Who are the best players set to play in Super Bowl LVII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs?
It’s a valid question, and there are no Super Bowl teams who make it with a bunch of scrubs and no stars.
Perhaps a more valid question as we start to look at the matchups that define this upcoming game is, which players are the most important to their teams? Since this Sunday’s Super Bowl is the 57th, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to rank the 57 most important players in this game. The obvious players of paramount importance are up top as you might expect, but as you go down the list, there are all kinds of players you may not know much about who could come out of nowhere and make the difference in their team’s quest for the Lombardi Trophy.
I did not include Chiefs receiver Mecole Hardman (who probably would have been Top-20) on this list, based on what Andy Reid said this week regarding the pelvic injury he suffered in the AFC Championship game.
“I think it will be tough for him. I doubt that he’ll make the Super Bowl. But listen, like I said, he wasn’t going to be denied the other day. It’s a tribute to the kid, he just pushed himself like no other. And he’s a tough nut. He’s all smiles with you, but when it comes down to playing, he’s a tough, tough kid.”
So, with that aside, and with copious tape study and a ton of metrics as my guide, here are my 57 most important players to take the field in Super Bowl LVII.
(All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus, Sports Info Solutions, and Football Outsiders unless otherwise indicated).
1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
It’s not just that the Eagles lead the NFL in solo sacks with 67, or combined sacks with 77, and they’re up there with the best teams in pro football history in those numbers. It’s also that Jonathan Gannon’s defense has combined for 318 total pressures, fifth-best in the league. So, even when Philly’s defense doesn’t get home to your quarterback, which they do more than any other team in recent history, they’re more than capable of upsetting what the opposing quarterback would like to do.
Unless the opposing quarterback is Patrick Mahomes. In which case, you probably just have to accept the big play based on the impossible throw, and move on to the next play. Not much more you can do. In the 2022 season, including the playoffs, Mahomes has been pressured on 275 of his 804 dropbacks. He has completed 107 of 218 passes under pressure for 1,448 yards, 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a passer rating of 78.7. You might zap him once in a while, but he’ll also do insane things like this 27yard completion to receiver Justin Watson in Week 17 against the Broncos, with EDGE Jonathan Cooper right in his face on a stunt.
In the matter of pressuring Patrick Mahomes, acceptance of failure is the first step to enlightenment. pic.twitter.com/HRgwfOPefL
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) February 3, 2023
In the postseason under pressure, Mahomes has been surgical. He’s completed 17 of 26 passes for 179 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 110.9. So, he’s amped that up at the perfect time for this particular opponent. This was the case despite the fact that his high ankle sprain, suffered against the Jaguars in the divisional round. On this 25-yard completion to Marques Valdes-Scantling against the Bengals in the AFC Championship game, Mahomes used his uncanny pocket movement abilities and eerie arm talent to get it done.
Most quarterbacks who face Philly’s pass rush are the ones who feel the pressure — literally and figuratively. In Mahomes’ case, the onus is on Philly’s pass rush to get home, or suffer.
2. Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Hurts became a legitimate MVP candidate in his third NFL season, and while there are multiple attributes involved, the two things the Chiefs most need to be concerned about are Hurts’ deep ball, and his ability to run for touchdowns. This season, Hurts had completed 24 of 63 passes of 20 or more air yards for 892 yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a passer rating of 105.7. Here is where the Chiefs are somewhat vulnerable. They’ve allowed 25 of 51 deep passes for 847 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 96.2.
As was the case on this 35-yard completion to A.J. Brown in the divisional round against the Giants, all it takes is a flick of Hurts’ wrist for that deep ball to happen.
Hurts is also the NFL’s most devastating running quarterback from a productivity and efficiency perspective. He’s run 184 times this season for 823 yards, 259 yards after contact, and 15 touchdowns. He also has 33 RPO runs for 211 yards, 84 yards after contact, and six of those touchdowns. Not even the 49ers’ top-tier defense could contain him in the NFC Championship game.
This could be a major problem for the Chiefs, who have allowed 86 quarterback runs — designed or not — for 518 yards, 176 yards after contact, and four touchdowns.
3. Chris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs
Hurts’ picture changed quite a lot when under pressure this season — not that he was under pressure a lot behind the NFL’s best offensive line, but when he was, he completed 54 of 120 passes for 664 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 66.8 — quite a downturn from his 111.0 passer rating when not under pressure.
And this is where Chris Jones comes in. The Bengals had no answer whatsoever for Jones’ ballistic pass-rush moves in the AFC Championship game. He had two sacks, three quarterback hits, and five quarterback hurries against the Bengals, and his efforts stopped enough drives to make the point that he was the game’s most valuable player.
As we’ll often mention in this piece, the Eagles have the best — and the most well-schemed — offensive line in the NFL. But they have not seen anyone who can wreck a line like Jones can.
The Eagles will likely match Jones with a lot of double-teams, and they’re very good at that. But Jones has been doubled in one manner or another on nearly half his snaps this season, and he has seven sacks, 17 quarterback hits, and 27 quarterback hurries under such conditions. Three of those sacks came in Week 11 against the Chargers, who clearly identified Jones as Public Enemy No. 1 before the game, put as many guys on him as possible, and watched in horror as nothing worked.
Justin Herbert’s escape from the pocket on this sack seems especially relevant to Mr. Hurts’ potential efforts in the Super Bowl. If you have to run out of Chris Jones’ way, your best bet is to keep running as far and as quickly as possible.
4. Jason Kelce, C, Philadelphia Eagles
If Jones has been the NFL’s best interior defensive lineman this season (and he has been), it’s nice from a matchup perspective that Jones will be doing his thing in part against Eagles center Jason Kelce, who could lay equal claim to the top of the rock at his position. Guards Landon Dickerson and Isaac Seumalo will also factor heavily into this, and we’ll get into both of them later, but we really need to start with Kelce.
On 710 pass-blocking snaps this season, Kelce has allowed no sacks, no quarterback hits, and 11 quarterback hurries. Not bad for a center who’s not only calling all the protections, but also has to adjust his own internal compass for a quarterback who likes to run a lot.
Kelce is also a force multiplier in Philly’s awesome run game, because he can hold the point of attack with pretty good power and excellent technique, and when he hits at the second level, he rarely misses. The Eagles don’t create all those explosives in the run game without No. 62 in the middle. You can ask 49ers defensive tackle Arik Armstead and linebacker Dre Greenlaw about that, based on this 17-yard Kenneth Gainwell run from the NFC Championship game.
The Chiefs, who have been league-average in stopping short-yardage runs, and below that in their ability to stuff running backs and prevent big runs at the second level, should see Kelce as a primary threat.
5. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, the Kelces are the first set of brothers to play each other in any Super Bowl. So, we’ll get that storyline out of the way before you hear it in 50,000 other places and move along to the generational threat this particular Kelce presents to any defense — even defenses that are very good against tight ends, which the Eagles’ is. Only the Bills, Cowboys, Saints, and Browns have allowed fewer touchdowns to tight ends in the 2022 season than Philly’s — they’ve given up 86 passes to tight ends on 128 attempts for 856 yards, those three touchdowns, three interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 84.0, fifth-best in the league. Also, the Eagles allowed no completions on two attempts of 20 or more air yards to tight ends this season.
So, they’ve got that going for them, which is nice. Also, Kelce has just three receptions of 20 or more air yards on 12 targets this season for 109 yards and no touchdowns.
Not that it matters, because Kelce will just kill you with the short-to-intermediate stuff. He leads the league among tight ends this season on passes of 0-19 yards in targets (150), catches (110), yards (1,326), yards after the catch (595), broken tackles (13), and touchdowns (13). Kelce has generated 82 first downs on short-to-intermediate passes; Mark Andrews of the Ravens ranks second among tight ends with 46.
So, the Eagles are very good against tight ends overall, but they have not had to deal with Travis Kelce. This could be a big problem for them, because Travis Kelce has not just been the NFL’s most productive and frightening tight end this season; he has been so by a ridiculous margin.
To shorten this analysis, we can say two things: Travis Kelce isn’t obviously fast in the open field, and it doesn’t matter, because he can do things like THIS.
6. Haason Reddick, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles
The Cardinals took Reddick out of Temple with the 13th overall pick in the 2017 draft, spent three misbegotten seasons trying to turn him into an off-ball linebacker, let him finally succeed in the edge position he was born to play, and then let him loose in free agency. Reddick had a great 2021 season with the Panthers on a one-year deal, and then signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Eagles before the 2022 season.
Philly’s defense hasn’t been the same since. Reddick comes into this Super Bowl with 21 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 48 quarterback hurries, and 35 stops. He had two sacks and three hurries in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, taking over the game against some odd blocking concepts. Putting backup tight ends and receivers on perhaps the NFL’s best edge defender in the 2022 season seemed weird, and Reddick chopped right through those ideas, to the great dismay of San Francisco’s quarterbacks.
This sack with 7:03 left in the first quarter basically ended Brock Purdy’s season.
“That was the perfect storm of the play call and Reddick just not reacting to the run sell at all,” 49ers center Jake Brendel said, via David Lombardi of The Athletic. “He just ran straight to the quarterback. Whenever you’re looking at a play-action play, you’ve got to be able to expect the D-line to react to the run sell first before being able to have an opportunity to throw with the ball after. It’s not on anyone. It’s just a play that just wasn’t going to be good from the beginning just because of how Reddick played the play.”
Neither of Kansas City’s offensive tackles are ideally equipped to deal with Reddick’s pass-rush palette; a fact that could show up over and over in the game unless the Chiefs keep extra players in to protect Patrick Mahomes.
7. Lane Johnson, RT, Philadelphia Eagles
Johnson, Philly’s best overall offensive lineman, has missed 189 snaps and played 912 snaps this season. When he’s in that front five, the Eagles are just about impossible to stop. When he wasn’t due to an abdominal injury, it coincided with Jalen Hurts’ shoulder injury, so the Eagles were left with Gardner Minshew at quarterback, and Jack Driscoll at right tackle. Not exactly the ideal.
Johnson returned for the playoffs, as did Hurts, and Johnson allowed no sacks, no quarterback hits, and just two quarterback hurries in 57 pass-blocking snaps. This included multiple snaps against projected Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, who presented challenges to Johnson at times over those one-on-one snaps, but Johnson gave as good as he got — even when he had to jump multiple gaps to keep up with Bosa.
The Chiefs have some quality edge-rushers, but nobody on Bosa’s level, unless defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo kicks Chris Jones outside. Accordingly; Johnson will be expected to hold everything down on the right side. As the Eagles have run the ball 174 times for 982 yards and a league-high 11 touchdowns to gaps marked right tackle or right outside, Johnson’s presence will be crucial in all aspects of the game.
8. Orlando Brown Jr., LT, Kansas City Chiefs
Before the 2022 season began, Brown and the Chiefs had a contractual kerfuffle that ended with Brown playing on the franchise tag at $16.662 million. Kansas City had traded multiple picks to the Ravens for Brown, including their 2021 first-round pick, so the hesitation to give him a long-term deal after that was puzzling… until and unless you watched Brown’s first full NFL season at left tackle.
Brown allowed six sacks in 2021, and all of them showed vulnerabilities on the back half of the arc. The four sacks he’s allowed in the 2022 season showed similar issues, whether it was this takedown given up to Anthony Nelson of the Buccaneers in Week 4…
…of this one allowed to Texans undrafted rookie Jake Hansen in Week 15.
Now, Brown has to deal with (checks notes) Haason Reddick, Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, and the rest of Philly’s nightmare lineup of edge-rushers. It will be up to Brown to stay within himself both physically and mentally against one of the biggest challenges he’s ever faced. Even Patrick Mahomes can only do so much to evade constant pressure.
9. A.J. Brown, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
In his first starting season of 2021, Jalen Hurts completed 26 of 75 passes of 20 or more air yards for 829 yards, four touchdowns, six interceptions, and a passer rating of 61.5. In 2022, Hurts has completed 24 of 63 deep passes for 892 yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a passer rating of 105.7.
The difference, beyond Hurts’ own development and second-year receiver DeVonta Smith coming into his own, was the Eagles’ preseason decision to trade the 18th and 101st picks in the 2022 draft to the Titans for receiver A.J. Brown. And with that, the Eagles had a dominant vertical passing game. Brown said that he wanted to make his former team regret devaluing him, and he managed to do that quite distinctly in his Week 13 game against Tennessee, when he caught eight passes on 10 targets for 119 yards, and two touchdowns. What he did to cornerback Kristian Fulton on this 40-yard touchdown was… a statement.
It’s a statement the Chiefs might not be ready to address — this season, Kansas City has allowed 25 deep completions on 72 attempts for 847 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 96.2. Brown and Smith are now aligned to create pure hell for enemy defenses on deep throws, especially when those defenses are paying so much attention to Philly’s run game.
10. Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and his staff absolutely nailed the 2022 draft. One of Kansas City’s best finds in that draft was Pacheco, taken with the 251st overall pick in the seventh round out of Rutgers. Pacheco had 62 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in his regular-season debut against the Cardinals, and he had an 11-carry, 63-yard game against the Buccaneers in Week 4. Then, a few relative disappearing acts before he became Kansas City’s feature (and future) back. Now, there is no question regarding that status.
From Week 10 (when he really started to take off), Pacheco ranks ninth in the NFL in carries (108), third in rushing yards (754), seventh in yards after contact (469), sixth in yards after contact per attempt (3.17), and tied for fifth in runs of 15 or more yards (six). This 16-yard run against the Bengals in Week 13 shows Pacheco’s patience, explosiveness out of his cuts, and power on the move.
