While training camps are just around the corner, many are excited to see what the next generation of players brings to the table. Last year, there were a few bright spots from the younger players; moreover, there was a good batch of talent coming out of the 2020 draft class. Brett Veach did a fantastic job so far with this class.
While this class did fairly well in their first year, next year could be the year where they could officially EXPLODE into bigger names for themselves. Here are three Chiefs’ sophomores that could explode this upcoming season:
3. L’Jarius Sneed, CB
If only he wasn’t injured, L’Jarius Sneed could’ve been in the running for defensive rookie of the year with Chase Young and Jeremy Chinn. Let’s see, in nine total games played, Sneed allowed 31 receptions on 59 targets (59.6 completion percentage), allowed only one receiving touchdown (vs Saints), and a 54.2 QB rating when thrown his way. Also, he had two sacks and three interceptions on top of this impressive nine-game stretch. He showed off in the playoffs too, having 14 combined tackles and two sacks on top of it. The fact he was able to do this with a shortened offseason and no preseason is insane!
Sneed has great versatility, being able to play both in the slot and on the sidelines. With his good speed and agility, he’s able to keep up with a majority of faster wide receivers. He’s shown to be good in zone coverage as well as have good technique overall. The most important thing is that he can stay with his assignment fairly well; and, that is something you always want in a defensive back.
His durability is a concern, especially after breaking his collarbone in Week 3 versus Baltimore. However, he was able to persevere and play through eight more games (sat out Week 17 for rest; played all playoffs games).
He will be receiving a large role in the Chiefs defense, by having the best shot to be the starting corner. As long as he stays healthy, he looks to be a lockdown corner this season with Pro Bowl aspirations.
2. Willie Gay Jr., LB
I swear if Willie Gay isn’t used more, I’ll be absolutely livid. Gay has talent and has shown it on the field, even in limited snap counts. On 25% of defensive snaps in 2020 (267 snaps), he totaled 39 combined tackles, three tackles for a loss, three pass deflections, a sack, a QB hit, and a forced fumble. If he had started throughout the whole year, he was on pace to have not a 100+ tackle year, but a 156 combined tackle year! This would’ve placed him in second among the 2020 tackle leaders, toppling the likes of Jaylon Smith and Blake Martinez.
The stats aren’t the only thing that speaks for him, though; the film speaks too. He’s a proven tackler, showing great competitive toughness, and is always eager to go for the tackle. He’s an outstanding run defender, recognizing holes within the play and attacking them accordingly. He has good explosion, solid agility, and solid speed that help him with this.
With that said, there are some cons too. He’s not the best in coverage, allowing 13 completions of 15 targets (86.7 completion percentage) for 84 yards. It has been said that Gay has problems keeping an eye on both the QB and the WR, which has allowed for easy short completions for the opposing offense.
Gay will have to clean this up to jump to the next level. I do see him doing just this season with hopefully a starting role that he will surely earn.
1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB
For number one on this list, the offense is most suitable for it; and, who better take this spot than Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He is truly set to break out this season, and here are a few reasons why:
To start, being on one of the best offenses in the league is a huge guide for him. With the play-schemes continuing to improve along with everyone’s cohesiveness gaining as well, this offense is set for a blockbuster year. Oh, and Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce still exist. When defenses are worrying about them, Helaire will just tear them either on the ground or in the receiving end; and, he will shed a few tackles along the way.
Secondly, the Chiefs’ revamped offensive line would easily boost his numbers and give him a 1,000+ rushing year. For having an offensive line that placed 31st in run block win percentage (67%), Helaire had a pretty solid year, rushing for 803 yards (4.4 yards per run), four rushing touchdowns, and totaled 1100 scrimmage yards. So, having 800+ rushing yards with that poor of a run blocking presence is amazing to see.
One of the main problems of his rookie year was the redzone, specifically in the five-yard line. No matter what he did, he’d either get jammed, get tackled for a loss, or gain minimal yards; it was rare to see him break one in for the score. With a full offseason and training camp along with the new o-line, he could put that concern in that past. Reid and the coaching staff will train him well, and he will be able to shoot for the stars!
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