Among all the elite athletes and football players on the field when the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense lined up against the Dallas Cowboys’ offense in the 19-9 Chiefs victory, one player was moving at a different speed than anybody else.
Kansas City cornerback L’Jarius Sneed became a nightmare for Dallas receivers, whether it was because he slammed them to the turf on a tackle, threw them aside on an attempted block or prevented them from catching a pass. He finished with five solo tackles — one being for a loss — three passes defended, and one interception for the game.
It was the type of game that Chiefs fans envisioned after his exciting rookie season in 2020. An athleticism combined with a natural tackling ability makes him a legitimate strength for the defense in the run game and as a blitzer.
At its core, the skillset of Sneed comes down to the thing he seems to enjoy the most about football.
“I just love being physical,” Sneed told reporters during his Wednesday press conference. “(defensive coordinator) [Steve Spagnuolo] likes it. He’s got an aggressive defense, and I love being physical myself. On the offensive side, they don’t like that. Receivers don’t like when you put hands on them and stuff like that. Take their heart out of their chest — that’s why I like it.”
The cold-blooded attitude isn’t a projection from Sneed; he can tell when his aggressiveness has affected his opponent.
“You can see it in their eyes and how they play,” Sneed shared. “When I jump out from the start, I can tell, like, ‘Yeah, I got them.’”
Spagnuolo has always liked his cornerbacks to be able to press and play with a physical style; he knew Sneed had that ability from the jump.
“When I first came in, Spags saw that I like to put hands on guys — so he hammered in my ear to put hands on guys and disrupt timing.”
That and the rest of the things that go into playing cornerback take a lot of self-confidence. The position requires a lot of mental strength and the ability to keep confidence through the plays you’re bound to give up. It’s no coincidence that the Chiefs’ current four-game win streak has featured Sneed continually playing better and better.
“I wouldn’t say it was just one game for me to gain my confidence,” Sneed explained. “I’m just learning as I’m going. We’re just building game by game and week by week... It boosts you a lot against a great receiver like [Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams]. So yeah, it gave me a little confidence.”
That self-belief can be the difference between a player trusting their instinct to make a play and not, or someone genuinely playing at full speed or not.
If it’s overconfidence, it still prevents players from questioning themselves about a play; someone like Sneed believes he has no other choice.
“I love when it’s just me and him, and I have to make the play,” Sneed reflected. “I’m not going to not make the play. In my head, I have to make this play.”
The excitement around Sneed has people thinking about his chances at making a Pro Bowl in his second season. Even with that raised level of confidence, Sneed’s prioritizing other things over the individual accolade.
“I haven’t looked at my stats or anything. I’m just playing ball,” Sneed responded when asked if he believed he was having a Pro-Bowl season. “I’m doing something I love. It’s not one of my goals; I’m just trying to unify my team and my defense to be the best we can be. The Pro Bowl, that’s going to come, but I’m not worried about it.”
It’s safe to say a Pro Bowl berth is in the future for Sneed. He has quickly proven to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL at tackling and defeating blocks around the line of scrimmage.