The Eagles will slow-play Kansas City’s aggressive defensive tendencies because it’s what they do; the Chiefs might do the same to Philly’s defense because they can with Pacheco. And from a matchup perspective, this would absolutely favor the Chiefs. The Eagles’ defense, for all their pass-rush and coverage acumen, is among the league’s worst when it comes to defending short-yardage rushing situations, and stopping backs in the open field.
11. L'Jarius Sneed, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have successfully rolled with three (!) rookie cornerbacks this season in Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams, and Jaylen Watson, which is pretty exceptional. One reason they’ve been able to do so is the fact that Sneed, the third-year man from Louisiana Tech, has taken an insane amount of targets — 115, which leads the league. He’s allowed 81 catches for 713 yards, 402 yards after the catch, five touchdowns, three interceptions, six pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 90.2. Two of those interceptions came on Russell Wilson WTF balls, so keep that in mind, as well.
Sneed’s stats aren’t amazing, but he provides a crucial service to this defense in that he’s the big (6-foot-1, 192), smart, aggressive cornerback who can align with opposing No. 1 receivers and at least keep things in check. One imagines that he’ll be on A.J. Brown a lot in the Super Bowl, with the rookies providing ancillary aerial support. In those reps, Sneed can keep up with Brown on deep and YAC stuff, and he can also defend DeVonta Smith and other receivers on intricate shorter routes, as he showed against Brandon Aiyuk of the 49ers on this pass deflection in Week 7.
Sneed is also a great blitzer — he has four sacks, a quarterback hit, and 14 quarterback hurries this season. It has been No. 38’s preference to blast off the edge and disrupt your quarterback if he’s not doing something in coverage.
12. Andrew Wylie, RT, Kansas City Chiefs
No offense to Wylie, the undrafted fifth-year man from Eastern Michigan, but the most vulnerable matchup for either team could very well be Kansas City’s right tackle against the Eagles’ foreminded ferocious pass rush. This season, Wylie has allowed nine sacks (fourth-worst in the NFL), five quarterback hits, and 39 quarterback hurries. His 53 total pressures allowed this season is second-worst in the league, behind only… Orlando Brown.
We’ve already gone over the Eagles’ outside pass rush in the Orlando Brown slide, and Wylie will be similarly tasked to do a lot better than he did against other premier pass-rushers. He allowed two sacks this season to both Maxx Crosby of the Raiders and Von Miller of the Bills, and even when he was facing edge defenders at a tier below as he was against Carl Nassib of the Buccaneers in Week 4, this matador technique isn’t going to work.
And if the Chiefs have to start bringing other players in to help Wylie and Brown keep up, that obviously limits their options in the passing game.
13. James Bradberry, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
One of the many reasons that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has been the NFL’s best executive over the last year is his ability to spot, and capitalize on, the mistakes of others. The Giants had to release Bradberry before the season because Dave Gettleman had put them in salary cap purgatory, and Roseman jumped on that with a one-year deal with $7.5 million in base salary and another $2.5 million in incentives. Bradberry responded with his best season in a seven-year career, allowing 44 catches on 94 targets for 473 yards, 155 yards after the catch, four interceptions, two touchdowns, 12 pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 51.4.
Perhaps most importantly for this game, Bradberry has been great against tight ends, allowing three catches on seven targets for 26 yards, no touchdowns, an interception, and an opponent passer rating of 53.3. That should come in handy against that Travis Kelce guy, and in general against the Chiefs’ two- and three-tight end packages, which they use a lot these days.
14. Javon Hargrave, DI, Philadelphia Eagles
While Kansas City’s offensive tackles are points of major concern, the Chiefs’ interior offensive line is just fine with left guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey, and right guard Trey Smith. The Eagles will counter with a formidable lineup of interior defensive bashers, and none is more of a problem than Hargrave, the perennially underrated seven-year veteran who had enjoyed his best overall season in 2022. Hargrave has 12 sacks this season, tied with Washington’s Daron Payne and Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward for fourth-best in the NFL among defensive tackles, and he also has tallied six quarterback hits, 46 quarterback hurries, 11 tackles for loss, and 33 stops.
Built like the proverbial rolling ball of butcher knives at 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds, Hargrave has spent his time about equally at nose tackle and dealing with guards. His power is obvious and estimable, but as 49ers left guard Aaron Banks could testify from the NFC Championship game, it’s Hargrave’s speed to and though the pocket that gives him that extra added oomph.
That Chiefs interior line will have to “oomph-proof” their protections, or Patrick Mahomes will be running out of the pocket a lot on Sunday.
15. Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr., LB, Kansas City Chiefs
We’re going to cheat on this slide and put two players here — the Chiefs’ two primary linebackers in Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. Because when the Eagles’ offensive line and run game demolish Kansas City’s defensive line (which will happen from time to time), Bolton and Gay will be pressed to limit the damage.
Let’s start with Bolton, who the second-most tackles in the run game among linebackers this season with 102, behind only Jacksonville’s Foyesade Oluokun, who finished his 2022 season with 109. Bolton can hold at the second level, but Steve Spagnuolo has liked to deploy Bolton on run blitzes to great effect. Bolton has 10 tackles for loss this season, and quite often, he’ll acquire them by crashing through any gap with his hair on fire, and getting to the running back as quickly as possible, as he did against Jeff Wilson of the 49ers for a one-yard loss in Week 7.
Gay has nine tackles for loss this season, and while he can also crash through, he’s very good at waiting and attacking as the play develops. These skills will be of paramount importance against an Eagles run game that can slow-play you to death. Gay dumped Samaje Perine of the Bengals for a five-yard loss in Week 13 by watching, waiting, and going after it when the time was right.
The responsibility for keeping the Eagles from turning five-yard runs into 25-yard runs starts here.
16. Darius Slay, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
If there’s one play that perfectly summarizes Darius Slay’s outstanding 2022 season, and his value to the Eagles’ defense, it was his first of two interceptions against the Vikings in Week 2. Slay was defending Justin Jefferson on both picks, which is kind of a big deal as Jefferson is probably the NFL’s best receiver.
With 10:01 left in the third quarter and Minnesota on the Philadelphia 19-yard line, Slay ran Jefferson’s route better than Jefferson did, and came up with the pick.
Slay appeared on the “All Things Covered” podcast with Bryant McFadden and Patrick Peterson not long after that game, and he got into how he approaches his work against younger receivers like Jefferson.
“When you’re a young and talented guy, man, you think everything works,” Slay said. “I’ve played this game so long — I know what you’re gonna do. I know your tendencies, I know what you like the most. He had a lot of tales for me to steal on film. Young guys don’t see, but I see that because I like to watch film a lot. Every tale I did was truthful.
“The first pass breakup I had, it made me confirm that’s what he does. That early? It’s gonna be a long night for anybody. No matter what type of talent you have or how much better you feel like you are than me, that means I really got your tale on what you do.
“What I watched on film and what I watch how his release is… that’s why I made the plays I did.”
