By now you probably know the big games set to take the field for Super Bowl LVIII, such as Brock Purdy, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Christian McCaffrey, and Taylor Swift.
Oh, the pop culture icon will not be playing on Sunday, but she is likely to be a big part of the discussion if she indeed makes the trip from Tokyo, but we digress.
But often, Super Bowl turn on key contributions from some unsung heroes. Players that might not be household names, but deliver on football’s biggest stage. Take Super Bowl LVII for example. While Mahomes took home MVP honors, it was a huge punt return from Kadarius Toney who helped turn the tide in Kansas City’s favor, and stands as the longest punt return in Super Bowl history.
Here are six players who could become the next unsung heroes in Super Bowl lore.
Nick Allegretti, OG, Kansas City Chiefs
With the news that starting left guard Joe Thuney is officially out for Super Bowl LVIII, that means Nick Allegretti is set to make his second-straight start for the Chiefs up front.
How he fares could be a critical part of Super Bowl Sunday.
Allegretti has Super Bowl experience, as he was part of the Kansas City offensive line that started in front of Mahomes in Super Bowl LV. He also started in the AFC Championship Game, giving up one sack on a play early in the fourth quarter while working against Justin Madubuike. But he’ll need to put in a big-time performance on Sunday if the Chiefs are going to walk away with the Lombardi Trophy.
Noah Gray, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Blake Bell, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
One of the more fascinating subplots to Super Bowl LVIII — and there are many — is the evolution of the Chiefs offense over the years, and this season in particular. For example, when these two teams met back in Super Bowl LIV, Mahomes posted an Intended Air Yards (IAY) of 8.6 during the season, which ranked him 13th among quarterbacks in the NFL.
This year? Mahomes has an IAY of 6.6, which ranks 40th.
Another evolution? The use of bigger personnel packages. For example, during the 2019 season the Chiefs did not use 13 personnel (three tight ends, one running back, and one wide receiver) at all. According to Sharp Football Analysis, the Chiefs did not run a single snap in 13 personnel that season.
This year, according to The Scout from the brilliant Arjun Menon, they ran 68 plays in 13 personnel, just over 9% of their snaps. Not a huge number, but a big part of their evolution from Super Bowl LIV to Super Bowl LVIII. And according to Menon’s data, the Chiefs posted an Expected Points Added per Pass of 0.17 in 13 personnel this season, better than the EPA/Pass of 0.01 when in 11 offensive personnel (three wide receivers, one running back, and one tight end).
That could mean a Chiefs tight end not named Travis Kelce has a big day on Sunday.
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers boast an offense with some of the most fascinating talents at their position. George Kittle is among the game’s best tight ends. Deebo Samuel is an offensive weapon with the ability to deliver impact plays whether aligned as a running back, or as wide receiver. Christian McCaffrey was an MVP finalist this season and while his best plays come as a running back, he too can be seen aligned outside and creating opportunities in the passing game. Kyle Juszczyk also aligns over the field, and is a key part of their offense, a unit in the hands of another MVP finalist, Brock Purdy.
But the glue that perhaps holds it all together? Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
My dear friend JP Acosta has taken to calling him “WR1,” to make the point that while Samuel is a unique talent, Aiyuk is the best pure wide receiver on the roster. There is ample evidence to support that claim, one that goes beyond his production as well as beyond his jawbreaking catch against the Detroit Lions. Watch how Kyle Shanahan uses him in the passing game — often designing concepts for him in the middle of the field or in the downfield passing game — and you can see why.
Steve Spagnuolo has a lot to worry about this weekend, and Aiyuk is certainly on that list.
Chase Young, EDGE, San Francisco 49ers
Chase Young was drafted second overall to be a difference maker in a game like this.
However, he was drafted second overall by Washington.
Young’s career has taken him to San Francisco, and he still has yet to live up to the lofty expectations that faced him coming out of Ohio State. After recording 7.5 sacks as a rookie in 2020, Young dealt with injuries in both 2021 and 2022, playing in nine games in 2021 and seeing the field in just three games during the 2022 season.
Then this year, with the Commanders struggling, he was traded to the 49ers at the trade deadline.
The move seemed tailor-made to jumpstart his career. After all, he was reunited with an Ohio State teammate, as he and Nick Bosa were teammates in college. With Bosa perhaps drawing the bulk of attention from opposing offensive lines — and offensive coordinators — Young was in a position to capitalize with some one-on-one matchups.
It worked to the tune of five sacks during his time in San Francisco this season. But if there was a night to have a breakout game, the biggest stage in sports would be an ideal moment.
Jake Moody, K, San Francisco 49ers
When the 49ers made the decision to draft kicker Jake Moody in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, it certainly turned some heads. As the 99th-overall selection in the draft, Moody became the earliest kicker drafted since Roberto Aguayo in 2016 (a selection that did not quite pan out for the Buccaneers) and just the sixth kicker selected in the first 100 picks since 2000.
At the time, General Manager John Lynch defended the selection by noting that other teams were trying to get ahead of the 49ers to draft Moody.
“I can tell you, since then, that a lot of teams have called and said, you know, shortly thereafter they were going there,” Lynch said back in May on KNBR’s Murph & Mac show. “And in fact, teams tried to trade up to get in front of us. So, something we feel really good about. Time will tell, as it will with all these guys. But we think he has the makings of a really cornerstone, foundational-type player for years to come for us, and we’re proud to have him a part of us.”
However, Moody’s rookie season has seen its share of ups and downs. Moody missed a pair of kicks in San Francisco’s first loss of the season, including what would have been the game-winning field goal with just seconds remaining.
In the playoffs, Moody has also been inconsistent. A field goal attempt at the end of the first half against the Green Bay Packers was blocked, and he missed a 48-yard field goal try at the end of San Francisco’s first drive against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship Game.
But those misses will all be forgotten if he delivers on Super Bowl Sunday.