Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Christian McCaffrey, Brock Purdy. Everyone knows the biggest names who’ll be completing in Super Bowl LVIII, but unless you’ve been following these teams all season long you probably don’t know about deeper players who could make a big impact on the game.
The crew at SB Nation sat down and drafted 40 players from the Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl in our effort to rank the guys we think will have a major impact on the game. Consider this your chance to get to know some of the key linemen and defensive players who could become Super Bowl heroes like David Tyree.
40. Jake Brendel, C, San Francisco 49ers
Brendel represents a fairly decent, if not slightly underrated Niners’ interior offensive line including himself, Aaron Banks, and stand-in Jon Feliciano – KA
39. Drue Tranquill, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
The case can be made that when the Kansas City defense was in the game during the AFC Championship Game, Drue Tranquill was the best player on the field. Given the weapons the San Francisco 49ers are bringing to the Super Bowl — and how often the team utilizes bigger personnel packages, Tranquill could be a huge factor on Super Bowl Sunday. — MS
38. Mitch Wishnowsky, P, San Francisco 49ers
There’s a serious case to be made that Tommy Townsend of the Chiefs is the better punter of these two Super Bowl teams, but Wishnowsky has a chance to be more impactful in the game itself. The Chiefs’ offense will eat, it always finds a way — but if this becomes a defensive battle, as it very well could, then the directional punting prowess of Wishnowsky could be a key in the field position battle. — JD
37. Leo Chenal, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs’ LB unit has a lot of depth and is extremely talented, and Chenal is the youngest of the bunch. He’s a downhill hammer against the run and can also be an extremely effective blitzer, allowing the Chiefs to remain extremely effective in their base personnel. With the Shanahan offense thriving in 21 personnel, expect Chenal to have a major role in the decision of Sunday’s game. -JA
36. Willie Gay, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
Dealing with an injury, Gay may not be available for the Super Bowl but is a valuable part of the Chiefs defense. If Gay is able to play, his ability to dissect plays and react with speed will be helpful. With Kyle Shanahan’s creative offense, it is vital that the Kansas City linebackers stay true to their keys and don’t get distracted by “eye candy” too often. -JM
35. Jake Moody, K, San Francisco 49ers
Kickers are important. Most of the time, however, the 49ers offense and defense can compliment each other well enough that they’re able to beat opponents handedly to the point their kicker isn’t often expected to make game-winning/tying kicks in the final seconds. But they’re playing the Chiefs in the Super Bowl and there’s no way Patrick Mahomes and Co. are going down without making this the sweatiest game imaginable. Moody may have to come through in the clutch in the most stressful situation he’s ever been put in.
34. Jauan Jennings, WR, San Francisco 49ers
How does the WR3 with only 19 catches on the season even make this list? He’s the NFL equivalent of an NBA “glue guy.” The stats aren’t flashy, but he helps the team win. Roughly 40 percent of his 78 career receptions have been third-down conversions, hence the “3rd and Jauan” moniker. Jennings really shines as a blocker, where he’s as mean and tenacious as they come, and it’s made him a fan favorite. – MA
33. Harrison Butker, K, Kansas City Chiefs
Kickers are people, too! Butker kicked the winning field goals in last season’s AFC Championship and Super Bowl, and he’s been outstanding this season. Including the playoffs, he’s 40/42 on field goal attempts and a perfect 45/45 on PATs. Butker and Dallas Cowboys rookie Brandon Aubrey were the only kickers perfect beyond 40 yards for the whole season. If this game comes down to the kickers, Butker should have the clear edge over 49ers rookie Jake Moody. – MA
32. Justin Reid, S, Kansas City Chiefs
He’s been an excellent free-agent signing for Kansas City after coming over from the Houston Texans in 2022. He is a solid fit for the Chiefs’ defense and is a strong back-end presence. The Stanford product is a smart field general for Kansas City’s secondary. — BW.
31. Chase Young, DE, San Francisco 49ers
Honestly, when the 49ers acquired him in a trade-deadline deal with Washington in October, they probably envisioned the talented Young being listed much higher than this. But the truth is, he hasn’t been great in San Francisco and it may affect his free-agent market. There has been some apparent effort issues. But Young can play and he has skills. Perhaps he shows it off on the biggest stage. — BW.
