Underrated contributors for Chiefs, 49ers

Patrick Mahomes. Nick Bosa. Travis Kelce. George Kittle. These men are superstars — they are among the first names that come to mind for the Super Bowl-bound Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.

But this is the NFL, not the NBA. Stars cannot carry a franchise in the league on their own. Finding success in the NFL requires a collective effort that most other sports do not come close to matching. Sixty-three players took the field for Kansas City this season; 66 players played for San Francisco. Naturally, on rosters that large, there are bound to be contributors whose efforts are unheralded. Here are six unsung players in Super Bowl LIV (Fox, 6:30 ET):


Damien Williams, Running back

Standout skill: Creating yardage after contact

The NFL became increasingly pass-heavy throughout the 2010s, but 2019 closed the decade with an antithetical chapter in that story. Many teams found success with a run-heavy approach. Of the eight teams to reach the divisional round, seven ranked in the top half of the league in rush attempts, yards and yards per attempt. Kansas City was the exception, leading all playoff teams by passing on 61.4 percent of plays in 2019.

Andy Reid’s Chiefs may not run the ball much, but when they do, the results tend to be positive. Kansas City ranked seventh in rush offense EPA, eighth in rushing first-down rate (25.9 percent) and 14th in rush offense DVOA during the regular season. In the playoffs, Kansas City has rushed for 4.8 yards per attempt (league average 4.3). Having a quality run game is crucial for the Chiefs. It buys them extra space to throw downfield, as they consistently keep opponents honest with productive runs in short-yardage situations.

Lead back Williams is largely responsible for Kansas City’s solid rushing efficiency. The Chiefs are not a great run-blocking team, ranking 23rd in Pro Football Focus’ run-blocking grade and 28th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards per carry in the regular season. Williams has been able to bail out the offensive front with elite elusiveness. He led qualified running backs with an average of 3.2 yards after contact per rush attempt, and ranked third in rush attempts per broken tackle (7.4).

Williams, who’s 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds, has terrific speed (4.45 seconds in the 40). That special combination of size and speed is on display below, as Williams bounces off 309-pound defensive tackle Justin Jones of the Chargers before dashing up the sideline for an 84-yard touchdown.

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