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Super Bowl

Path To Super Bowl LVII Paved By Later-Round, UDFA Gems

  • Justin Melo
  • February 9, 2023
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The Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs will square off in Super Bowl LVII this Sunday. While both teams are led by the star power of Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, and Travis Kelce, it’s often the lesser-publicized players and unsung heroes that directly impact the outcome. Several late-round gems and undrafted free agents will shine on the biggest stage.

NFL rosters are largely made up of undrafted free agents and day-three draft selections. Both the Chiefs and Eagles are littered with developmental talents that helped them reach Super Bowl LVII. Andy Reid and Nick Sirainni will continue relying on their underrated contributors to carry them home.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach did a fantastic job reloading his secondary via the 2022 NFL Draft. Veach was tasked with replacing the likes of Tyrann Mathieu and Charvarius Ward, both of whom departed the Chiefs in free agency. Finding immediate contributors in the draft is a must when you roster a quarterback on a $450 million contract. Veach nailed this objective.

The Chiefs utilized an unprecedented five draft picks on secondary defenders. They selected Trent McDuffie and Bryan Cook in the first and second rounds, Joshua Williams in the fourth round, and Jaylen Watson and Nazeeh Johnson in the seventh round. All five players have played extensively as rookies. Watson has interceptions (and four pass breakups) in back-to-back victories. The Chiefs have trusted him to cover the likes of Tee Higgins in the red zone. He could see plenty of A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith on Sunday. Williams has been equally as effective, having recorded an interception after Cook tipped a Joe Burrow pass into the air.  Kansas City’s late-round secondary defenders (Watson and Williams) continue to make plays.

Former fourth-round selection L’Jarius Sneed has developed into a sticky cover corner in Kansas City’s secondary. Sneed has been a workhorse for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, having played more than 1,200 snaps this season. A movable chess piece, Sneed has played 589 snaps at the nickel and 373 snaps as a boundary corner, per Pro Football Focus. Sneed’s versatility will be appreciated on Sunday in the Super Bowl.

Kansas City’s offense has plenty of similar stories. Seventh-round rookie running back Isiah Pacheco is the star of the group, having led all Chiefs running backs in rushing yards (830) this season. Pacheco is going to be Kansas City’s go-to running back against the Eagles. Former fifth-round wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is fresh off a six-reception, 116-yard performance in the AFC Championship Game. Look for Valdes-Scantling, who has touchdowns in back-to-back playoff games, to threaten Philadelphia’s defense vertically.

Fellow wide receiver Justin Watson is a deep-threat playmaker. Kansas City’s offensive line features a ton of homegrown talents. Sixth-round pick Trey Smith and right tackle Andrew Wylie, an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Michigan, help form a dominant front-five that provides Mahomes with elite protection.

The Eagles aren’t to be outdone. Sirianni has crafted an elite rushing attack that relies on a running-back-by-committee approach. Former sixth-round selection Boston Scott has rushing touchdowns in consecutive postseason victories. Former fifth-round pick Kenneth Gainwell has led the Eagles in rushing in both contests. Running the football effectively is a key to victory for the Eagles on Sunday. Their late-round ball-carriers will be heavily involved.

The 1,000-yard duo of Smith and Brown will command Kansas City’s defensive attention. That frees up Quez Watkins, a former sixth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi, to do damage. Watkins has yet to record a reception in this year’s postseason, but Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen could utilize Watkins to threaten vertically.

Starting left tackle Jordan Mailata (2018 seventh-round selection) has developed into one of the game’s dominant blindside protectors. Mailata is joined by another fellow day-three selection in center Jason Kelce. Right tackle Lane Johnson is Philadelphia’s lone starting offensive lineman that was a first-round pick. Philadelphia’s elite offensive line is largely made up of underappreciated talent. Blocking tight end Jack Stoll (a sophomore UDFA) works as an extension of the offensive line.

Philadelphia’s dominant defensive line features less hidden-gem talent, but defensive tackle Javon Hargrave went about 80 selections too late (No. 89 overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft. Defensive end Josh Sweat, who slipped to the fourth round in 2018 due to medical concerns, just recorded a career-high 11.0 sack season.

Starting linebackers Kyzir White (fourth-round pick) T.J. Edwards (undrafted) are enjoying playing behind a front four that controls the line of scrimmage. Edwards has especially been excellent, having totaled a career-high 159 tackles.

Philadelphia’s secondary features a plethora of late-round contributors. Avonte Maddox (a former fourth-rounder with 300-plus coverage snaps this season) is a rotational stud, as is fourth-round safety K’Von Wallace. Neither is more impressive than rookie undrafted safety Reed Blankenship, however. Blankenship stepped up to the plate following an injury to Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Blankenship played his way into a role despite Gardner-Johnson’s return from injury. Blankenship forced and recovered a fumble against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

Pay close attention to these day-three and undrafted free-agent gems when analyzing Super Bowl LVII. Star power will be present for both Philadelphia and Kansas City—especially at quarterback and the pass-catching positions—but it will be the prospects that took winding paths to the league that shapes the outcome.

Written By

Justin Melo