30. Jy’Ayir Brown, S, San Francisco 49ers
Brown has been better than some may have expected as a rookie, but his versatility to play multiple spots for the 49ers defense made it an easy transition from Pen State to the NFL. While he’s started only started five regular season before the NFC Championship Game, Brown has still notched a pair of interceptions and four pass breakups. If there’s an unsung hero for the Niners in the Super Bowl, I like Brown to be that guy. – MP
29. Tashaun Gipson Sr, S, San Francisco 49ers
A 12-year veteran who often doesn’t get a lot of attention, Gipson has helped solidify San Francisco’s backend for the last two seasons. His versatility to line up all over the field, play in coverage and fill in run defense is hard to quantify and doesn’t show up in the boxscore.
28. Nick Bolton, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City defense has a lot of young talent, and Bolton is one of their best. He’s at his best coming downhill vs the run or as a blitzer, and is one of the keys to how defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo cooks up pressures. Bolton made the big play in last years’ Super Bowl, recovering a fumble and returning it for a touchdown, and in Vegas he’ll need to come up with some more big plays. – JA
27. Mike Danna, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
Mike Danna is the best defensive player on the Chiefs that almost nobody talks about. There’s no doubt that Chris Jones is the engine which makes the DL go, but Danna broke out in 2023 with 50 tackles and 6.5 sacks. When teams commit to doubling Jones (which they have to), Danna has learned how to feast inside — and the 1-2 punch of these two linemen could manage to overwhelm the 49ers’ brilliant offensive lone — JD
26. Jaylen Watson, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs defense is up against it in Super Bowl 58, given all the offensive weapons at Kyle Shanahan’s disposal. That could mean that Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams, who have seen a similar amount of playing time in the postseason, find themselves under Shanahan’s proverbial microscope. Watson has allowed just two receptions in the playoffs on five targets, and if the Chiefs are going to slow down the 49ers, he’ll need to post similar numbers next Sunday. — MS
25. Arik Armstead, DT, San Francisco 49ers
Armstead doesn’t live up to the hype of being a former top-20 pick because he’s not an elite pass rusher, but lost in the box score is that he is San Francisco’s best interior run stopper. It’s actually not even that close between him and Hargrave in terms of run stops, while former first round pick Javon Kinlaw is a major liability—so Armstead is a must-have player for this run defense against Isiah Pacheco. – KA
24. Deommodore Lenoir, CB, San Francisco 49ers
Lenoir is arguably the top cornerback in the 2023 playoffs in terms of coverage, as he’s allowing just 0.22 yards per slot coverage snap in the postseason. He’s allowed 20 yards in two playoff games. Brandon Aiyuk has said that Lenoir gets “the whole team turnt up” and as one of the top trash talkers in the league, Lenoir is sure to be harassing Kansas City’s top receiver. – KA
23. Kyle Juszczyk, FB, San Francisco 49ers
Part of what makes the 49ers so difficult to defend is that their personnel is so multifaceted. Between Kittle, McCaffrey, Samuel, and Kyle Juszczyk you have players that can line up in the backfield, in the wing, on the line, in the slot, and out wide. Juszczyk might be a fullback on the roster, but he aligns all over the field and will give Steve Spagnuolo yet one more thing to worry about on Super Bowl Sunday. — MS
22. Rashee Rice, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
We’ve been waiting to see who will step up and grab the brass ring at receiver in Kansas City since Tyreek Hill was traded, and Rashee Rice looks like he might be that guy. A second round pick out of SMU in the 2023 draft, Rice quickly emerged as Patrick Mahomes’ favorite target after Travis Kelce. He already has the franchise single-season touchdown receiving record for a rookie in hand, now he’ll look to make a big impact in the biggest game of his life. — JD
21. Joe Thuney, OG, Kansas City Chiefs
Thuney missed the AFC Championship Game with a pectoral injury that makes him a long shot to play in the Super Bowl, but if he does play he completes the trio inside for the Chiefs. Thuney is smart and powerful and helps keep Patrick Mahomes clean, while also providing aid to the Chiefs’ tackles. The 49ers are a very attacking defense and face a challenge on the inside with Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead, so if Thuney can go it gives the Chiefs a major boost. -JA
20. Trey Smith, OG, Kansas City Chiefs
One of the least exciting positions in football, Smith grinds on defenders with his size and physicality at the guard position. The Chiefs have invested in their offensive line in the NFL draft and Smith is a great example of it paying off. The former sixth-round pick may not be well known by NFL fans but defensive linemen know the 6’6 behemoth.
