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.
5. Tyrann Mathieu
After two consecutive first-team All-Pro accolades, it’s clear that Mathieu is one of the best and most important players on the Chiefs. He constantly makes plays against the run and the pass. He’s the clear leader of the defense and played by far the most snaps on defense last season — 100 more than the second-highest player total.
There’s an argument to be made that he could be even higher on this list. His versatility has been a valuable asset, but it’s the intelligence and knowledge of the scheme that makes him great. He has been a playmaker whether he’s lined up as a slot defender, in the box or as a deep safety. It makes things easier on defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his teammates in the secondary.
Mathieu probably deserves some credit for the breakout of young defensive backs like L’Jarius Sneed and Juan Thornhill — but they also contributed to Mathieu ranking where he is. The secondary would regress if he weren’t in the lineup, but not as much as the next player’s unit would if he wasn’t on the field.
4. Chris Jones
The team’s best pass-rusher is also the team’s most important defender. In my opinion, pressuring the quarterback is the No. 1 priority for any defense in today’s NFL — and Jones is one of the league’s most dominant pass-rushers.
We know Jones is nearly unstoppable to block in pass protection when he’s aligned from the interior. According to PFF, Jones had the second-highest “win percentage” among interior defensive linemen last year — only trailing the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald. The stat determines how often a pass-rusher beats a block, whether it results in a pressure or not.
This offseason, he’s been working at defensive end. Ideally, Jones plays on the edge for run downs — where his massive size and wingspan could be disruptive on off-tackle runs to that side. Jones needs to stay on the interior on passing downs, and I believe that will be the case.
With a thinning defensive end position, Jones’s ability to play out there is essential to the unit's success. If he can be effective outside while continuing his dominance from the interior, he’s the defense’s most important individual.
3. Tyreek Hill
It’s hard to imagine Hill would be as low as No. 3 on any other NFL team. He’s become one of the league’s best pass-catchers in any aspect of the game. Whether he’s in the slot, aligned on the outside or coming out of the backfield, Hill strikes fear into opposing defenses by just being on the field — whether he gets the ball or not.
Last year, Hill broke the Chiefs’ record for single-season touchdowns by a wide receiver; he scored 17 times — 15 through the air and two on the ground. He averaged a gain of 14 yards every time he touched the ball on offense.
He’s a consistent player: there were only three regular-season games last season where he failed to score. He’s also a threat to blow up for historic numbers: in Week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Hill totaled 269 receiving yards and three touchdowns — and most of that production came in the first half!
He earned first-team All-Pro in 2020, and don’t be surprised when he puts up the numbers to earn the accolade again.
2. Travis Kelce
For me, it was a really tough choice between Kelce and Hill for the No. 2 spot. That said, Kelce led the team in targets last year, has been as durable as any Chiefs player over the previous few seasons and is the receiver that Patrick Mahomes relies on the most.
Last season, Kelce casually broke multiple records: the single-season receiving yards record for a tight end with 1,416 yards, the first tight end to have multiple 100-catch seasons and the most catches by any player in a conference championship game with 13. He also became the first tight end to have five postseason games with 100 or more receiving yards.
On the most crucial conversion attempts, it seems to always be Kelce that ends up with the ball. Kelce led the team in targets, receptions, yards and first-down conversions on third and fourth downs last season. In the red zone, Kelce led the team in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns. In fact, he had the third-most red zone targets and scores in the NFL in 2020.
Kelce is as reliable as any NFL pass-catcher today.
1. Patrick Mahomes
I know there’s no surprise here: the MVP, the Super Bowl LIV MVP, the quarterback that threw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. Mahomes would hold the top spot on an all-time list of Chiefs players — and he’s still only 25 years old.
We all know the abysmal play in Super Bowl LV wasn’t Mahomes’ fault. He actually played well, considering the pressure he had to face and his receivers failing him in a few different ways. It doesn’t matter, though: Mahomes is taking that 22-point loss personally, and it’s going to be a problem for the rest of the league in 2021.
Not much else to say besides some advice: Get to the nearest sportsbook and bet on Mahomes to win MVP in 2021. I believe we’re about to witness the best season of his young career.