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Arrowhead Pride Bye Week Awards: Most Improved Player

At the season’s bye week, we’re awarding the Chiefs’ most improved player.

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Dallas Cowboys v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There are 11 games in the books — and six more to go. While we may not be right at the halfway mark of the 2021 regular season, the Kansas City Chiefs are taking their bye week in Week 11, so it’s a good time to dish out some awards.

The Arrowhead Pride writing staff members each had one vote for our seven midseason awards. There are 12 contributors, so there will be 12 votes tallied for each award. In this post, we’ll reveal our most improved player to this point of the season.


VOTING: Fenton (8), Willie Gay Jr. (2), Charvarius Ward (2)

The rise of Rashad Fenton is why we love sports. A sixth-round pick of the Chiefs in 2019, Fenton’s NFL draft profile labeled him as a “compact cornerback with average length and excessive lower body tightness who lacks fluidity and discipline to handle man coverage as an NFL cornerback.” Thrust into Steve Spagnuolo’s man-heavy scheme, he carved out a role on the defense midway through his rookie season and quickly began to dispel the doubts about him. He became a contributor to a surging Chiefs defense that helped the team earn an appearance in Super Bowl LIV.

During Super Bowl week at Hard Rock Stadium, a story circulated about Fenton working concessions there as a teenager. He discussed it during his media availability.

“I still remember making hot dogs. I did nachos, filled up sodas and passed out peanuts,” said Fenton. “That was my weekend, week in and week out. I’m here for a different reason right now. Something far greater is destined for me.”

He was correct. The Chiefs would hoist the Lombardi Trophy — and Fenton would only continue to ascend as a player. During the 2020 season, he played in nearly half of Kansas City’s defensive snaps — putting together some highlights along the way. Perhaps most notably, Fenton intercepted a pass from Josh Allen in the AFC championship game to put the final dagger into the hopes of the Buffalo Bills.

Entering the 2021 season, Fenton had already exceeded his draft value. But he made it clear he wasn’t satisfied with being considered a good player for a sixth-round pick; he wanted to prove he is a good player, period.

Fenton got his shot after Charvarius Ward sustained a quad injury before Kansas City’s matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 3 — and he hasn’t looked back. Through Week 11, Pro Football Focus has assigned Fenton an overall grade of 86.8, ranking second among all cornerbacks (trailing only Jalen Ramsey). By comparison, PFF gave Fenton a grade of 71.9 in 2019 and 70.0 in 2020.

Fenton’s development as a boundary cornerback has played a large part in his success this season. With Bashaud Breeland occupying the starting cornerback position opposite Ward for the past two seasons — and L’Jarius Sneed also demanding a heavy workload in 2020 — Fenton took whatever playing time he could get.

That often meant alternating between snaps in the slot and on the outside. However, this season, Fenton is proving himself as a true cover corner — taking 342 snaps as an outside cornerback (compared to 24 in the box, five in the slot and three on the defensive line).

Fenton was arguably the defense’s most consistent player during its early-season struggles. His prowess in coverage and willingness as a tackler has solidified his role in a three-man cornerback rotation alongside Sneed and Ward. Suddenly, the trio of unheralded prospects looks to make up one of the more enticing cornerback rooms in the NFL. And Fenton has established himself as much more than a nice story; he may just be a budding star in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.

Poll

Who is your bye week most improved player?

  • 69%
    Rashad Fenton
    (1313 votes)
  • 21%
    Willie Gay Jr.
    (399 votes)
  • 3%
    Charvarius Ward
    (60 votes)
  • 5%
    Someone else
    (105 votes)
1877 votes total Vote Now