Slay’s enviable combination of cornerback acumen and physical ability allowed him to give up just 44 catches on 80 targets this season so far for 536 yards, 155 yards after the catch, four touchdowns, three interceptions, nine pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 76.9. No matter which Chiefs receiver he’s covering in the Super Bowl (and like James Bradberry, Slay is excellent when covering tight ends), Patrick Mahomes and his targets had best be aware of what Big Play Slay brings to this game.
17. Creed Humphrey, C, Kansas City Chiefs
At any point in Super Bowl LVII, Humphrey, the Chiefs’ second-year center, might have Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Linval Joseph, or Ndamukong Suh right in his face, or to either shoulder. It’s a tall order for any center, but Humphrey has proven able to handle such things as a preternaturally high level. He’s allowed no sacks, two quarterback hits, and 17 quarterback hurries in 861 pass-blocking snaps this season, and while he’s not a huge headbanger at 6-foot 4 and 302 pounds, Humphrey has opened more than his share of lanes for a Kansas City run game that has seen improvement in productivity and efficiency over the second half of the season, and into the playoffs.
18. Brandon Graham, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles
Haason Reddick is unquestionably the rock star of Philadelphia’s outside pass rush this season, but Graham — another one of those edge-defenders who has gone through his entire career underrated — isn’t far behind. Like Reddick, he was selected 13th overall in his draft (in Graham’s case, by the Eagles in the 2010 draft out of Michigan), and in Graham’s case, his effectiveness has been hidden behind relatively low sack numbers, obscuring his ability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. This has been a career season for Graham with his 14 takedowns, and he’s still bringing tons of pressure outside of sacks, with four quarterback hits and 37 quarterback pressures. Not bad for a veteran who missed most of the 2021 season with a torn Achilles tendon.
As he showed on this sack of Daniel Jones in the divisional round, Graham has one speed when it comes to pass rush, and it doesn’t matter how many obstacles are in the way. Here, Giants tight end Daniel Bellinger pushed him down to the ground right at the start of his rush, and Graham recovered to get past right tackle Evan Neal, and accelerate all the way across the pocket for the takedown.
Graham is yet another reason that Andy Reid may be reaching for an extra cheeseburger or two when considering what Philly’s edge guys can do to his offensive tackles.
19. DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Smith became a real problem for NFL defenses in his second season with the Eagles, as the 10th overall draft pick in 2021 out of Alabama bumped his receptions up from 68 to 103, his receiving yards from 976 to 1,293, and his receiving touchdowns from five to eight. Jalen Hurts’ progression as a quarterback helped, as did the addition of A.J. Brown via trade, but Smith also had to up his game, which he did with authority.
Smith had already shown his ability to break a defense with the deep ball, but in 2022, it was also how he could take a quick pass of any kind, and just house an opponent with speed and agility. Here, against the Saints in Week 17, the Slim Reaper took a simple tunnel screen for a 25-yard gain.
Smith has also advanced the nuances of the position — here against the Cowboys in Week 16, did a great job of fitting himself between cornerback DaRon Bland and safety Donovan Wilson in Dallas’ Cover-2 as he completed his sideline pattern, and showed some toe-drag swag on the way for a 23-yard gain.
The Chiefs will absolutely have their hands full with the Brown/Smith duo on every kind of route, all over the field.
20. Trent McDuffie, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
It’s not often (if ever) that a team takes three rookie defensive backs all the way to a Super Bowl as key players. The 1981 49ers of Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, and Carlton Williamson come to mind, but stop me if you can think of another. The 2022 Chiefs have accomplished this rare feat with cornerbacks Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams, and Jaylen Watson, plus safety Bryan Cook. That’s FOUR. That’s how you ace a draft. Well-done, Chiefs GM Brett Veach and staff.
Let’s start with McDuffie, the Washington alum selected with the 21st pick in the 2022 draft. He hasn’t managed an interception this season, but he’s allowed just 38 catches on 60 targets for 359 yards, 161 yards after the catch, three touchdowns, and an opponent passer rating of 96.5. McDuffie’s rookie season took an unexpected turn when he was placed on injured reserve following a hamstring injury suffered in the Chiefs’ regular-season opener against the Cardinals. So, he didn’t see an NFL target until Week 9 against the Titans.
McDuffie does have eight pass breakups this season, and this one against the Jaguars in the divisional round may well have been a pick had he not gotten crossed up with Cook.
At 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, McDuffie has the boundary speed and aggressiveness to hang with bigger receivers (like A.J. Brown), and the movement skills to deal with more angular receivers (like DeVonta Smith) on shorter routes. Expect to see him tested heavily by either or both of Philly’s best targets.
21. Frank Clark, EDGE, Kansas City Chiefs
Clark’s ability to get after the passer will be important in the Super Bowl, and he’s done that this season to the tune of nine sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and 34 quarterback hurries. But Clark’s presence will also be crucial when it’s time to defend Philly’s run game, which will be a lot of the time. Clark has four tackles for loss in the run game this season, and he’s excellent at waiting, watching, and going after the running back when it’s time to get that done.
Clark can also scream into the pocket to deal with running quarterbacks on designed runs, as he did with Josh Allen on this two-yard loss in Week 6. This would seem to be a valuable skill against one Jalen Hurts.
22. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
When the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins last March, there was a great hue and cry as to how Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy would replicate the efforts of the NFL’s best deep receiver in Kansas City’s passing game. Turns out, they already had a plan to acquire the guy they wanted in that role. Hill’s nameplate was barely off his locker in the Chiefs’ facility when Kansas City signed Valdes-Scantling, the former Packers receiver, to a three-year, $30 million contract with $15 million guaranteed.
MVS had been a sneaky-good deep target with Green Bay, and he’s taken his talents to his new team quite estimably. This season, he has 13 catches of 20 or more air yards on 25 targets for 395 yards and two touchdowns. Not quite Hill’s numbers with the Dolphins (19 deep catches on 39 targets for 669 yards and five touchdowns), but MVS also isn’t on a four-year, $120 million contract with $72.2 million guaranteed as Hill is.
Valdes-Scantling had two of those deep catches in the AFC Championship game against the Bengals, showing his speed off the line, toughness to separate from coverage, and skill in exploiting open space.
Why is this important in the Super Bowl? Because the Eagles have been vulnerable to deep receivers this season, to put it kindly. They’ve allowed 17 completions of 20 or more air yards on 44 targets for 586 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 125.9 that is the NFL’s second-worst, behind only the Titans.
23. Juan Thornhill, S, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have done a nice job of redefining their safety group in the post-Tyrann Mathieu era with Thornhill, the fourth-year man from Virginia, and new addition Justin Reid, acquired via free agency in March. But let’s start with Thornhill, selected in the second round of the 2019 draft, who has become an estimable deep defender. He’s allowed 25 catches on 42 targets for 248 yards, 97 yards after the catch, four touchdowns, three interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 78.3.
When the Eagles try vertical routes to the boundary from one side of the formation, and from the slot to the other (which they may well do), Thornhill will be there to make those concepts more difficult to complete, as he did on this Trevor Lawrence pass to Christian Kirk in the fourth quarter of Kansas City’s divisional round win over the Jaguars.