19. Dre Greenlaw, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Greenlaw being so far down this list is probably surprising to any 49ers fans, but that’s maybe just a testament to how good both of these rosters are near the top. Nonetheless, Greenlaw has been the Robin to Fred Warner’s Batman time and time again. That could very well happen again in the Super Bowl if the Chiefs put too much of their focus on scheming Warner out of the picture. – MP
18. Creed Humphrey, OC, Kansas City Chiefs
If Trent Williams is the consensus best offensive lineman on either team, then Humphrey has to be the runner-up. Like Williams, Humphrey was a star at Oklahoma, and he’s a star in the NFL. The second-round pick has been a Day 1 starter in Kansas City, coming in 3rd in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2021, before earning All-Pro Second-Team honors in 2022. Among all interior offensive linemen, Humphrey ranks 2nd in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric. – MA
17. Charvarius Ward, CB, San Francisco 49ers
Ward is an example of how deep this list is. He doesn’t get a ton of attention because of all of the firepower on the 49ers’ defense. But he is a stud and his 2024 Pro Bowl nod shows it. — BW.
16. Javon Hargrave, DT, San Francisco 49ers
Hargrave was a huge free-agent pickup for the 49ers from Philadelphia last offseason and he is back in the Super Bowl. Hargrave was worth every penny for the 49ers and the Pro Bowl pick is part of a special defensive front that will be stalking Patrick Mahomes. — BW.
15. L’Jarius Sneed, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
The 2020 fourth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech is probably on everyone’s radar after his remarkable forced fumble on Zay Flowers in the AFC Championship Game. Sneed only allowed 42 completions on 81 targets for 406 yards, 0 touchdowns, two interceptions, and 10 PBUs (per PFF). He is prone to committing penalties (and leads all corners in that category), but the trade-off is that he’s been a standout cornerback on one of the league’s best defenses. Sneed narrowly missed out on AP All-Pro Second-Team honors, finishing behind his old Chiefs teammate and soon-to-be Super Bowl rival Charvarius Ward. — MA.
14. Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
The wealth of memes that have been birthed from Pacheco’s running style has been one of my favorite things about this year’s NFL season. At the same time, that running style is not a joke when it comes to the defenders tasked with bringing him down. Pacheco still runs like a former seventh-round pick hoping to make his dreams come to life, not a player who already has a Super Bowl title under his belt. Running backs may have been devalued in recent years, but Pacheco’s ability to balance out the Chiefs offense cannot be understated. I expect the guy who runs “like he bites people” to have a strong day if the Chiefs are to win back-to-back titles.
13. George Karlaftis, DE, Kansas City Chiefs
Karlaftis has a chance to be a game changer. Already getting double-digit sacks in his second season, the Purdue product is a freak athlete who can bend the edge and stay strong against the run. Karlaftis benefits from the presence of Chris Jones but makes plenty of plays on his own. – JM
12. Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers
As much hype as Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle get, it’s Aiyuk who might be the best wide receiver the 49ers have. He led the NFL in First Down Rate among all pass catchers with at least 75 targets, and finished with 1,342 yards with seven touchdowns. In a battle with the best group of DBs the Niners have seen, Aiyuk is going to have to win on the outside for the Niners to have a chance. -JP
11. Trent McDuffie, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
When the dust settles, history will bear out that the Tyreek Hill trade was worth it purely because it led to the Chiefs landing Trent McDuffie. One of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, McDuffie was named to his first All-Pro team in 2023. He’s a defensive back who can be left on an island and shut down an entire side of the field, while also possessing the closing speed and ability to make open field tackles. Against Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk this is a critical skill, and McDuffie has the ability to delete one of them as a factor in the game. — JD
10. George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Not only is Kittle a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses in the passing game, but he is also a very effective blocker in the run game. Just ask Aidan Hutchinson. — MS
9. Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Brock Purdy is surrounded by the best supporting cast in the NFL and he has too many turnover worthy plays, but lost in the effort to find things to criticize is that he’s far better than Jimmy Garoppolo ever was and that could be the difference in Shanahan getting over his Super Bowl curse. Compared to Mahomes, Purdy had a higher passer rating under pressure, higher passer rating when kept clean, and a higher big-time throw percentage. Compared to the Niners’ previous QBs, the NFL’s 2023 leader in QBR, passer rating, and Y/A gives San Francisco the best chance to beat the Chiefs. Tom Brady had to win three Super Bowls before people stopped calling him a “game manager”; how many would it take for Purdy? – KA
