We made it to Super Bowl week. Monday will be the first official day where the media can interview players on both the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs. Aside from the coaches, Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk, Emmanuel Sanders, George Kittle, Joe Staley, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner. Fred Warner, Richard Sherman. We are going to attempt to get every soundbite, podcast, and interview up, so I hope you’re ready.
As I was prepping for this game, it’s no surprise Super Bowl LIV will feature numerous stars. The field is going to be loaded with talent on Super Bowl Sunday. So why not rank the top players? This is not a statistical comparison, a PFF grade breakdown, or any of that. This is if we are at recess and are picking the best players.
If you’re not already annoyed with the Mahomes love, it’ll only get worse as the week goes on. Mahomes is a special player, and he showed that during his first start in Week 17 of 2017. From then to the AFC Championship, I haven’t seen a quarterback dominate in the fashion that the Chiefs quarterback has. He’s the best player in this game, and I’m not sure we need to spend any more time on this.
2) George Kittle
If tight end version of Mahomes. There isn’t much to critique about Kittle’s game. He’s cut down on the dropped passes (six drops on 128 targets in 2018 compared to two drops on 112 targets in 2019) and became a more reliable receiver in general. Kittle somehow improved as a blocker. Kyle Shanahan gave him more responsibility as a run and pass blocker, and Kittle can easily be mistaken as an offensive lineman until the ball is in his hands. Kittle had more reception in 2019, but he broke a tackle on 21% of his touches a season ago, and that number jumped to 30% in 2019. The two best players in the Super Bowl are in their third year.
3) Tyrann Mathieu
When you look at how each team performed last season and compare it to this season, I don’t think any player had a bigger impact on defense than Mathieu. The Honey Badger can do it all and do it all at a high level. Tackle, blitz, run, cover, and, most importantly, make plays. Mathieu baits quarterbacks into bad decisions. I can’t say enough good things about him and believe he was the best defensive player between either team this season, which is saying something considering how many studs San Francisco has on defense.
4) Nick Bosa
You could put five names in a hat, and you could make a convincing argument after the top two players. From an impact standpoint, Bosa is the next pick. Bosa is relentless, and now that the 49ers have a healthy defensive line, you can no longer give him extra attention on passing downs. In two playoff games, Bosa has three sacks and ten total pressures. He also has eight stops. There are probably over a dozen other players where Bosa beat his man and affected the play. He’s a superstar already, and there’s no reason for us to pretend otherwise.
5) Richard Sherman
I’m picturing Sherman reading this and seeing he is the fifth-best at anything and using it as motivation. It was quite the bounce-back year for Sherman, who allowed 52.9% of passes his way to be completed and gave up 227 yards all season long. When targeted, Sherman allowed the second-lowest passer rating. Sherman wasn’t just a coverage cornerback, he stuck his nose in the running game and proved to be a huge asset to the 49ers run defense on the edge. Looking at the other top cornerbacks that are talked about, and nobody came close to Sherman’s 17 stops. Teams didn’t test him, but when they did, they paid for it. Will the Chiefs?
6) Arik Armstead
We can’t call Armstead underrated anymore after this season. Once he signs a contract in March, I imagine he’ll be one of the higher paid defensive linemen in the league. Arik was trending in the right direction but exploded during the 2019 regular season. Double-digit sacks, top-10 in run stops, and just outside the top-10 in total pressures. Armstead could win inside and out while playing the majority of the snaps that made his season so impressive. Really happy for him considering all the offseason talk of potentially unloading Armstead. Seeing him go against Mitchell Schwartz, arguably the best tackle he’s faced this season, will be must-see.
7) Travis Kelce
The “other” tight end in this game happens to be the second-best tight end in the game. Kelce led the league in receptions, and yards for tight ends was third in yards after catch and caught the most first downs. Only three players in the NFL had more receptions that went for first downs than Kelce. In my opinion, he’s a better route runner and better with the ball in the air than Kittle. That’s not a slight to Kittle, that’s just how good Kelce is. I’m fascinated to see who the 49ers choose to stick on Kelce on obvious passing downs. He’s a handful to guard for anybody.
8) Chris Jones
The Chiefs have a stud defensive lineman of their own. Jones is a classic “three-technique” that is too quick for guards but can also overwhelm them with his power. Jones missed three games this season but was still top-five among interior linemen in sacks, quarterback hits, and total pressures. He’s a terror. The 49ers interior line will face their toughest challenge since late December. It’ll be interesting to see how Shanahan chooses to protect Jimmy Garoppolo. I’d send help inside and trust Joe Staley to handle Frank Clark.
9) Tyreek Hill
Being explosive matters in a game where possessions are limited, and you have two top passing defenses. Hill isn’t going to wow you with his route-running, but he will with his home run ability. Hill had nine receptions go for 25 or more yards this season (tied with Kittle and Deebo Samuel), but he’s a reliable third-down target for Mahomes as well. Hill was tied for ninth in the NFL for third-down receptions that went for first downs. San Francisco better be ready for screens to Hill.
10) Jimmie Ward
No Deebo Samuel, no offensive linemen on either side, DeForrest Buckner, Jimmy G, Emmanuel Sanders, Raheem Mostert, or the handful of other talented players you can argue from both teams that should be on the list. Give me Jimmie Ward. If I need to play man coverage, I can put Ward in the slot and not have to worry about his man getting a reception. We saw during the preseason Ward could run with Hill. He’s also capable of guarding Kelce. That’s a luxury that few teams have. Only one player that was targeted more than 25 times this season had a better success rate in coverage than Ward. To make that even more impressive, Ward allowed a measly 5.4 yards per pass his way. Ward was third in the NFL in pass breakups among safeties. The Niners needed a sure-tackler on the backend, and Ward gave them that. He only missed four tackles on the season, while having 11 run stops. Ward was superb all season.