24. Jordan Mailata, LT, Philadelphia Eagles
Lane Johnson is Philly’s best offensive tackle, but Mailata isn’t too far behind, which is pretty amazing given his history. Born in Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia, he was a rugby player whose athleticism caught the eye of the NFL, and he was scouted by Eagles line coach and run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland as he entered the International Player Pathway Program. Philadelphia selected him in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, and as he developed through some injury obstacles, Mailata became a presence as the Eagles’ starting left tackle.
This season, his third as a starter, Mailata has allowed six sacks, one quarterback hit, and 32 quarterback hurries — but only two sacks, one quarterback hit, and 19 quarterback hurries since Week 10. Mailata has good movement skills for a guy his size (6-foot-8, 365 pounds), but where he really shines is when it’s time to dominate in the run game. His test against the Chiefs’ speed-rushers will be to keep his giant frame under control, and recover from first moves throughout the rep.
25. George Karlaftis, EDGE, Kansas City Chiefs
Mailata might see some of Karlaftis, the first-round rookie from Purdue, but Karlaftis has excelled all over the line in his inaugural NFL season. Karlaftis failed to impress some evaluators as a tweener type at 6-foot-4 and 263 pounds, but the Chiefs loved his versatility and constant effort, and Karlaftis has shown all of that to an impressive degree.
Like Frank Clark, Karlaftis can come out of the Chiefs’ defensive fronts to rush the passer, but he can also wait for run plays to develop, and then shut them down. He zapped Josh Jacobs of the Raiders for a near-safety on this Week 18 tackle for loss.
26. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
One of the most interesting things about the Eagles’ offense is its penchant for running so much of their stuff out of 11 personnel — one tight end, one running back, and three receivers. Creating explosive running plays out of passing personnel is a Philly special these days, and Sanders has been a big part of that all season. This season, out of 11, Sanders has run the ball 177 times for a league-high 953 yards, 454 yards after contact, and five touchdowns.
When you combine this with Jalen Hurts’ ability to run out of 11 (107 attempts for 589 yards, 204 yards after contact, and nine touchdowns), it becomes quite difficult for defenses to figure it all out. This 13-yard touchdown run against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game showed how well it all works together.
The Chiefs, who have allowed 1,075 yards, 552 yards after contact, and four touchdowns on 239 carries out of 11 this season, will obviously want to be aware of all potential reactions.
27. Justin Reid, S, Kansas City Chiefs
No NFL defense has played more snaps of two-high coverage than the Chiefs’ 329, and that makes sense when you have the aforementioned Juan Thornhill and Justin Reid in your quiver. In Cover-2, 2-Man, Cover-4, and Cover-6 this season, Kansas City has allowed 215 completions for 2,185 yards, nine touchdowns, seven interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 84.5.
Jalen Hurts has done well against two-deep coverage this season, but passing touchdowns have been hard to come by — just three of his 24 have come against these four coverages. This Cover-2 snap against the Chargers in Week 2 showed how Reid can come down out of a two-deep look and nuke a potential completion — in this case, an attempt from Justin Herbert to tight end Gerald Everett.
28. Fletcher Cox, DL, Philadelphia Eagles
Cox is 32 years old, and he’s not 100% the player he was a few years back when you couldn’t talk about the NFL’s best defensive linemen without mentioning his name, but to dismiss him as a veteran holding on for dear life would be a huge mistake. This season, he’s amassed nine sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 22 quarterback hurries, and 21 stops. In a rotation with everyone else in this preposterously talented front, Cox could well make more of an impact in this Super Bowl than some might imagine.
29. Dallas Goedert, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles get most of their plays, big and otherwise, in the passing game from A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. But Goedert is third on that list, and it’s important to note that the Chiefs have not defended tight ends well this season. They’ve allowed 83 catches to tight ends on 129 attempts for 876 yards, nine touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 100.8. Just one of those touchdowns allowed came on throws of 20 or more air yards — it’s more about tight ends who can wreck you on short and intermediate stuff, which plays perfectly to Goedert’s skill set.
If you’re playing the Eagles aggressively, as the Giants were on this Goedert touchdown in the divisional round, you’d better watch out for picks and switches that create openings. The Chiefs need to be aware.
30. T.J. Edwards, LB, Philadelphia Eagles
We talk a lot about Philadelphia’s defensive line, and a lot about their defensive backs, but you don’t improve on defense as much as the Eagles have without credible play from your linebackers. Edwards, the fourth-year undrafted man from Wisconsin, has seen his snaps increase exponentially in each of the last four seasons, which is generally a good sign that your coaches believe in you. This season, on 1,129 snaps, Edwards has two sacks, 11 total pressures, 130 tackles, 52 stops, and 49 catches allowed on 73 targets for 359 yards, 270 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, no interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 78.5.
Edwards also has six pass breakups on the season, and if you’re running mesh or other short crossers over the middle, he might be the guy asked to break that up. Which he can do. He’ll be a sneaky-important short-area defender in this game.
31. Avonte Maddox, DB, Philadelphia Eagles
On-off splits are always weird, because while they give you a sense of a player’s value in his presence or absence on the field, it’s always about so much more than the presence or absence of one player. That said, the Eagles’ defensive splits with and without Maddox on the field this season are… well, noteworthy. Maddox has missed 595 possible snaps this season with hamstring, ankle, and toe injuries, and he’s been on the field for just 417. When he’s on the field, Philadelphia’s EPA allowed drops from -0.03 to -0.17, and EPA allowed is better when it’s negative. Philly’s passing EPA allowed dropped from -0.05 to -0.25, completion percentage allowed went from 67.2 to 60.0, yards per attempt from 7.3 to 5.4, touchdown rate allowed from 5.7% to 2.1%, and interception rate rises from 2.7 to 3.3.
This is not to say that Maddox is the NFL’s best slot cornerback, which is his primary role with the Eagles. But when you watch the tape, there is some credibility to the idea that this defense is better with him than without him. From the slot this season, Maddox has one interception, and he’s allowed no touchdowns. Every other slot defender for the Eagles this season? You’ve got a combined two interceptions (both by Josiah Scott) and seven touchdowns allowed — four by Scott, two by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and one by Marcus Epps.
Maddox is expected to play in the Super Bowl as he recovers from a toe injury. The Eagles certainly hope to see the full-blast version of his skills on the field. Because when Marquez Valdes-Scantling is blasting off from the slot, you want a guy who can do things like walling off Steelers rookie alien George Pickens as Maddox did here out of Cover-1.
