The Super Bowl isn’t always decided by the most obvious subjects. Sure, Patrick Mahomes, George Kittle and the usual suspects will play a pivotal role in deciding the final football game of the NFL season. But undoubtedly, some lesser talked about players — who aren’t a huge part of the hype and build-up to this game between the Chiefs and 49ers — will end up making some plays that swing the balance of the contest.
We may not end up with a completely off-the-grid Super Bowl MVP, like when Dexter Jackson earned the award for Tampa Bay, but then again we just might. There are a handful of players who I believe could end up making an indelible mark on this game, and therefore, history, who won’t be playing the quarterback position.
Here are a few individuals I will be keeping a close eye on come Sunday, who I believe could end up making more of an impact then we’ve seen thus far in the playoffs.
Chiefs RB Damien Williams
There is so much chatter about Kansas City not running the ball much and being one-dimensional. It’s become, as best as I can tell, one of the primary talking points as the pundits and analysts size up this matchup.
As far as I am concerned, the Chiefs haven’t run the ball in this postseason because they haven’t had to. They were behind three scores right away against the Texans, and also trailed early by 10 to the Titans.
Yes, Andy Reid will always be a throw-heavy play caller, and with Mahomes and all of those pieces in the pass game, he should be. But he also knows he needs to slow down that 49ers pass rush, and he’s always loved the screen game, so I see Williams getting his hands on the ball quite a bit. Doesn’t matter where those touches come from — doesn’t have to be hand-offs — I see Williams being in position to make a bigger impact on this game than he has the past few.
49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk
Fullbacks get no love in the modern NFL. Heck, running backs have been rendered largely interchangeable and devalued, so a lightning bolt might strike me from the sky for merely writing about a fullback in a Super Bowl preview column.
But this guy gets plenty of love from 49ers offensive guru Kyle Shanahan, and he will be a massive factor in this game. What he does in the run game, with huge blocks and a consistent physical presence, is a huge part of why teams can’t stop this run game even when they know what’s coming. But this guy is a special athlete and can be a problem in the passing game as well, and I could see him rumbling to a big gain or two on a short pass.
This staff has immense trust in him and won’t hesitate to count on him in the clutch. They’ll line him up as a tight end, slot receiver, H-back — wherever they think he can help them win the game.
Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman
Speed kills. There is no substitute for it, and the 49ers secondary isn’t exactly blessed with it.
Between running vertical routes and what he provides on special teams in the return game and the opportunity to make something happen on a jet sweep or gadget play, I see Hardman flashing, potentially at a key moment in the game.
Chiefs OLB Terrell Suggs
The likely future Hall of Famer is playing the final game of his career and has a chance to go out in the greatest way possible, something he saw first-hand from his mentor, Ray Lewis, when both were in Baltimore. Suggs still has plenty to offer both rushing the passer and setting the edge in the run game — which will be imperative with the 49ers so adept at road-grading opponents with pitch plays and outside zone rushes.
Suggs faced the 49ers offense twice in a three-week span when he was with the Cardinals, prior to being granted his release to go to a contender, and for what its worth, San Francisco only compiled 135 total rushing yards in those two high-scoring, close games.
Suggs hasn’t been asked to log a heavy workload with the Chiefs, but with two weeks to prepare coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will have some unique packages to unveil, and I bet Suggs will feature in several of them. He’ll find a way to get his name called plenty in this game, and has had a knack being a “closer” in his career — effectively closing out games with a sack, maybe even a strip sack.
49ers CB K’Waun Williams
This slot corner will likely be tested in ways he could not even imagine, especially if the 49ers do in fact sit back in a deep shell and basically dare the Chiefs to rely on short-to-intermediate passes to matriculate the ball down the field.
Andy Reid has no shortage of options in the slot. Travis Kelce will already be a handful for whomever is bracketing him, but in spread formations Williams might find himself lined up against a burner like Hill, or a running back, or No. 2 receiver Sammy Watkins. Somewhere amid that variety of options might be someone with whom this corner has difficulty — and if Reid finds that matchup, he and Mahomes will work hard to exploit it.
The 49ers really only have one player, Richard Sherman, in that secondary when it comes to making huge plays on the ball, and I expect Williams to see a lot of volume. If he holds up, it would go a long way to the 49ers winning this game.