The Kansas City Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl for the third time in five seasons. This version of the Chiefs, however, is a bit different from its predecessors.
Some of the plays are still the same: Patrick Mahomes is under center. He throws to Travis Kelce. Chris Jones destroys opposing offensive lines. Frank Clark stands out. Some of the newer plays are household names: Joe Thuney is the league’s highest-paid guard. Orlando Brown is on the franchise tag. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have been entry-level players for a while now.
But what about the rest of the Chiefs team spirit? We’re here to identify some of the more low-key moves that helped the Chiefs return to football’s biggest stage.
Wylie went undrafted out of Eastern Michigan in 2017. He signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent, but was released in the final cut. He joined the Browns and Chargers as part of their practice squads, but was released by both. Kansas City signed him in late December 2017, and he’s become an important contributor in many ways. He started his career as a guard but eventually settled at right tackle, where he was the starter for much of the past two seasons. Kansas City spent heavily fortifying the left side of the line by trading for Brown and signing Thuney, so having low-cost players on the opposite side was important. He was a solid, if unspectacular, right tackle, but he didn’t need to be more than that considering what Kansas City has elsewhere on the line.
McKinnon was a third-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. He impressed in fits and starts behind Adrian Peterson and later Matt Asiata before signing a big free agent deal with the San Francisco 49ers. But injuries ruined his tenure in San Francisco. He ended up missing the entirety of his first two seasons, then worked part-time in 2020. Kansas City signed him to a cheap one-year deal ahead of the 2021 campaign, and although he won’t didn’t consider the equation much during the regular season, he established himself as the team’s best guard during the playoffs. This year he has been much more involved since the jump, recording a 47% break rate, the second best mark of his career. He is a valuable relief valve for Mahomes and has been a dangerous weapon in the red zone.
Nailing Days 2 and 3 of the 2021 Draft
With Kansas City spending a significant portion of its cap on players like Mahomes, Kelce, Jones, Thuney, Brown and Clark, the Chiefs really needed to find their draft picks. For the past two years, they have done a marvelous job. They were really successful on Days 2 and 3 of the 2021 Draft, landing Creed Humphrey, Nick Bolton, Noah Gray and Trey Smith. Humphrey was their second-round pick, and he went on to become one of the NFL’s top centers. He made the Pro Bowl and was a second-team All-Pro that year. Bolton was acquired as a trade draft pick for Brown, and after playing a rotational role during his rookie year, he’s played 98% of Kansas City’s defensive snaps this season. He’s fantastic against the run, while keeping his own cover. Gray was a fifth-rounder and became the Chiefs’ No. 2 tight end this year, and that’s an especially important role given the relative weakness of the receiving body that forced them to use multiple tight sets longer. often than most teams. And Smith is just your standard sixth-round pick who has become one of the best guards in the league. It’s a fantastic job of finding value in all areas.
The entire 2022 draft
As mentioned, the chiefs had to nail the project. And just like they did in 2021, they signed several important starters and players in 2022. They traded to select Trent McDuffie, and after missing time through injury following a terrific first game, he has become a versatile piece for them. He’s been spending time both on the perimeter and in the slot, and will likely do the same on Sunday. George Karlaftis played 64% of regular season snaps and had 6.0 sacks, and picked up another sack in the AFC title game. Second-round pick Bryan Cook started just one game, but he was the third safety all year and made a huge play to create an interception against the Bengals in the conference championship. Leo Chenal has been a rotational linebacker all year. Seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson has made six starts and is now the No. 2 outside corner. Joshua Williams has made four starts and is still playing a rotational role. And of course seventh-rounder Isiah Pacheco plays a big role in the rushing offense and has taken on more responsibility in the passing game in recent weeks. It’s a hell of a class project.