The Kansas City Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl for the third time in five seasons. This version of the Chiefs, though, looks a bit different than its predecessors.
Some of the pieces are still the same: Patrick Mahomes is under center. He's throwing to Travis Kelce. Chris Jones is wrecking opposing offensive lines. Frank Clark is coming off the edge. Some of the newer pieces are well-known names: Joe Thuney is the league's highest-paid guard. Orlando Brown is on the franchise tag. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have been around as starter-level players for a while now.
But what about the rest of the Chiefs' team-building? We're here to identify some of the more under-the-radar moves that helped the Chiefs get back to the biggest stage in football.
Signing Andrew Wylie in 2018
Wylie went undrafted out of Eastern Michigan in 2017. He signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent, but was released during the final cutdown. He caught on with the Browns and Chargers as part of their practice squads, but was released by both. Kansas City signed him in late December 2017 and he's gone on to become an important contributor in numerous ways. He began his career as a guard but eventually settled at right tackle, where he's been the starter for much of the past two seasons. Kansas City spent a lot to fortify the left side of the line by trading for Brown and signing Thuney, so it was important to have low-cost players on the opposite side. He's been a solid, if unspectacular right tackle, but he hasn't needed to be more than that considering what Kansas City has elsewhere on the line.
Signing Jerick McKinnon in 2021
McKinnon was a third-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. He impressed in fits and starts behind Adrian Peterson and later Matt Asiata before signing a big-money free agent deal with the San Francisco 49ers. But injuries wrecked his tenure in San Francisco. He ended up missing the entirety of his first two seasons, then working in a part-time role in 2020. Kansas City signed him to a cheap, one-year deal prior to the 2021 campaign, and while he didn't factor into the equation much during the regular season, he emerged as the team's best back during the playoffs. This year, he's been much more involved from the jump, logging a 47% snap rate that is the second-highest mark of his career. He's a valuable release valve for Mahomes, and has been a dangerous weapon in the red zone.
Nailing Days 2 and 3 of the 2021 draft
With Kansas City spending a significant portion of its cap on players like Mahomes, Kelce, Jones, Thuney, Brown, and Clark, the Chiefs needed badly to hit on their draft picks. These past two years, they have done a marvelous job of it. They really nailed things on the second and third days of the 2021 draft, landing Creed Humphrey, Nick Bolton, Noah Gray, and Trey Smith. Humphrey was their second-round pick and he's become one of the best centers in the NFL. He made the Pro Bowl and was a Second Team All-Pro this year. Bolton was acquired as a draft pick in the trade for Brown, and after playing a rotational role during his rookie year, he played 98% of Kansas City's defensive snaps this season. He's fantastic against the run, while holding his own in coverage. Gray was a fifth-rounder and emerged as the Chiefs' No. 2 tight end this year, and that's an especially important role considering the relative weakness of the receiving corps forced them into using multiple-tight end sets more often than most teams. And Smith is just your standard sixth-round pick who turned into one of the league's best guards. This is a fantastic job of finding value all over the board.
The entire 2022 draft
As mentioned, the Chiefs needed to nail the draft. And just as they did in 2021, they picked up multiple starters and important players in 2022. They traded up to select Trent McDuffie, and after missing time due to injury following a terrific debut game, he's become a versatile piece for them. He's spent time both on the perimeter and in the slot, and will likely do the same on Sunday. George Karlaftis played 64% of regular-season snaps and notched 6.0 sacks, and picked up another sack in the AFC title game. Second-round pick Bryan Cook only started one game, but he's been the third safety all year and made a huge play to create an interception against the Bengals in the conference championship. Leo Chenal has been a rotational linebacker all year. Seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson made six starts and is now the No. 2 outside corner. Joshua Williams made four starts and still plays a rotational role. And of course, seventh-rounder Isiah Pacheco plays a significant role in the rushing attack and has taken on more pass-game responsibility in recent weeks. That's a heck of a draft class.