There’s Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill on the explosive Chiefs’ offense, trying to find room against the stingy 49ers’ defense led by the likes of Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman. Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco offense will lean on Raheem Mostert and George Kittle against a Chiefs’ defense with Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones, and Frank Clark.
But football is more than just the biggest names on each side. There are plenty of others who played a significant role in getting the 49ers and Chiefs to the Super Bowl.
Here are three unsung heroes on each squad who will undoubtedly have an influence on who wins the Lombardi Trophy:
Kansas City Chiefs
Tanoh Kpassagnon, Defensive end
Kansas City probably knew when it drafted Kpassagnon in the second round in 2017 that it was going to be a while before the defensive end made a his presence felt. While Kpassagnon is a 6’7, 289-pound Goliath with lofty potential, the Chiefs didn’t draft a finished product.
“I feel like it’s been overall a football learning process,” Kpassagnon told the Kansas City Star of his first three seasons in December 2019. “I’ve learned so much more about the game in general.”
Now, Kpassagnon is starting to use his giant frame to make plays. With Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah both on injured reserve, Kpassagnon was thrust into a starting role in November. He’s improved in the months since, and had arguably his best ever performance when he recorded two sacks in the AFC Championship Game.
One of those sacks was basically a nail in the Titans’ coffin.
Kpassagnon is still a work in progress, but he’s already beginning to make the plays the Chiefs envisioned when they drafted him.
Mitchell Schwartz, Right tackle
Only three offensive linemen (Ryan Ramczyk, Lane Johnson, Ronnie Stanley) have a higher grade on Pro Football Focus. If that’s not good enough for a spot in the Pro Bowl, then there’s no other way to describe Schwartz than underrated.
This year, Schwartz has played in 1,175 snaps in the regular season and postseason combined. He’s allowed exactly zero sacks over all those plays. He hardly ever gives Mahomes a reason to even sweat.
Mitchell Schwartz this postseason
Pass blocking snaps: 90
Pressures allowed: 1 pic.twitter.com/NtU3ejRJ4n
— PFF (@PFF) January 24, 2020
Daniel Sorensen, Safety
“Dirty Dan” Sorensen came to Kansas City as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and mostly contributed on special teams early in his career. He was the Chiefs’ starting safety in 2017, but that was only because Eric Berry went down with an Achilles tear in Week 1. Now Sorensen is a starter once again due to Juan Thornhill landing on injured reserve with an ACL tear.
Sorensen’s not the biggest or fastest safety. He was also juked into a faceplant by Titans tight end Anthony Firkser in the AFC title game. Yet, over and over again Sorensen has made huge plays for the Chiefs in the playoffs.
He leads the Chiefs in postseason tackles with 16, including a few drive-killing stops.
In the AFC Championship Game, Sorensen sniffed out a Derrick Henry screen before it ever had a chance. He also laid the boom on Ryan Tannehill to prevent a first down when the Titans quarterback was scrambling on third down.
— @VersaceBoyEnt (@VersaceBoyEnt3) January 19, 2020
No play mattered more than Sorensen ruining an ill-advised fake punt by the Texans. Kansas City was trailing by 17 in the second quarter, but was starting to gain momentum. Houston tried to stop the Chiefs’ surge with no luck. Sorensen made sure the comeback stayed alive and well.
The Chiefs’ offense is potent enough that the team doesn’t need a shutdown defense. Just a few big plays can give Kansas City the upper hand. Sorensen’s been making them left and right.
San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Juszczyk, Fullback
But any time there’s a team running the ball as well as San Francisco has been in the postseason, it’s the ball carrier who gets the most credit. After that, it’s the offensive line. The fullback is the last and most easily forgettable cog in the machine.
Raheem Mostert’s 220-yard and four-touchdown day against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game was largely a product of Juszczyk’s blocking prowess. Here’s a 34-yard gain for Mostert made possible by his fullback blasting a Packers safety out of the way near the line of scrimmage.
#49ers — Zone scheme with Juszczyk leading on the nickel safety.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 21, 2020
He cleared the way for Deebo Samuel too, even blocking Pro Bowl outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith without touching him.
Juszczyk is such a savvy player. Check out how he works across the formation after the motion, sells the kick-out on Z with a hard fake inside, and bounces it outside to lead on the reverse. pic.twitter.com/bahvFcmo2V
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) January 23, 2020
Juszczyk is a load to handle and is a big reason why the 49ers had a ridiculous 471 rushing yards in their two postseason wins.
Dre Greenlaw, LB, 49ers
The 2019 fifth-round pick played sparingly in the first two months of the season before taking over as a starter in Week 9. He sure hasn’t looked like a late-round rookie in his starting role, though.
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) January 29, 2020
But Greenlaw’s saved his best play for the postseason. He and Bosa were the only two 49ers players to get a grade above 90 from PFF in the Divisional Round. And he set the tone early against the Packers.
A defensive battle to start the NFC title game. #NFLPlayoffs
— NFL (@NFL) January 19, 2020
Fellow 49ers linebacker Fred Warner told Niners Nation that Greenlaw’s instincts were easy to see from day one. Still, the 49ers probably didn’t think the rookie would be such a huge part of their Super Bowl defense so soon.
Jimmie Ward, Safety
The San Francisco defensive line — chock full of first-round picks — is the No. 1 reason why the 49ers are in the Super Bowl. Sherman’s lockdown play on the boundary certainly helped too.
Ward hasn’t got enough attention for how well he’s played in the middle of the 49ers secondary, though.
When the San Francisco decides to send a blitz, it often asks Ward to play centerfield all by his lonesome. It worked out well against the Vikings, with Ward covering a tremendous amount of distance to break up a pass to Stefon Diggs.
The 49ers team speed on defense is nuts. look how much ground jimmie ward covers here. pic.twitter.com/pcM7XFVSfR
— KP (@KP_Show) January 14, 2020
Ward isn’t afraid to lay a big hit either. He punctuated the 49ers’ win against Minnesota by dropping tight end Irv Smith Jr. a yard short of converting a fourth-and-22 play.
— Koro (@nonsmoknlifboat) January 12, 2020
Ward received a one-year, prove-it deal from the 49ers in the offseason due to his injury history. He’ll have his hands full with the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, but regardless of his performance Sunday, it’s hard to imagine the 49ers parting with Ward now.