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Most Important Guys You’ve Never Heard Of: Kansas City Chiefs Edition

An old Army saying is that “Familiarity Breeds Contempt”. Contempt might have been appropriate for the 2-14 team of 2012. Holding this year’s version of the Chiefs in contempt would be foolish. Although we know most of the guys on the roster, there are a few that we may be too aware of, but have made crucial contributions to the “worst to first” effort the 2013 are making.

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On the Offense

He will certainly not make anybody forget about Tony Gonzales quite yet and probably never will. Kansas City Chiefs fans don’t care about that for now. What they do care about is that their team is 9-1 and this second year player, acquired as a free agent from Seattle in the most recent off-season, has emerged as a solid contributor to that record as blocker and receiver at the Tight End position. Meet Sean McGrath (#84), the Most Important Guy You’ve Never Heard Of (MIGYNHO) for the Chiefs offense.

Why He Is Important

The Chiefs offensive system under Andy Reid and Doug Pederson can best be thought of as a hybrid of the West Coast Offense (short, ball-control passing) and the Turner Power Running Game (without the vertical deep passing component), with the running game being the most important element. In both systems, the TE position is relied upon. In the passing game, that player should provide a reliable target on short-middle crossing, slant, and in routes to beat zones or take out man-to-man coverage on WR’s on short or deep crosses. In the running game, having a capable blocker to seal edges on wide runs to the strong side, down block on wide runs to the weak side, and drive block on quick slant gives or off-tackle runs is crucial to success in the ground game.

McGrath is built more as a receiving Tight End; he weighs 245 pounds and is 6’5" (by comparison, the team’s other TE, Anthony Fasano, is one inch shorter and 10 pounds heavier). This is borne out by the receiving production of both men this year. McGrath has 20 catches in 10 games, while Fasano has 15 (in 4 fewer games). While the reception numbers are modest, the average yards per reception statistic (12.3) is not, for a TE. McGrath’s main job remains blocking, but he has also provided some key receptions in the Chiefs ball control, run-oriented offense.

McGrath has to be considered a pleasant surprise for the Chiefs . Had 3rd round pick Travis Kelce not blown out his knee in pre-season, it is possible that McGrath would have not even made the team. Look for him to be on the field in two TE sets and used in a few different locations when Reid gets creative with the passing game.

Honorable Mention

Rodney Hudson (#61); Center – As we at BFTB know, this Chargers' offensive line has had many personnel groupings, but with one pretty much constant anchor; Nick Hardwick. Hudson is the Chiefs equivalent to Hardwick; the line’s signal caller, the snapper, the glue that holds it all together. At 6’2", 300 pounds, Hudson is playing through his 3rd season and has started every game. The Chiefs 2011 2nd round pick out of Florida State is developing into one of the best Centers in the NFL.

On the Defense

7th round picks have to show their coaches something special to see the field their rookie years. Often drafted on the basis of "potential", perceived special teams ability, or a belief that playing ability can be developed from a raw athlete, 7th rounders are not assured a roster spot, let alone playing time. For rookie Corner Back Marcus Cooper (#31), he WAS cut by the team that drafted him, but in one of the most unlikely stories of 2013, was picked up off the scrap pile to become the Chiefs defensive MIGYNHO.

Why He Is Important

The 49ers released Cooper on the final cut-down day, despite drafting him in the 7th round. After claiming him off the street the next day, the Chiefs were not too sure what to do with him, but got him as an insurance policy for a nicked Brandon Flowers. As is often the case in the NFL, injuries gave Cooper an opportunity, and in a not as frequent story, he took full advantage of the chance injury gave him.

The raw stats tell an interesting story. Cooper has appeared in all 10 of the Chiefs games, starting in four. Despite being lost in a depth chart crowd of a ridiculously talented defensive secondary, he leads the team in Passes Defended with 14. You read that right; in a secondary that boasts of Sean Smith, Flowers, equinophobe Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis, and back-up (BACK-UP!) safety Quintin Demps, Cooper has knocked down more balls than any of them. He is also tied with Sean Smith for 2nd place on the team with 2 picks (Demps leads the team with 3).

Beyond the stats, the emergence of Cooper has allowed the Chiefs to slide over Flowers into slot coverage in Nickel situations, which gives them arguably the best slot cover man in the NFL. On a defense that has posted 36 sacks (3rd in the NFL), the Chiefs secondary holds up its end of deal, only allowing a 54 completion rate when opposing QB’s can actually get the ball out of their hands. Cooper is a big reason for KC’s defensive success in 2013 and probably the waiver wire steal of 2013.

Honorable Mention

The Crowd at Arrowhead Stadium – WE know about them, but they are still not mentioned as much as the crowds that fill up stadiums in Seattle and Pittsburgh on Sundays in the fall. The Chiefs faithful have had little to cheer about since 2010 (the last trip to the playoffs) and have had playoffs visits every 3 or 4 years since the Marty-ball era of 1990 through 1997. The sporadic success makes the home attendance and enthusiasm of the Chiefs fans even more impressive. For somebody that knew absolutely nothing about American Football, a visit to Arrowhead for a Chiefs home game would probably leave them with an impression that the Chiefs are a perennial powerhouse.

I’ll give a hat tip to a fan base that is loud, conducts itself with class, and is passionate in supporting their team, even during off years. An offensive team attempting to audible at the line of scrimmage, soon discovers that it is not an easy thing to do at Arrowhead. The home crowds are certainly not fair weather fans, as it cold in Kansas City (it will be in the low ‘30’s on Sunday) in November and December. The Bolts will find themselves in a cold and deafening environment this Sunday. San Diego fans could learn a lesson or two from the Kansas City fans that fill Arrowhead, even during seasons when the team is not that good.