32. Trey Smith, RG, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs stole Smith in the sixth round of the 2021 draft out of Tennessee, and he became a big part of Kansas City’s massive offensive line re-design following a loss in Super Bowl LV that saw the Chiefs start five different linemen in Smith’s rookie campaign. Then, he allowed five sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and 42 quarterback hurries as he worked to match his technique to his physical attributes. That process took several steps forward in 2022, as Smith dropped his sacks allowed to two (none since Week 14), his quarterback hits allowed to three (just one in two playoff games), and his quarterback hurries allowed to 36. Smith has also dropped his penalty total from 11 in his rookie season to six this year, and he’s become one of three reasons that Kansas City’s interior offensive line is a real bear to deal with.
33. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DB, Philadelphia Eagles
A lot of things had to go the right way for the Eagles to rise from 25th in 2021 to sixth in 2022 in Defensive DVOA. One of those things was the August trade for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, the safety and slot specialist who has been a revelation in Philly’s defense. He’s played just about everywhere in Johnathan Gannon’s defense, allowing 39 catches on 50 targets for 314 yards, 167 yards after the catch, four touchdowns, six interceptions, three pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 79.9.
One of Gardner-Johnson’s two interceptions of Dak Prescott in Week 6 showed what a danger he can be to any quarterback. Playing single-high in the deep third, Gardner-Johnson closed ground at a frightening rate to erase what looked like an easy touchdown to CeeDee Lamb. Lamb had cornerback James Bradberry beaten badly, but Gardner-Johnson was not having any of it.
Wherever Patrick Mahomes thinks Gardner-Johnson is before the snap, he’d better check again before releasing the ball.
34. Joe Thuney, LG, Kansas City Chiefs
Thuney is one of those guys who just annoys the crap out of you when he blocks you. At 6-foot-5 and 304 pounds, he’s not specifically physically imposing in any way, but he’s so technique-sound, getting a sack against him is like finding treasure on a very large beach. The metrics prove the point. Over the last five seasons — three with the Patriots and two with the Chiefs — he’s allowed five sacks. Total. There are guards who make the Pro Bowl who allow five sacks in a season.
Moreover, Thuney has allowed just 17 quarterback hits and 73 quarterback hurries over those five seasons… on 3,731 pass-blocking snaps. Thuney is also a good run-blocker, but it’s his ability to negate inside rushers by any means necessary that makes him so valuable to Kansas City’s offense.
35. Kadarius Toney, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
The Giants selected Toney out of Florida with the 20th overall pick in the 2021 draft, and failed to get much out of him in his rookie year. That things didn’t go much better at the start of the 2022 season under new head coach Brian Daboll — who brought entirely new chapters of a functional offensive playbook to Big Blue — would seem to cast Toney as a bust.
The Giants traded Toney to the Chiefs in October, and as a few half-smart analysts predicted, it’s been a very good fit. Andy Reid is better with “gadget guys” than perhaps any other offensive coach of his era, and Toney has been an explosive play factory in Reid’s concepts — be it from the backfield, the slot, or outside. As he proved on this 38-yard play against the Broncos in Week 17, when you get Toney in space intelligently, good things tend to happen.
Will Reid have something up his sleeve for Toney against the Eagles? We should know to expect the unexpected.
36. Isaac Seumalo, RG, Philadelphia Eagles
This we know, and we have already discussed: Chris Jones vs. Jason Kelce pits the NFL’s best pass-rushing interior defensive lineman against the NFL’s best center. But if Jones is in full Reggie White mode as he was against the Bengals in the AFC Championship game, even Kelce is going to need some help from time to time. So, we’re looking at both of Philly’s guards as big factors — not just in the Eagles’ peerless run game, but also in keeping Jones from wrecking everything.
So, let’s start with Seumalo, who has allowed one sack, three quarterback hits, and 18 quarterback hurries on 710 pass-blocking snaps. And like left guard Landon Dickerson, who we’ll discuss next, Seumalo is quite good at teaming with Kelce and others to double-team defenders right off the screen to open holes for whichever Eagle is running the ball. He’s also happy to wall defenders off by himself, as he did to San Francisco’s Arik Armstead on this Kenneth Gainwell 17-yard run in the NFC Championship game.
37. Landon Dickerson, LG, Philadelphia Eagles
Now on to Dickerson, the second-year man from Alabama, who has allowed one sack, three quarterback hits, and 16 quarterback hurries on 671 pass-blocking snaps. And like Seumalo, Dickerson can blast defenders to an impressive degree in the run game. Not that 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is on the same level as Chris Jones, but if Jones has to deal with Dickerson and Jason Kelce doubling him as they did Kinlaw on this six-yard Miles Sanders touchdown run… even Jones might have to shake his head and wonder what the heck.
38. Noah Gray, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
One of the many ways in which the Chiefs’ offense has changed this season (what we can credibly call the post-Tyreek Hill era) is the extent to which they’re putting two and three tight ends on the field. Patrick Mahomes has more dropbacks (235) with two tight ends than any other quarterback, and he has more dropbacks with three tight ends (74) than any other quarterback. And Mahomes’ numbers in both personnel concepts should be terrifying for any defense.
With two tight ends: 159 of 221 for 1,692 yards, 814 yards, 14 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 111.3.
With three tight ends: 50 of 65 for 711 yards, 326 air yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 151.3.
So, it’s about more than Travis Kelce, and Gray is the second-most prolific tight end in these packages. He has 30 receptions on 36 targets for 330 yards and a touchdown, and it’s that occasional explosive play he can make when you’re trying to cover everyone else that makes Gray dangerous in a small sample size sense.
On this 29-yard completion against the Jaguars in the divisional round, the Chiefs had three tight ends on the field (Kelce, Gray, and Blake Bell), and it was Gray who beat Jacksonville’s Cover-3 with the kind of intermediate crosser you’d expect from Kelce.
39. Josh Sweat, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles
Yet another dynamite Philly edge-rusher, and yet another serious challenge for Kansas City’s outside protectors. The Eagles’ pass rush comes in waves, and Sweat has 15 sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 26 quarterback hurries this season so far. Sweat has really turned it on in the second half of the season — since Week 12, he has four games with multiple sacks (11 in total over that time), and that includes two quarterback takedowns in the divisional round win over the Giants. This is a four-man rush with Sweat, Haason Reddick, Milton Williams, and Jordan Davis, and well.. good luck with that.
40. Bryan Cook, S, Kansas City Chiefs
Cook, the second-round rookie from Cincinnati, has played all over Kansas City’s back seven in his inaugural NFL campaign, and he’s come along nicely of late. Since Week 10, he’s allowed seven receptions on 12 targets for 205 yards, 48 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, no interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 90.6.
Cook was also half-responsible for fellow rookie Joshua Williams’ interception against the Bengals in the AFC Championship game.
Replay of the interception tipped by Bryan Cook to Joshua Williams #Bengals 20 #Chiefs 20 4ᴛʜ pic.twitter.com/z9SltpBvSL
— Sᴘᴏʀᴛs 24/7 (@Sports_24x7_) January 30, 2023
And if you need a third safety who can close to the running back with ridiculous speed… he might be your guy, and this strikes me as something the Chiefs may need in this particular game.
