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Top 20 Chiefs players for the 2022 season: 8-5

Our countdown continues with Kansas City’s best offensive linemen — and a couple of up-and-coming defenders.

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NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It has become a tradition during the quiet part of the offseason: we make lists and rankings about everything so we’ll have something to discuss — but also to wrap our heads around what to expect from this Kansas City Chiefs roster.

My friend (and Out of Structure podcast co-host Ron Kopp Jr.) did it last year — and after putting this year’s roster into my Market Movers database, it makes for an interesting comparison point.

We’re now entering the portion of the rankings where players are not only among Kansas City’s best starters, but also could be considered among the NFL’s better players at their positions. With Tyrann Mathieu and Tyreek Hill now gone, the Chiefs no longer have too many “elite” names. It’s more of a well-rounded roster with young players who could still make their case on the field.

So let’s continue our list with the team’s two best offensive linemen — along with a couple of up-and-coming defenders.

8. Linebacker Willie Gay, Jr.

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

If this list were entirely based on past production, Gay might be a little lower in the rankings. But we’re trying to be a little more forward-looking — and he has as much upside as nearly anyone on the roster. We know he’s ultra-athletic, but he’s also an energy-giver and a vocal teammate. In 12 games (and right around 40% of the defensive snaps) last season, Gay had two interceptions, four passes defended, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. This season, he’ll have a chance to be more of a focal point in the defense — and that could send his stats (and his status) soaring.

7. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed

NFL: JAN 16 AFC Wild Card - Steelers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Going into last season, we had high expectations for Sneed — and for the most part, he lived up to them. Playing 94% of the defensive snaps, he was one of the team’s primary corners, producing two interceptions and eight passes defensed. When it comes to sniffing out screen plays, blitzing the quarterback and being a physical tackler, Sneed might be one of the league’s best defensive backs. He had seven tackles for loss to go along with two quarterback hits and a sack.

With this season’s influx of young defensive backs, it will be interesting to see how Sneed is used. He is a solid outside corner, possessing the length and speed to work against an opponents’ top receivers — but he’s also great in the slot and in a more free-ranging role that allows him to be a ballhawk. Wherever 2020’s fourth-round pick is on the field, Kansas City has a very good player. Sneed is on the cusp of league-wide recognition — and earning a big new contract in 2023.

6. Left Guard Joe Thuney

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

For a guy who is widely recognized as one of the NFL’s very best players interior offensive linemen, there isn’t much talk about Joe Thuney as the left guard. There has been some chatter about how he could replace Orlando Brown, Jr. at left tackle, but that shouldn’t be the long-term plan. Instead, we should be talking about the absolute machine-like precision and consistency Thuney brings to the interior. He’s not the mauler that Trey Smith is. Instead, he is a technician in every sense of the word. He understands the nuances of the position, handling his business on every single snap. There’s a reason the Chiefs paid a premium price to get him in free agency last season: Thuney is the veteran glue that binds an offensive line that is full of really good young players.

5. Center Creed Humphrey

NFL: DEC 12 Raiders at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Speaking of the youth along Kansas City offensive line, how about the rookie season Humphrey just had? He was well regarded coming out of Oklahoma — and was thought to be a good value when the Chiefs took him in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. But few could have predicted that from Day 1, Humphrey would put his name among the league’s best centers. In fact, he may have done even more than that: he might actually be the league’s best center. Pro Football Focus ranked him at the top, giving him the highest grade they’ve ever awarded a rookie.

A model of consistency, Humphrey allowed just one sack in 1,184 offensive snaps last season — and he’s arguably even better in the running game. He is a staple on screens and other plays where he can use his athleticism to get into space and bury smaller defenders. For him to appear in the top five of this list as a rookie — and as a center — not only says a lot about how good Humphrey has been, but also how excited we should be to watch him work the middle of the Chiefs’ offensive line for years to come.