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Under The Radar: L’Jarius Sneed is a versatile force making it happen

Kansas City’s fourth-year cornerback is having a great season.

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Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs are on an impressive five-game winning streak, culminating with a decisive 19-8 victory over the Denver Broncos on “Thursday Night Football” — the Chiefs’ 16th consecutive triumph over the Broncos.

In the world of football, there are players whose subtle yet significant contributions often go unnoticed. Fourth-year cornerback L’Jarius Sneed is a prime example. This former Louisiana Tech Bulldog has evolved into a versatile weapon in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme — and yet, his exceptional skills sometimes remain under-appreciated.

The Chiefs selected Sneed in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. But Sneed’s talents quickly became apparent during training camp, earning him a starting role on opening day when former Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland was out with a four-game suspension.

By the time Breeland returned, Sneed had made such a substantial impact that the team needed to find a way to keep him on the field. Thanks to his coverage versatility, willingness to tackle and excellent change-of-direction abilities, he became a dominant slot cornerback. But his exceptional 4.3 speed (and timing as a blitzer) were truly instrumental in bolstering the Chiefs’ defense.

Midway through the 2022 season, the Sneed’s use underwent a noticeable shift. In the early part of the season, first-round draft pick Trent McDuffie — who was set to replace former starting outside cornerback Charvarius Ward — missed six games with a hamstring injury. Sneed’s adaptability allowed the team to move him to the outside. Upon McDuffie’s return, Sneed was shifted to the challenging task of covering each opposing team’s best wide receiver. Sneed embraced this role eagerly — and it has remained his primary assignment (where he continues to excel) in 2023.

During Thursday’s game, Sneed was tasked with covering Denver’s top target — wide receiver Jerry Jeudy — for most of the night. With Sneed covering him, Jeudy wasn’t targeted a single time, earning Sneed a PFF coverage grade of 70.7. The cornerback also continued to be a consistent contributor against the run, tallying four tackles — and when McDuffie briefly left the field, Sneed seamlessly transitioned back to his role in the slot.

So far this season, opposing quarterbacks have struggled when targeting Sneed, registering a passer rating of only 75.3 when targeting Sneed’s receivers. That’s the league’s sixth-best mark among cornerbacks with at least 300 defensive snaps.

The bottom line

Sneed is a standout cornerback — and a vital chess piece in Spagnuolo’s strategy. In Sunday’s crucial divisional matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, he will again play a pivotal role.

He is, however, in the final year of his rookie deal. Will the Chiefs be willing to invest in retaining him after this season — or will his stellar play make him a highly sought-after free agent that Kansas City cannot afford? For now, that difficult decision will have to wait. Right now, the focus is on Sneed’s impending showdown with the Chargers’ star receiver Keenan Allen.

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