sacks, and only Sullivan gave up fewer hurries or hits.
Though Loadholt and Sullivan graded higher, PFF’s system normalizes all grades to their position, so numeric grades are not comparable to each other across different positions. That Fusco ranked ninth of 81 (the 89th percentile) may speak better for him than Loadholt ranking 10th of 76 (the 86th percentile), and Sullivan’s third-ranked performance (of 35, the 91st percentile) is marred by his very poor play at the start of the season. On the offensive line, consistency is king.
Fusco and Sullivan are perhaps proof-of-concept for the Vikings’ strategy of grabbing interior linemen late in the draft nearly every year. Since 2008, general manager Rick Spielman has drafted seven interior offensive linemen in the fifth-round or later, including John Sullivan and Brandon Fusco.