For the second-straight Super Bowl, one team is so much about its veterans. The Eagles have plenty of homegrown stars like Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Brandon Graham, and Jalen Hurts and hit the aggression accelerators this offseason with trades to acquire A.J. Brown and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to supplement the offense and defense.
And, sure, the Chiefs have their veteran, homegrown superstars. You know them. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Chris Jones. But the post Tyreek Hill era in Kansas City began with a rousing success due in large part to the highly relied upon rookie class. So let's rank the most critical first-year pros in Super Bowl LVII:
(yeah, it's all Chiefs)
5. George Karlaftis, EDGE, Chiefs
The Chiefs are going to need more than Jones denting the Eagles offensive line in this game. And Philadelphia has the most formidable, congealed blocking unit in football. Karlaftis, Kansas City's second first-round pick in 2022, has not had an awesome rookie season as an individual pass rusher winning in one-on-one situations. But he's played a lot and quietly racked up 49 pressures on 506 total pass-rushing snaps.
He'll either see enormous tackles Johnson or Jordan Mailata when attempting to pressure Hurts, so he'll have quite the challenge in this Super Bowl. But any sort of consistent pressure or lone splash play as a rusher would go a long way in helping the Chiefs defense.
4. Trent McDuffie, CB, Chiefs
A prolonged injury layoff put McDuffie behind the acclimation curve in his rookie season. By now he's a fully locked-in professional defender capable of playing quality coverage in the slot or on the perimeter. In this Super Bowl, the former first-round pick from Washington with lightning-quick feet and reliable tackling will be put to the test on the outside zone runs and RPOs, patented in the Eagles offense.
He'll also have to showcase his coverage skills against a stable of backs and monster tight end Dallas Goedert too. How tightly McDuffie sticks to his assignment and secures ball carriers without misses will be key to the Chiefs containing the Eagles extraordinarily well-balanced offense.
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3. Joshua Williams, CB, Chiefs
With L'Jarius Sneed injured, and likely not 100% for Sunday, Williams will probably be thrust into one of the starting outside cornerback roles in the Super Bowl and will get a steady diet of A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith in the Super Bowl -- a far cry from Division II football at Fayetteville State.
Now, Williams can play and oozes talented at nearly 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. He's held his own this season as a part-time player who's been worked into the rotation more as Kansas City's season has progressed. Philadelphia boasts two vastly different but nonetheless effective boundary wideouts, and Williams will have to be on his game from the jump in this one.
2. Isiah Pacheco, RB, Chiefs
From a sheer presence perspective, Pacheco would be No. 1 on this list, but he's playing running back on a team quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was just activated back to the roster for the Super Bowl and should see a few carries, thereby limiting Pacheco's potential impact. But make no mistake -- Pacheco is Kansas City's RB1 who'll be a decently major factor in the run and pass game against the Eagles front. The Chiefs will need Pacheco to perform his usual run-through-tackle style to help maximize the efficiency of the Chiefs offense against such a stout defense.
1. Jaylen Watson, CB, Chiefs
Watson is in the same boat as Williams but gets the nod at No. 1 because he's the seventh-round pick. He's had three vital interceptions this season -- one a game-winning pick six against the Chargers in September and takeaways in the past two playoff wins for the Chiefs. At 6-2 and 197 pounds with 4.51 speed, Watson has the physique and athleticism to run with Brown and Smith. How well he tracks the football, handles their intricate routes, and tackles after the catch will be vital.