Bryan Cook's closing speed is something else, especially for a guy who hits like he does. pic.twitter.com/S754oRgMBV
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) February 3, 2023
41. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith-Schuster’s career arc has been interesting, to say the least. In 2020 for the Steelers, he was one of the NFL’s best and most prolific slot receivers, with a league-high 93 slot receptions on a league-high 119 targets for 888 yards, and a league-high 10 touchdowns. He fell off a lot in 2021, due to injuries and Pittsburgh’s passing game teetering off a cliff, and he signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Chiefs in 2022. Smith-Schuster has had his moments in Kansas City’s passing game both in the slot and out wide, but it could also be said that based on the high points of his part, one might have expected just a bit more.
This 45-yard touchdown against the 49ers shows what he can still do under the right circumstances, and maybe he’ll pop one or two big plays off against the Eagles. It’s just that it’s not as expected as it may have been before.
42. Jordan Davis, DI, Philadelphia Eagles
Davis was one of the fulcrums of Georgia’s all-time great defense in 2021, and the Eagles responded accordingly by selecting him with the 13th overall pick in the 2022 draft. Guys standing 6-foot-6 and weighing (conservatively) 330 pounds don’t generally have Davis’ movement skills, and he has been able to display them in the NFL when healthy. Problem is, the “when healthy” thing has been a fairly serious disclaimer. Davis has missed five games in his rookie season, and he’s had more than 20 defensive snaps in just five games. So, a bit of a mixed bag, and while the Eagles’ defense has been better with him than without him — especially in the run game — now would be a good time to show more of the high side of his talent.
This rep against the Jaguars in Week 4, in which he threw center Luke Fortner aside and dropped running back Travis Etienne for a one-yard loss, is the ideal.
43. Jerick McKinnon, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
McKinnon may have the most circuitous route to this Super Bowl of any player on either roster. The former Georgia Southern quarterback had bit roles with the Vikings in the first four years of his NFL career, lost two full seasons to injury after signing a large contract with the 49ers in 2018,and then wound up signing a vet minimum deal with the Chiefs in 2021. Andy Reid and company brought him back on another one-year agreement in 2022, and this has been the season in which McKinnon has finally been able to show off all his attributes in the perfect offense.
From Week 13 against the Bengals through Week 18 against the Raiders, McKinnon caught at least one touchdown pass in six straight games. No running back since at least 1970 had ever done that before, and his nine touchdown receptions this season is tied for the most since 1970, along with Marshall Faulk (2001), Chuck Foreman (1975), and Leroy Hoard (1991). Only Washington’s Charley Taylor, who had 12 touchdown catches in 1966, had more among running backs in pro football history, and like McKinnon, Taylor split his time between runner and receiver.
McKinnon has also thrown several killer blocks this season, which speaks to his desire to be an every-down producer however he is asked. We haven’t seen much of McKinnon in the postseason, but against this Eagles pass-rush? Maybe a few full slabs should be at the top of the order.
Heck of a blitz pickup by McKinnon pic.twitter.com/kxTG0ufsPF
— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) January 21, 2023
44. Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Gainwell gained well (sorry) in the regular season, with 240 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 53 carries, adding 23 receptions for 160 yards. In the Eagles’ postseason, however, he’s been Philly’s feature guy on the ground, with 26 carries for 160 yards, a touchdown, and three runs of 15 or more yards. This 12-yarder against the 49ers in the NFC Championship gae might have been his most impressive, though — Gainwell’s ability to cut and reset to top speed has been seriously on display of late.
45. Marcus Epps, S, Philadelphia Eagles
The Vikings took Epps in the sixth round of the 2019 draft out of Wyoming, and released him on November 6 of that year. The Eagles took a flyer on him the next day, and they have not regretted that move. Epps has increased his involvement in Philly’s defense every year since, topping out this season with 1185 snaps so far. Epps is up and down in coverage, but he can scream out to stop a quick swing pass, and he’s active and gap-aware when it’s time to blow up a run fit. That closing speed and aggression also come in handy when he needs to defend the kinds of quick movement routes and intermediate crossers the Chiefs can throw at you all day long.
46. Jaylen Watson, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Watson had to wait a long time to hear his name called in the 2022 draft — it didn’t happen until the Chiefs took him with the 243rd overall pick in the seventh round — but he didn’t have to wait long to make a difference for his new NFL team. With 10:43 left in the Chiefs’ Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Justin Herbert tried to hit tight end Gerald Everett in the red zone for a touchdown. The resulting play was a touchdown, but not in the way Herbert had intended.
THE ROOK WITH A 99-YARD PICK SIX‼️ @jaylenwatson12 pic.twitter.com/fNZkRQL1wU
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 16, 2022
Watson wasn’t even supposed to be in that game; he had his first NFL start only because first-round cornerback Trent McDuffie suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 against the Cardinals. But when the Washington State alum got his shot, he knew he’d have to make it resonate.
Mission accomplished, as they say.
“I just knew, being a seventh-rounder and getting my first start, I was going to get tested a lot, and early,” Watson said after the 27-24 win. “I just felt I was going to get one today, and that’s what happened.
“I was surprised, but I still knew I was going to get one.”
Watson has not been a one-hit wonder — he picked up his second pick of the season in the divisional round against the Jaguars on this Trevor Lawrence attempt to Marvin Jones.
The next week, against the Bengals in the AFC Championship game, Watson got his second pick of the postseason on this Joe Burrow throw to Tee Higgins.
However Watson got to this place in his early career, he has certainly arrived. He’s allowed 50 catches on 77 targets for 570 yards, 168 yards after the catch, five touchdowns, those three picks, and an opponent passer rating of 92.5. Like all four of the Chiefs’ rookie defensive backs preparing to appear in this Super Bowl, Watson has seen his game advance as he adapts to the challenges of the NFL/
47. Michael Danna, DL, Kansas City Chiefs
Danna was a fifth-round pick by the Chiefs in the 2020 draft out of Michigan, and he’s become yet another late-round star, and another feather in the collective cap of Kansas City’s personnel department. This season, distributing his snaps about half and half inside and outside, Danna has five sacks, six quarterback hits, and 29 quarterback hurries… on just 356 pass-rushing snaps. He had four pressures in the AFC Championship game against the Bengals, including this near-sack of Joe Burrow with less than two minutes elapsed in the first quarter.
Had Burrow somehow not slipped through Danna’s grasp, leaving the sack for Frank Clark, we might be talking about him a bit more. You know that the Eagles will know his name when it’s time to put their protections together.
48. Kyzir White, LB, Philadelphia Eagles
The Chargers selected White out of West Virginia in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, and over the next four seasons, White moved from anonymous player to sleepy-good defender. The Eagles were well aware of White’s potential, and they stole him on a one-year, $3 million deal. That’s larceny for a guy who, in his first season with his new team, has two sacks, four quarterback pressures, 79 solo tackles, 49 stops, and six pass breakups.
