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Top 20 Chiefs players for the 2022 season: 16-13

We continue our top-20 rankings with a look at some young players with upside.

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 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.

Last week, we kicked off this year’s top 20 rankings with one steady, familiar name and three newcomers. We’ll continue moving up the list with the 16th through the 13th- ranked Chiefs for 2022.

We’re getting into the section of the roster that is loaded with young players who have lots of upside. Most of these guys are not only expected to start (or have major roles), but are largely ascending players who represent the team’s new core. These young players in the teens aren’t yet superstars, but they’ve shown enough potential for us to believe they can be impact players. These guys could be the difference in making the Chiefs a championship team — or one with a top-heavy roster that struggles when they have to rely on their recent draft picks.

16. Cornerback Trent McDuffie

NFL: Scouting Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

If defensive end George Karlaftis is the rookie under the most pressure to perform, fellow first-round pick Trent McDuffie is close behind. With the departure of Charvarius Ward and Mike Hughes, the Chiefs finally went “all in” on acquiring cornerbacks via trades and the draft. McDuffie is both, actually, given that Kansas City traded up on draft day to get him.

He has shown the ability to cover — and also enough physicality to defend against the run. Whether on the outside or inside — or a little of both — he’ll step right in as a full-time starter for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit. If he performs well — and given the importance of his position — he’ll quickly rise up in the Market Movers rankings.

15. Safety Juan Thornhill

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This fourth-year safety is a tough player to rank. If you base it only on his rookie season, he’s clearly a top-10 player. But after missing time with injury (and struggling upon his return), his career hasn’t gone in a straight line.

In 2022, Thornhill should still get the first chance to start alongside free-agent acquisition Justin Reid — and he has proclaimed that his goal is to play at an All-Pro level. So he’s listed 15th because we hope he can be who we once thought he was. If he struggles again (or the coaching staff decides he’s once again a backup or role player), he’ll drop out of the top 20 rather quickly. But if Thornhill is back to form, snagging interceptions and showing big range as a deep safety, he’ll more than justify his placement at this spot.

14. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the 2022 NFL Draft, the former LSU star was the only first-round pick that Chiefs general manager Brett Veach had ever made — and he is one of the most polarizing players on the Kansas City roster. Now going into his third NFL campaign, Edwards-Helaire has been quietly productive when he’s been on the field. But he’s already missed 10 games with injuries, so durability has been an issue.

We’re still waiting for his breakout season — especially in the passing game — but there are plenty of reasons to believe that he’s due to step up. With newly-signed free agent Ronald Jones in the mix (along with Jerick McKinnon and others), nothing will be handed to Edwards-Helaire. But don’t be surprised if he takes a big step forward in 2022’s reimagined Chiefs offense.

13. Wide receiver Mecole Hardman

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Rounding out the teens in our rankings is another player for whom expectations have been an issue because of his draft pedigree. Taken in the second round of the 2019 draft, Hardman has always shown the straight-line speed to be an impact player but has yet to build a well-rounded game that would put him in the conversation about the team’s top receiver.

Last season, head coach Andy Reid seemed to find a role that allowed Hardman to settle in as a contributor. Without Tyreek Hill in 2022, there could be some additional opportunities for Kansas City’s receivers — some of which could fall to Hardman. But as our own Brandon Kiley noted, Hardman provides a lot of value even if his production remains the same; he can produce as a runner or a returner — and is also a big-play threat in the passing game. Alongside the bigger receivers the Chiefs have added this offseason, he has a unique skill set. Will it be enough to earn Hardman a new contract after 2022?