Super Bowl 2023: Five under-the-radar Chiefs who could prove important vs. Eagles in quest for NFL crown
The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles -- the top seed from each conference -- reached Super Bowl LVII, making it a dream matchup on Sunday. The game will also feature some of the NFL's biggest names, including the league's two All-Pro quarterbacks, first-teamer Patrick Mahomes and second-teamer Jalen Hurts. The matchup between the Chiefs and Eagles is brimming with top-flight talent.
However, championships aren't always won by the expected heroes.
No one would've thought that it would've been Chiefs running back Damien Williams scoring the go-ahead and game-sealing touchdowns in the Chiefs' Super LIV victory over the San Francisco 49ers to conclude the 2019 season. Nearly every Super Bowl spotlight brings out some unsung heroes and Super Bowl LVII will likely provide the same types of surprises.
With that in mind, here are five Chiefs who could emerge as surprise keys to victory on Super Bowl Sunday:
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Some of the surprise element faded from the former Green Bay Packer since he had season highs in receiving yards (116) and receptions (six) in the AFC Championship, but the first-year Chief can still be given the under-the-radar label since he now has as many receiving touchdowns in the postseason (two) as he had in the regular season. If Valdes-Scantling makes an impact on Sunday, it will likely be on the receiving end of a Patrick Mahomes deep ball since he leads the NFL in yards per catch since entering the league in 2018 with a 17.2 yards per reception average. MVS is a big-play threat as 76.2% of his catches went for either a first down or a touchdown, the third highest in the NFL behind only Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (80%) and Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper (78.2%).
LB Nick Bolton
First-Team All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones and defensive end Frank Clark get the shine as the guys racking up sacks and pressures, but this defense doesn't get held together without Nick Bolton, whose 180 tackles this season were the second most in the entire NFL, only four off the league lead. He's the glue of Steve Spagnuolo's defense, having played 98% of defensive snaps this season. His shine could come with the Eagles facing fourth-and-short with the game hanging in the balance because Philadelphia, thanks to quarterback Jalen Hurts, is the best quarterback sneak team in the NFL. They went 31/35 on QB sneaks, the most conversions and attempts in the NFL. No other team attempted more than 20 or converted more than 17. Bolton being able to make a possession-ending tackle of Hurts could swing the game.
DE George Karlaftis
Playing the Eagles will be the ultimate test for the Chiefs' defensive front since Philadelphia has the best offensive line in the NFL, a group Aaron Rodgers called "one of the best in the last 20 years." In order for Kansas City to emerge victorious, the Chiefs need their defensive line to shock the world. As already addressed above, Jones and Clark are the stars of the Chiefs pass rush, but rookie George Karlaftis, the 30th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, will likely need to play like a Pro Bowler. He's shown some promise of late, registering at least half a sack in seven of the last nine games, and he's only one of two rookies to have at least six sacks (6.0) and eight tackles for loss (eight) this season, joining second overall pick and Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. Playing strong in the run game will also be crucial as the success of Hurts and running back Miles Sanders sets the table for their deep passing attack. Karlaftis has also exhibited better chops in that area with at least one tackle for loss in eight of the last nine games.
K Harrison Butker
The usually reliable Chiefs kicker has had the worst season of his career, making under 88% of his field goals for the first time, converting 18-of-24 attempts in the regular season, good for a 75% rate. However, he has exhibited the ability to snap out of it in critical moments, connecting on all 10 of his kicks during the playoffs this year, a perfect 5 for 5 on both field goals and extra points, including the game-winning 45-yarder with three seconds left in the AFC Championship Game to send Kansas City back to the Super Bowl. Due to his struggles this regular season, he merits inclusion as an under-the-radar X-factor. Both of the Chiefs' playoff wins have been by one possession, so Butker has a very real chance of being called upon to be the difference on Super Bowl Sunday.
CB Trent McDuffie
McDuffie, the Chiefs' 21st overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, had a hamstring injury that caused him to miss six games this season. However, his 51% completion percentage allowed in the regular season ranked as the fifth best among rookies with 25 or more passes thrown their way. He doesn't have an interception in his career yet, so him coming up with his first could swing the big game Kansas City's way. The Chiefs secondary will have to play a near-perfect game to slow down A.J. Brown, Dallas Goedert and DeVonta Smith, putting McDuffie in a pivotal role on Super Bowl Sunday. Read More