He’s become a big part of a linebacker corps that has reinvented itself in the 2022 season, and he’s done it all over the field. This pressure against the Cardinals in Week 5 saw White start in a head-over nose alignment, drop into a spy look, and then chase Kyler Murray to the sideline, forcing a throwaway.
That’s a pretty decent skill set on display, and White could do that kind of stuff to Patrick Mahomes, as well.
49. Joshua Williams, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
We might have to do a separate article this week on all the later-round, underrated, and impactful defenders Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and his crew have plucked from the draft tree over the last few years. Williams, taken in the fourth round of the 2022 draft out of Fayetteville State, is yet another name added to that impressive list.
This season, Williams has allowed 30 catches on 48 targets for 450 yards, 118 yards after the catch, six touchdowns, two interceptions, five pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 115.5. But Williams is yet another Chiefs rookie defender who has improved exponentially over the season, which projects so well for Kansas City’s defense even beyond this Super Bowl.
Williams hasn’t allowed a touchdown since Week 14, and his metrics since Week 15 are startling — three catches allowed on nine targets for 33 yards, four yards after the catch, one interception, two pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of?
5.6. Yeah, that’s pretty good.
And Williams’ interception couldn’t have been more important, as it came with 7:02 left in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game, and it was Williams as the man in the right place at the right time when safety Bryan Cook batted Joe Burrow’s pass to Tee Higgins in Williams’ direction.
In the Chiefs’ case, the kids are more than alright.
50. Ndamukong Suh, DI, Philadelphia Eagles
Suh was a free agent in 2022 until the Eagles signed him, along with Linval Joseph, in November to shore up an injury-dinged interior defensive line. While he has not been what he was at his All-Pro best (or even what he was for the Buccaneers in 2020 during their Super Bowl run), you have to wonder if he can pop off a few plays against Patrick Mahomes as he did near the end of Super Bowl LV, when Kansas City’s offensive line had absolutely no answer for Tampa Bay’s defense.
Ndamukong Suh had three sacks on one fourth-quarter drive in Super Bowl LV (one negated due to penalty). Three different starting gaps. Here, he starts wide and chases Mahomes across the pocket like a 250-pound DE. Five QB pressures as well. Lotta bark left on that tree. . pic.twitter.com/Exj1loRA04
— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) February 17, 2021
Suh has amassed just two sacks and 11 total pressures in his abbreviated season, but when you see him light up Saints guard Josh Andrews and running back Taysom Hill in Week 17 against the Saints, you wonder if there’s just enough bark still on that tree to make things tougher for Mahomes once again.
51. Milton Williams, DL, Philadelphia Eagles
As NFL defenses have become more multiple and varied in their pass-rush concepts, the value of the lineman who can win from multiple gaps has been amplified. Williams, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound second-year Louisiana Tech alum, reminded me a bit of Michael Bennett when watching his college tape, and of course, Bennett also wreaked havoc all over the Eagles’ line in 2018. Williams is a bigger man, so he’s been more of an inside presence, but he’s split his quarterback disruptions nicely, and he has a great combination of power inside, and the speed to blow right by interior blockers. When the Eagles start to get really interesting in their sub-packages, expect Williams to do his best to expand on the four sacks, three quarterback hits, and nine quarterback hurries he’s put up this season.
52. Derrick Nnadi, NT, Kansas City Chiefs
Chris Jones is the top problem for any offensive line facing the Chiefs this season, but when considering how well the Eagles can just mulch your defense in the run game, the next two players — Nnadi and Khalen Saunders — will have to bring their best if Kansas City is to avoid Philly just rolling the same boulder downhill over and over. Nnadi, a 6-foot-1, 310-pound primary nose tackle (85% of his snaps this season), has the attributes to at least make it difficult for that seemingly inevitable run game. Once in a while, Nndai will also split a double team for a quarterback takedown, but his primary role in the Super Bowl will be to take those body shots from Philly’s offensive line and respond in kind.
53. Khalen Saunders, DI, Kansas City Chiefs
Saunders presents similar — and at times greater — challenges for run-heavy teams at 6-foot-0 and 324 pounds. One wonders if the Chiefs might put both of these guys on the field at the same time in the Super Bowl. There were at least three instances against Las Vegas in Weeks 5 and 18 that both big men were inside, and the results were not at all positive for the Raiders. This sort of swarm mentality might be precisely what is required.
54. Linval Joseph, DI, Philadelphia Eagles
Speaking of huge defensive tackles who have been important to their teams when rotated in, there’s Joseph, who the Eagles signed along with Ndamukong Suh to identical free-agent contracts when injuries were decimating the Eagles’ interior line. Both veterans have made an impact…
…and with Joseph, it’s mainly how he’s able to disrupt the run game. If Super Bowl LVII turns into an Isiah Pacheco game to a point for the Chiefs, expect Joseph to be deployed accordingly.
55. Skyy Moore, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs selected Moore in the second round of the 2022 draft out of Boise State, hoping that his Julian Edelman-ish skill set would amplify their passing game. Moore showed a ton of toughness and efficiency in college, especially on the kinds of crossers some receivers would rather not take, as defenders are ready to eat their lunches. Moore hasn’t shown a ton in his rookie season, catching just 26 passes for 263 yards, but one wonders if Andy Reid might dial up another rushing play like the one Moore took 12 yards against the Bengals in the AFC Championship game. It could be Moore, it could be Kadarius Toney, it probably won’t be Mecole Hardman due to injury, but if you’re the Eagles, you know it’s probably coming from someone.
56. Chad Henne, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Both Patrick Mahomes (ankle) and Jalen Hurts (shoulder) have worked their ways through injuries as the season has rolled along, so it stands to reason that their backups could shoot through the roof in terms of importance if something happens that nobody wants to happen. So, we’ll keep the backups at the bottom of this list for now in the interest of good vibes, man… but we’re just saying.
In Henne’s case, he’s worked more than one “Hennething is possible” postseason miracle when Patrick Mahomes has been unable to play.
There was the 98-yard drive he put together against the Jaguars in the divisional round after Mahomes suffered that high ankle sprain…
…and the 2020 divisional round win against the Browns he made possible after Mahomes was concussed.
Andy Reid has a great history in turning average quarterbacks into situational heroes. Nobody who doesn’t live in Philadelphia wants Mahomes out of this game, but it’s not entirely impossible to think that Henne couldn’t get it done in a Nick Foles sense were that to be the case.
57. Gardner Minshew, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
As for Minshew, he cleaned up in Weeks 16 and 17 as Hurts recovered from his shoulder injury, and he’s completed 44 of 76 passes for 663 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions, and a passer rating of 83.4 this season. He’s a good backup and spot starter whose predilection for big plays (four completions of 20 or more air yards for 171 yards and a touchdown) can be mitigated by his occasional head-scratching decisions. The Cowboys ate his lunch for two of those picks in Week 16 as Minshew struggled with his reads, and Dallas’ coverages. He’d have to throw out the YOLO stuff and stay within structure were he in a position to help the Eagles win this game.