Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers will be all about star power. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Frank Clark on one side.
The NFC champion 49ers boast a ton of stars in their own right. That includes Pro Bowlers George Kittle, Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman.
But this might not be where the game is won. Rather, it’s all about other players stepping up.
From a certain Honey Badger in Missouri to a couple former 49ers first-round picks who were seen as busts, here’s a look at the seven most underrated players heading into Super Bowl LIV.
Tyrann Mathieu, safety, Kansas City Chiefs
This former mid-round pick from LSU seems to be the Rodney Dangerfield of NFL defensive backs. The Arizona Cardinals shockingly released the ball-hawking safety following the 2017 season, only to see Honey Badger latch on with the Houston Texans on a mere one-year contract.
After playing at a Pro Bowl level for Houston in 2018, Mathieu cashed in on a nice three-year, $42 million deal with Kansas City back in March. The rest is seemingly history. He recorded 75 tackles, 12 passes defended, four interceptions and two sacks during the regular season. Despite this, Mathieu was snubbed out of either a Pro Bowl appearance or a spot on any of the All-Pro teams this season. What’s up with the disrespect here?
Arik Armstead, defensive line, San Francisco 49ers
A first-round pick of the 49ers back in 2015, Armstead was seen as a bust through his first three NFL seasons. For good reason. That span saw the former Oregon star record a combined 17 quarterback hits and six sacks. That’s not what San Francisco’s previous regime was looking for from the former No. 17 overall selection.
Something clicked to an extent last season. Armstead put up 12 quarterback hits and three sacks while starting all 16 games for the first time in his career. Now, with the likes of Nick Bosa and Dee Ford flanking him, he’s coming off one heck of a regular season. Armstead again started all 16 games, recording 18 quarterback hits and a team-high 10 sacks. While it was not enough to earn a Pro Bowl spot, this will help Armstead get paid big time in free agency once Super Bowl LIV comes to a conclusion.
Damien Williams, running back, Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City’s leading rusher does not get a whole lot of credit on the team’s star-studded offense. That goes to Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Even then, Williams has been a huge part of this team’s success as pretty much a fall back option at running back.
The former Oklahoma standout recorded 711 total yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per touch during the regular season. He also caught north of 81% of the passes thrown in his direction and is a plus-level pass protector in front of Mahomes. All of this should come up big in Super Bowl LIV against a stout 49ers defense.
Deebo Samuel, wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers
Not talked about enough as one of the top rookies around the NFL, all Samuel did during the regular season was put up nearly 1,000 total yards while catching 70.4% of the passes thrown in his direction. He is simply dazzling with the ball in his hands and has picked it up big time recently.
The South Carolina product has caught 40 passes for 663 yards over the past 10 games while adding 171 rushing yards during that span. He’s San Francisco’s version of Tyreek Hill, and it’s paid off big time recently. Look for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to draw up some sexy plays for his new offensive weapon come Super Bowl time.
Mitchell Schwartz, offensive tackle, Kansas City Chiefs
Signed from the Cleveland Browns ahead of the 2016 season, Schwartz simply does not get enough credit for his steady play a long the Chiefs’ offensive line. The former second-round pick from Cal has started all 64 games in four seasons with Kansas City, providing Mahomes with protection at right tackle in the process.
According to Pro Football Focus, Schwartz put up his best game as a pro against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game last week. He allowed a total of two sacks during the regular season, continually dominating edge rushers in the process. Set to go up against former teammate Dee Ford in Super Bowl LIV, the Chiefs have to be confident Schwartz will be more than up for the task.
Jimmie Ward, safety, San Francisco 49ers
Interestingly enough, a lot of 49ers fans were upset that they retained the injury-plagued Ward rather than target someone of Tyrann Mathieu’s ilk in free agency. The former first-round pick had played in a combined 16 of 32 games over the past two seasons and simply could not be relied on.
That has changed big time this season. Ward yielded a 54% catch rate and sub 65 passer rating when targeted during the regular season. He broke up 10 passes and ranked among the top 10 safeties in the NFL (via Pro Football Focus metrics). What makes Ward such an underrated player is that he can line up at both safety positions and in the slot at cornerback. This is going to come in handy against a versatile Chiefs offense in Super Bowl LIV.
Raheem Mostert, running back, San Francisco 49ers
Former NFL star Terry Bradshaw summed it up best following Mostert’s record-breaking performance in the NFC Championship Game. He had never heard of the former undrafted free agent until earlier this season. The same can’t be said about the six teams who waived Mostert before the 49ers gave him a real chance.
Signed to a long-term extension prior to the season, San Francisco knew what it had in Mostert as one of the best special teams players in the NFL. He’s responded by putting up an electric performance on offense. Including last week’s 220-yard, four-touchdown outing, Mostert has tallied 1,178 total yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards per touch this season. Is that good?