We are less than a month away from the Kansas City Chiefs starting up training camp for the 2021 season. I’ve been killing time in this dead period by reviewing aspects of the 2020 Chiefs; now, I’m compiling a list of the 20 best Chiefs players and ranking them based on their individual talent — combined with how vital they are to the team’s success in 2021.
I revealed and analyzed positions 20-16 on Tuesday. Today, I’ll go over 15-11:
15. Dan Sorensen
“Dirty Dan” landed higher on my list than I initially thought he would — ranking higher than other defensive starters Derrick Nnadi and Charvarius Ward. He’s the third safety on the depth chart yet is on the field as much as any Chiefs player each game.
In 2020, Sorensen played the second-most defensive snaps on the team behind Tyrann Mathieu; he was also in the top 10 for special teams snaps. His role as the third safety comes into play when the Chiefs are in their dime personnel (six defensive backs). Naturally, they’re constantly in those formations when the opponent has to catch up with the Chiefs’ offense.
He has strengths: he’s mostly a reliable tackler, an able blitzer and a versatile player that can cover multiple roles — allowing Mathieu to also move around the defense. He’s also been successfully picked on in coverage by quarterbacks, both in man and zone.
He’s not perfect, but he always seems to be in the right place to make a play when it’s needed most. He plays a vital role in multiple phases for this team.
14. Mecole Hardman
Hardman’s rare speed and big-play ability push him up this list, but so does the increased opportunity he has with Sammy Watkins gone.
It’s his third NFL season; he’s had a rookie offseason and a shortened, interrupted one. We naturally compare Hardman to the other receivers on rookie contracts, but not every receiver breaks out as quickly as some of them.
The flaws in Hardman’s game show up in his route running when used as a traditional receiver. Over his two years, there have been too many incomplete passes targeting him that looked out of sync. He’s earned a lot of his production and highlights off pre-determined touches — and will continue to as long as Andy Reid is calling plays.
With any step forward in 2021, he’ll make it very hard to contain and account for him in a loaded Chiefs offense.
13. Frank Clark
As the most talented and most experienced defensive end on the roster, Clark has a crucial role in the Chiefs’ defense. How well he plays this season could be one of the most significant factors in the unit’s performance.
Unfortunately, Clark now has an ongoing off-the-field issue. We don’t know what will come from the two gun possession arrests, but it does more harm than good to his offseason preparation.
When he does return to the field, Clark’s ability to play all three downs makes him valuable. He’s not the most prominent edge defender, but he understands where to be in run defense and does whatever it takes to disrupt the play. Against the pass, you’d like to see him pressure the quarterback more consistently — but he always seems to get in there when it’s needed the most.
12. Juan Thornhill
There are plenty of reasons to believe this third-year safety will explode onto the scene once again. Thornhill was developing into an excellent young safety in his rookie season, but a knee injury halted that progression — affecting him through 2020 as well.
In last year’s AFC championship, Thornhill’s coverage abilities as a deep safety produced a very impressive four passes defended — including a dropped interception on the game’s first drive. The elite athleticism and close-out ability were on display that game, which was not the case throughout the regular season.
I believe that single-game performance is a sign of things to come. Thornhill’s ball skills and range on the back-end of the defense will raise the unit's ceiling. We’ll be talking about him and Tyrann Mathieu as the NFL’s top safety duos by the end of the year.
11. Jarran Reed
Beating out starters like Thornhill, Clark and Ward, I’m placing high expectations on the defense’s biggest offseason acquisition. Reed’s high level of play as both a pass-rusher and run-stuffer from the interior make him a huge boost to the defense.
Reed is the only interior defensive lineman on the team that inspires confidence as an every-down player; Chris Jones’ move to play more defensive end excludes him. Derrick Nnadi is strong against the run but not the pass, while Tershawn Wharton’s smaller frame was used exclusively on passing downs in 2020. Reed is stout enough to stonewall blockers while also explosive enough to be a playmaker against the pass.
Interior pressure has become the key to truly disrupting a quarterback in the modern NFL. Generally, edge pressure is easier to avoid than the player who is pushing the front of the pocket back into your lap and blocking your line of vision downfield. The Chiefs can deploy both Jones and Reed from the inside on pass-rush downs; that coupling could be one of the league’s best interior pass-rush duos.
Reed’s impact on the 2021 Chiefs will be noticeable and significant.