The Chiefs have plenty of up-and-comers who could soon be recognized as some of the best players at their respective positions this season.
Much of the NFL world respects the Kansas City Chiefs’ coaching staff for its creative, one-of-a-kind play designs and subsequent execution. Under his leadership, Andy Reid’s coaching tree has also quietly become one of the NFL’s premier talent developers.
In a league where even prospective hand-in-glove fits don’t always work out seamlessly, the Chiefs have overseen 11 different players make the Pro Bowl in either year one or year two within their system.
Following an offseason in which Kansas City boded farewell to an All-Pro safety in Tyrann Mathieu, an All-Pro wideout in Tyreek Hill and a top-shelf cornerback in Charvarius Ward — among many others — that ability to both develop talent and seamlessly scheme it in will be of the utmost importance.
To their credit, by way of both their draft and free agency acquisitions, the Chiefs will have multiple players poised to potentially be among the best at their respective positions and be recognized as first-time Pro Bowlers this upcoming season. Let’s dive into a few who stand out.
Over the last five seasons, 23 different rookies have been able to earn a Pro Bowl honor. Few boasted a better case than first-year center Creed Humphrey in 2021-22. Pro Football Focus viewed him as the game’s premier center with a 91.8 overall grade (No. 2 was over six points back at 85.7), along with being the only center with a 90.0-plus run-blocking grade.
It wasn’t as though Humphrey was a slouch in the passing game, either; he was the only center to log at least 900 passing snaps, allowing a mere 12 pressures all season in the Chiefs’ air-heavy offense.
Consider that this very dynamic — the Chiefs’ offensive line getting a feel for Patrick Mahomes’s (sometimes) playground style of football — isn’t the easiest to pick up on right away. Even a player like Orlando Brown Jr., a three-time Pro Bowler, wasn’t able to easily do so immediately.
That Humphrey avoided a much-expected learning curve bodes well for his future trajectory. Kansas City added backfield reinforcements and should remain one of the league’s top pass-heavy teams moving forward. His attachment to, arguably, the game’s most feared quarterback will keep eyes on him.
Competition will be steep, even within the division as Corey Linsley will be opening holes for Austin Ekeler and protecting Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers. Ben Jones of the Tennessee Titans and David Andrews of the New England Patriots, among others, will likely garner consideration as well.
Nonetheless, Humphrey would be the strongest of the potential first-time Pro Bowlers — and quite literally at that. As our own Mark Van Sickle noted last week, if Humphrey returns as even close to the same player as last year, it’s hard to envision him being snubbed again.
It didn’t take long for Nick Bolton to properly introduce himself to the Kansas City faithful; there were drives last season in which it felt like one could pick out No. 54 in the pile on every play. That effort was punctuated by Bolton being named Defensive Rookie of the Month in November, and he remained a noteworthy piece of the defense’s transition thereafter.
There were pass coverage issues last season, where Bolton could be caught out of position, but the statistics spoke for themselves. He was one of only five players to corral 100 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss, checking in alongside Demario Davis, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Roquan Smith and Jordyn Brooks.
A few months back, Evan Winter of A to Z Sports hit on a few of Bolton’s other standout statistics, many of which put him on the trajectory to perhaps be one of the game’s best linebackers. Bucky Brooks went as far as to suggest he’d become a household name and perhaps, “the league’s next great linebacker.”
Recent history hasn’t been the kindest to the Chiefs’ defense with year-to-year position changes but with a few starts under his belt already, Bolton already has the notoriety needed to bolster his second-year jump.
When thinking of the NFL’s premier linebackers, many of the ones that come to mind are in the NFC — Fred Warner, Bobby Wagner and the aforementioned Davis. In fact, in Pro Football Network’s ranking of the NFL’s ten best pure linebackers, nine of them are NFC-bound in 2022. The door is open for Bolton to become not only one of his conference’s most formidable defenders, but also one of the best in the entire league.
A few other Chiefs players on the radar
Juan Thornhill and Justin Reid
Hey, when a player says that they’re intending on making an All-Pro jump, as Thornhill did last week, they at least command a note. That especially applies when they’ve got the talent suggesting that they can get there.
This year, Thornhill shouldn’t have to worry about inconsistent playing time out of the gate. The group anchored by free agent signing Justin Reid and second-round pick Bryan Cook could be more interchangeable and cohesive than last season’s group. If Thornhill is back to his pre-injury form — when he allowed just a 43.0 passer rating in 996 snaps in 2019 — one could be talked into it.
Reid’s case feels a bit more plausible, given that he has a more established body of work. He’s one of the game’s more all-around safeties and was paid as such this spring. Mathieu showed what safeties are expected to do in the Chiefs’ system and while it’s unfair to expect Reid to reach that level, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine him playing up to the deal that makes him the eighth-highest paid safety in the game.
Smith is listed for similar reasons to Humphrey. The list of elite guards in the AFC makes it a more difficult sell, but Smith was the 10th-ranked run-blocking guard in just year one while also logging the most offensive snaps of any guard. This offseason, the Chiefs’ potential front line only got nastier. That extra year of experience could lead to another jump for the 23-year-old Smith.
The Chiefs are only going to keep scoring. Unless the NFL changes the rules, Harrison Butker will continue to kick at an elite volume. Since entering the league in 2017, he’s No. 3 in field goals made, No. 4 in attempts and his 233 extra points pace the next-best kicker by 17 points, per StatMuse.
Butker hasn’t always had the chance to hit game-winning, monumental kicks due to the Chiefs’ offense being difficult to keep pace with. But from the standpoint of consistency and volume, he’s there near the top. As it stands, he’s been stopped mainly by two words: Justin Tucker. If elite AFC offenses stall, there could be an opening for Butker to make a Pro Bowl team.