8. Nick Bosa, EDGE, San Francisco 49ers
No disrespect to Fred Warner or Chris Jones, but there isn’t a defensive player in this game who I would want over Bosa. Since 2021, Bosa’s 115 QB hits ranks first (17 more than second place), as does 149 pressures, his 44.5 sacks rank third, and his 56 TFL ranks second. Among players under 27, there is only Bosa, Maxx Crosby, and Micah Parsons. End list. – KA
7. Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Lost in the MVP debate involving Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey is the fact that deep down, the most important part of the San Francisco offense might just be Deebo Samuel. While “on/off reports” have some noise to them, the fact is the 49ers posted an Expected Points Added per Play of 0.18 when Samuel was on the field, and 0.01 when he was on the sideline, according to data from Sports Info Solutions. Breaking things down in terms of pass versus run, the 49ers had an EPA/Pass of 0.26 when Samuel was on the field, and 0.06 when he was off. As for the running game, again you see the split: EPA/Run of 0.09 when he was on the field, and -0.05 when he was off. — MS
6. Fred Warner, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Fred Warner rocks. The defensive octopus of the 49ers, there’s literally nothing that Warner does poorly. There isn’t one key stat that leaps off the screen and proves his worth, but the man can literally do anything asked of him on defense. Warner is one of the most reliable tacklers in the NFL, his instincts before the snap are second-to-none, while he also possesses the ability to rush the passer or drop back in coverage. In the Super Bowl whether it comes to covering Travis Kelce, or stepping up and stopping Isiah Pacheco, Warner can do it. No defensive player in the league is more fun to watch, and he’s going to be critical in the Super Bowl. — JD
5. Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
If you want to talk about impact players left in the playoffs, you gotta talk about Chris Jones. The Chiefs’ DT is the centerpiece of what Kansas City wants to do up front, and his positional versatility is going to be key to generating pressure on Brock Purdy. Jones had 10.5 sacks this season, but what Jones does is matchup hunt. Spags can find matchups for Jones on an opposing OL’s weakest point and then hammer them with their best pass rusher. Jones saves his biggest plays for the biggest moments, so expect a big play from him in Vegas. -JA
4. Trent Williams, LT, San Francisco 49ers
Offense wins championships in today’s NFL. Having a left tackle that is great in pass protection and can dominate as a power run blocker or get out in front in the zone scheme is a huge cheat code. The Niners are not in the Super Bowl without Williams being as great as he is at his important position. I would have selected him second overall. — JM
3. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
I cannot stress enough just how important Kelce has been to the Chiefs’ recent domination in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes will understandably get the majority of the credit, but I can’t think of another pass-catcher in the NFL who has become so connected, so in-sync with his quarterback that they can basically go out there and play backyard football and it simply doesn’t come back to bite them. After all, if your opponents are expecting you to follow years and years of precedent within offensive schemes, the best way to continue catching people off guard is do to simply march to the beat of your own drum, right? That’s what Kelce and Mahomes do in crunch time, time and time again. I don’t think Kelce is nearing retirement, but if he wins another title with a huge performance, I don’t see how he doesn’t push for being the G.O.A.T. at the tight end position.
2. Christian McCaffrey, RB, San Francisco 49ers
There isn’t a better running back in the league than CMC. He led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2,023) and tied for the league lead in total touchdowns (21). McCaffrey is tailor-made for Kyle Shanahan’s system, but keep in mind that his greatest season was in a Carolina Panthers uniform in 2019 when he joined Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only running backs in NFL history to have over 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in a season.
A running back hasn’t won Super Bowl MVP since Denver Broncos legend Terrell Davis in 1998. McCaffrey has as good a chance as any to end that drought. — MA
1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Sorry for the lack of creativity here. But let’s get real; we get to watch the best player in the NFL in this game. He’s been an NFL starter for six seasons and this is his fourth appearance in the Super Bowl. Incredible. — BW