There are plenty of names to get excited about on the Kansas City Chiefs for the 2022 season. We can’t talk enough about players like quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce. At the same time, we can’t wait for the inevitable progression of young studs like linebacker Nick Bolton or offensive linemen Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith. The big rookie class has induced excitement from the fan base.
However, some players will play a prominent role in the 2022 team that we aren’t talking enough about.
I wanted to explain why we shouldn’t forget about these three underrated Chiefs:
The defensive tackle is entering his fifth season — the only player remaining from the Chiefs’ 2018 draft class. He was actually a free agent this offseason, re-signing in Kansas City on a one-year deal worth $2.75 million. That number could be a bargain for the role Nnadi will be asked to play.
Last season’s starter at defensive tackle alongside Chris Jones was Jarran Reed, but he was not retained in free agency. That means there will be a new starter — and every sign points to that being Nnadi.
He’d be competing with Khalen Saunders, Tershawn Wharton and offseason acquisition Taylor Stallworth — but none of those players have tallied a number within 1,000 career snaps of Nnadi’s count at 2,287.
On top of that, Nnadi produced for the Chiefs, despite playing the fewest snaps of any defensive lineman active for the entire regular season. He finished third on the team in sacks (3.0) and second among defensive linemen in total tackles (38).
That all leads to Nnadi being the starting nose tackle, primarily clogging up the A-gap while Chris Jones penetrates the B-gap on the other side. That role plays into Nnadi’s strengths and will be the team’s best option on early downs and other typical run downs.
You may not see as much of him on passing downs, but he will be a legitimate starter — and that deserves more attention than it seems like he’s getting.
The excitement of the Chiefs’ offensive line usually comes by listing off every player besides Andrew Wylie. It has been easy to take the fifth-year offensive lineman for granted, but he could be the Week 1 starter at right tackle — and maybe that’s the best outcome in their current situation.
After playing either right guard or left guard for his first two seasons in Kansas City, he was thrown into the right tackle spot down the stretch of 2020; in 2021, he was the team’s snap leader for the position, starting all but one game from Week 10 forward.
Wylie held his own against some fierce competition in that stretch. Las Vegas Raiders’ left defensive end Maxx Crosby didn’t tally a sack in either game against the Chiefs, and Pittsburgh Steelers’ T.J. Watt didn’t record a sack or quarterback hit in Week 16, primarily playing over Wylie.
With the intrigue of the big-bodied players like the rookie Darian Kinnard or Lucas Niang — who is currently recovering from a torn patellar tendon — Wylie’s experience in the system may outweigh the strengths of both competing players, and that might be comforting to the quarterback with a lot of news faces to deal with in his receiving corps.
Everyone wants to talk about the new pieces in the secondary. First-round pick Trent McDuffie is already projected as a starting cornerback, and the pickups at safety made for some excitement as well. I’m here to make sure all of it is not overshadowing what Rashad Fenton has put together as a Chiefs cornerback in the last few seasons.
Fenton has been an on-and-off starter for the team at outside cornerback the last two years, with injuries taking him out of the lineup at times. He has been an asset in slowing down opposing passing offenses when healthy. When targeting Fenton in coverage, quarterbacks had a passer rating of 91.2 last year — 83.1 the year before. He had five pass breakups in 2022 and didn’t allow a single touchdown in the regular season, per PFF.
Unfortunately, Fenton’s health is again affecting his availability; he had offseason shoulder surgery and has been recovering. When he is ready to retake the field, he will make it hard for the rookie McDuffie to walk into that starting spot.
Fenton is entering a contract year — eyeing the three-year, $40.5 million deal that former Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward got this offseason. Fenton has played as well as Ward did at times, so he has every motivation to put it all together before hitting the open market in 2023.
Do you agree with this list? If not, who would you add? Who would you take off?