Speaking of developmental success stories, Fenton is another example of a player with humble beginnings who has grown into a reliable contributor. The Chiefs selected Fenton in the sixth round (No. 201 overall) of the 2019 Draft, and in the time since, the former South Carolina standout has carved out a role as an effective member of Kansas City’s secondary.
He doesn’t see the field as often as some other members of the defense, but when called upon, Fenton has often delivered. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Fenton was the Chiefs’ top-graded cornerback in 2019 (minimum 100 snaps) and Kansas City’s second-best corner in 2020 behind only L’Jarius Sneed. Fenton only tallied 694 snaps between those two campaigns, so that context is important, but the point remains that Fenton has impressed whenever he’s taken the field.
Fenton has experience at both slot and outside corner, making him a useful chess piece who can contribute in various ways. With former cornerback Bashaud Breeland no longer in Kansas City, Fenton could earn an even larger role moving forward.
2020 rank: 1 | 2019 rank: 2
This is the lowest arsenal ranking for the Chiefs in the Patrick Mahomes era, in which his weapons have previously come in first, second and first again. The drop-off comes after Travis Kelce produced arguably the greatest season by a tight end in league history and Tyreek Hill chipped in with 1,276 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. Nobody — not the Seahawks, not the Vikings, not anybody — had a better one-two punch of receiving weapons than the Chiefs did a year ago, and they’re both back for 2021.
Everything else doesn’t look quite as good. The earlier versions of these teams had Kareem Hunt, and while Clyde Edwards-Helaire was expected to be instantly impactful as Kansas City’s primary running back, the LSU product was mostly anonymous as a rookie. Mecole Hardman didn’t make any sort of second-year leap and might top out as nothing more than a downfield burner. Sammy Watkins is gone — the oft-injured receiver couldn’t be counted on for full seasons of work, but the Chiefs only brought in one replacement in rookie fifth-round pick Cornell Powell. Kansas City would have arguably the league’s worst depth chart at wide receiver or tight end if it lost Hill or Kelce.
But the Chiefs played in way more close games last year than you might remember.
In 2018, the Chiefs led by 6.9 points on average at halftime and held 11 halftime leads.
In 2019, the Chiefs led by 7.5 points on average at halftime and held 11 halftime leads.
But in 2020, the Chiefs led by only 3.5 points on average at halftime and held only nine halftime leads.
With games far more in doubt at halftime in 2020 than in prior years, the Chiefs had to do two things they haven’t done in decades.
First, their defense (behind defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) had to hold opponents to only 1.75 ppg in the third quarter. Researching back 30+ years, the Chiefs have never held opponents to such futile production in the third quarter. In fact, Kansas City’s third quarter defense was not only the best in the NFL, but it was the second-best third quarter points allowed since 2010 and the 11th best of any team of the last 30 years.
How he fared with new team: Montana signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Chiefs but was unable to wear his familiar No. 16 because it was retired after being worn by another Hall of Famer, Len Dawson. He opted for No. 19. The Chiefs won a division title in Montana’s first season as the starter — their first in 22 years. They lost to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game, and Montana went to his eighth and final Pro Bowl. After a 9-7 season in 1994 that included a win over Young and the 49ers in a Week 2 Monday Night Football matchup, Montana retired from the NFL at age 38.
Best position groups: Defensive interior, safety
Leading the way on this Chiefs defensive is two-time Pro Bowler Chris Jones joined by outstanding nose tackle Derrick Nnadi. Jumping to the other side of the defense, they field three-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu. In between, it’s not so great with the Chiefs sitting in last place at edge rusher, linebacker, and cornerback. But DI and S are strong enough to keep them out of the cellar on defense.
Around the NFL
Akers was set to headline a backfield that began 2020 as a committee, but saw the Florida State product rise to the top of the group down the stretch of the season. Akers finished the season as Los Angeles’ leading rusher thanks in large part to his increased workload from Week 13 onward, going from averaging just 6.3 attempts per game to over 20 in the latter portion of the season.
The uptick in carries produced results for Akers, who averaged 92.1 yards per game, scored four touchdowns and broke 130 yards twice in that span. His 645 rushing yards from Week 13 through Super Bowl LV were the fourth most in the entire NFL, giving the Rams plenty of reason to be excited about the future of their running game in the post-Todd Gurley era.
2. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
MVP odds: +3500
Don’t fall into the lazy argument that Baker Mayfield cannot win league MVP because he plays in a run-heavy offense. When quarterbacks Matt Ryan (2016) and Tom Brady (2017) won the award, their respective clubs ranked fifth and 10th on the ground while listing just outside the top 10 in total carries.
Last year, the Cleveland Browns’ rushing attack ranked fourth in carries and third in yards, while the passing attack listed 28th in attempts and 24th in yards. This club may field a more balanced attack in the upcoming term with a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. back in the fold.
In 2020, Beckham missed nine games because of a torn ACL. Though he’s had some chemistry issues with Mayfield, logging a 55.1 percent catch rate over the last two campaigns, the quarterback-receiver duo could hit its stride in Year 3 together.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski runs an offense that prominently features tight ends in the passing game. Last offseason, the Browns signed two-time Pro Bowler Austin Hooper, and they still have an athletic pass-catcher at the position in David Njoku. As a rookie fourth-rounder, Harrison Bryant caught 24 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns last year.
If two of the three tight ends stay healthy and active in the aerial attack, Mayfield would have solid big-bodied receiving options in addition to Jarvis Landry and Beckham in the passing game.
Lastly, Stefanski hopes to see Mayfield grow with a stronger grasp of the offense, which may lead to more passing plays and less emphasis on the run.
The Browns’ offensive continuity gives Mayfield an edge over Alvin Kamara for the No. 2 slot.
Entering his fourth professional season, Jackson has gone from undrafted to being on the verge of a major payday. Since 2019, the Florida native has kept opposing receivers on lockdown, allowing the lowest passer rating in the league (per PFF), a paltry 48. That’s 14.4 rating points better than the cavalcade of stars that are second over that time: Tre’Davious White, Stephon Gilmore and Xavien Howard. Jackson also has more interceptions (14) than any defensive back during this stretch. Is he a legit No. 1 corner?
“Of course I am,” Jackson told me over the phone Monday, “I would never settle for less. I would never say I’m No. 2, No. 3. I’m No. 1.”
In case you missed it at Arrowhead Pride
WR1 – Carlos Carson, 1987
Since he played on some abysmal Kansas City teams in the ’80s, Carson is a player that many Chiefs fans forget. But despite the team going 4-11 in 1987 — and Bill Kenney averaging only 191.5 yards per game — Carson managed to haul in 55 receptions for 1,044 yards and seven touchdowns in only 12 games played, averaging 19.0 yards per reception. He was selected to the Pro Bowl that year — one of two such honors he would earn.
Honorable Mention: Stephone Paige
A tweet to make you think
Can't wait to run fast next week— Ty Hill (@cheetah) July 19, 2021
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