On Thursday, NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt compiled a list of the NFL’s 11 most versatile players going into the 2021 season. Considering that he can choose from the entire roster of every team in the league, this is a pretty exclusive list — which is topped by New England Patriots defensive back Jeremy Chinn, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs have two players among the top nine.
6. Travis Kelce • TE • Kansas City Chiefs
Let’s not kid ourselves: Kelce is functionally a wide receiver who happens to have “TE” next to his name. Consider that, according to Pro Football Focus, Kelce actually logged more snaps in the slot or out wide last season (455) then he did at tight end (376); to put this in perspective, the similarly versatile Darren Waller played 618 snaps at tight end for the Raiders in 2020, compared to 322 in the slot or out wide. The effect of the mismatches Kelce forces was on full display in the second half of last season; from Week 8 on, he caught at least seven passes per game and topped 100 yards five times. He also became the first tight end in NFL history to post 1,400-plus receiving yards in a single season despite resting during the Week 17 finale.
9. Tyrann Mathieu • S • Kansas City Chiefs
We’ve talked a lot about versatility here, but Mathieu simply personifies the word. Here is a breakdown of his 929 snaps, per Pro Football Focus, in 2020: 345 at slot corner, 301 in the box, 224 at free safety, 44 on the defensive line and 15 at outside cornerback. Brought in to power up the Chiefs’ pass defense, that is exactly what he did, pushing Kansas City to rank eighth in passing yards allowed in 2019 and 14th last season. In that span, Mathieu picked off 10 passes combined and earning consecutive first-team All-Pro honors. Even at age 29 and carrying a notable injury history, Mathieu is worthy of a significant contract extension heading into the final year of his current deal.
We shouldn't be surprised that two Chiefs make this list. From head coach Andy Reid down, the Kansas City coaching staff values versatility in almost every position. From Reid’s creative offensive formations to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unique defensive alignments, Chiefs players tend to be plugged in all over the field.
Nor is it a surprise that these are the two Kansas City players Brandt chose to include. No two Chiefs are more versatile — and outside of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, both are arguably the most effective players in their respective units.
The number of players eligible to play in an NFL game has remained essentially unchanged since the mid-1970s. But with each passing year, some positions have become more specialized. Back in 1970, any NFL coach would have scoffed at the idea of a player whose only job was to snap the ball for punts, field goals and extra points — or that a fullback would only be used on a small percentage of offensive plays. Yet, these things have become realities in the modern NFL. With these changes — and an ever-expanding need to keep opposing teams guessing — versatility has become more important in other positions.
Few have found more versatile players — or used them as effectively — as Reid has done. It’s just one of the many unique approaches that have helped make him one of the league’s top coaches over the last two decades.