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Patrick Mahomes’ star continues to shine so bright others are being lost in the glare. The Kansas City Chiefs are far more than their trendsetting quarterback, though.
Yes, Mahomes is spectacular, and his skill set elevates the play of those around him, but the Chiefs roster is littered with standouts at every level deserving of far more attention.
Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are exceptional talents and two of the best at their respective positions. Hill may be the NFL‘s fastest man and is nearly uncoverable. Kelce, meanwhile, can make a strong argument he surpassed the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski as TE1.
But they at least get some of their due, whereas the players below are often overlooked.
Kansas City didn’t just emerge now that an elite quarterback fell into place. Head coach Andy Reid held a 53-27 record with four playoff berths during the previous five seasons. This can’t be done without some semblance of talent. Although, the roster has continued to evolve since he became the head coach in 2013.
Sunday’s 45-10 throttling of the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium highlighted others who are critical components to the team’s 6-1 start, starting with the running back who lines up next to Mahomes.
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Kareem Hunt best personifies the old Rodney Dangerfield adage, “I get no respect.”
How many running backs could lead the NFL in rushing one year and become an afterthought the next? But that’s exactly what’s happened to Hunt. It’s become cool to say he’s overrated and a product of the system.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Hunt is far from a typical back without any defining quality. One carry Sunday night encapsulated everything the second-year veteran is capable of doing:
The running back showed patience behind his blockers, escapability to avoid a tackle, enough athleticism to hurdle a defender, the balance to stick the landing and leg drive and power to finish the run with authority.
“I haven’t seen that one before,” Reid said, per ESPN.com’s Adam Teicher. “He elevated pretty good.”
An individual doesn’t run for 1,327 yards by accident, as Hunt did last season. He’s on pace to run for more than 1,200 this season while becoming an even bigger part in the team’s passing game. With four receiving touchdowns, including two against the Bengals, Hunt has already eclipsed last year’s total.
Checking down doesn’t have to be considered a surrender. Hunt creates chunk plays as an outlet target, as he did during his second scoring play:
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The 216-pound back can slam it between the tackles when needed as well. That’s exactly how he scored his third touchdown.
All in all, Hunt finished the night with 141 total yards while serving as the Chief’s bell cow. He does benefit to a degree from above-average line play.
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Mitchell Schwartz is the game’s best right tackle. No one is more consistent on the strong side. Schwartz doesn’t miss any snaps and shuts down opposing pass-rushers.
“I’m a fan of the game, and I know great players,” said Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who is tied for second in the league with 7.5 sacks, per the Kansas City Star‘s Lynn Worthy. “Mitch is a great player. It’s funny how you get three [second-team] All-Pros but no Pro Bowls. That’s the weirdest [crap] ever. He’s a great player. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Schwartz became the NFL’s iron man upon Joe Thomas’ retirement. His four seasons opposite the future Hall of Fame left tackle in Cleveland must have taught him plenty. Schwartz will never be mistaken for the game’s most athletic blocker. His attention to detail, understanding of defenses, technique and consistency are unrivaled.
All of those qualities have been vital to Kansas City’s offense as of late. The unit’s regular starters at center and right guard—Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif—weren’t in the lineup Sunday. Morse is in the concussion protocol, while Duvernay-Tardif is on injured reserve after suffering a fractured fibula.
Line upheaval can ruin any good offense. Schwartz provides the Chiefs with the veteran presence to stabilize the unit even though two new starters are in place.
The defensive line isn’t nearly as dependable, but the group includes a difference-maker opposing offenses must account for on a down-by-down basis.
Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press
Questions about consistency plagued Chris Jones during the 2016 predraft process and pushed the defensive lineman down boards, allowing the Chiefs to select him with the 37th overall pick.
Jones’ natural ability was never in question. Although, the Chiefs coaching staff had to coax the best out of him. It’s done so, and Jones has developed into a wrecking ball.
At 6’6″ and 310 pounds, Jones has the size, length and strength most blockers can’t handle. The third-year lineman serves as the focal point for the entire defense, both on and off the field.
“The thing that makes Chris something special really has nothing to do with the tangible things that you can measure on a football field,” Jones’ high school defensive coordinator, Coty Cox, told the Kansas City Star‘s Brooke Pryor. “It’s the personality that he brings to the locker room. … He shows up swinging them big ‘ol arms and he’s got that grin on his face and, ‘Oh yeah baby, it’s football time.’ It’s every single day.”
Jones managed a sack and two tackles for loss during Sunday’s contest.
The Chiefs defense remains a cause for concern. After all, Bob Sutton’s side of the ball came into this weekend’s play ranked 32nd overall. The Bengals offense managed a meager 239 yards, though.
Ed Zurga/Associated Press
Special teams, meanwhile, is a team strength, especially behind the leg of kicker Harrison Butker. The second-year specialist finally missed a field goal in the first quarter, albeit a 53-yarder. He’s still 12-of-13 this season, and he’s converted all 32 extra-point attempts.
Butker is one of seven kickers (minimum of four field-goal attempts) with a 90 percent field-goal conversion rate and no missed extra points.
Poor special teams play, especially from kickers, has been counted among the NFL’s biggest problems this season. Multiple organizations have cycled through multiple kicking options. A field goal and an extra point are no longer considered automatic plays. Butker is pretty close to automatic—which makes the Chiefs superior in another phase of the game.
More to Come
Eric Berry and Justin Houston didn’t play against the Bengals. According to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, the Chiefs are confident Berry will play again this season as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Houston is nursing an injured hamstring.
Both are aging vets who may not be the same players they once were. However, they’d make the Chiefs more potent overall because of their experience and ability to provide depth.
Until that happens, Kansas City can continue to lean on Mahomes’ star power and his outstanding surrounding cast. The quarterback may get most of the credit during an MVP-caliber campaign, but the Chiefs are being led by a total team effort.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.