Almost any Chiefs fan reading this probably has an emotional apology to hand out to at least one of these players, each of whom is currently playing at a very high level.
A lot of things are going right for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020. Riding an eight-game winning streak and in the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 50 years, there are a lot of things to boast about at 1 Arrowhead Drive.
The offense is at full strength, and is the most potent unit the league has seen in 20 years. The defense is making heads turn with every passing week, and while it was able to fly under the radar in November and December, the magnitude of each playoff game has unmasked the truth about new defensive coordinator Steve Spaguolo’s unit: They are one of the most fiery, intense defensive units the league has to offer. And that has gone a long way toward getting the Chiefs where they are.
As with most teams that find themselves in the Super Bowl, this year’s Chiefs squad has a handful of players who have greatly exceeded expectations, even that of the team’s own fanbase.
So let’s take a look at a few players you might have some second thoughts about:
A glance at the final stat sheet indicates Frank Clark had a pretty decent year. He led the Chiefs with 12 hurries and 27 pressures, and also finished with eight sacks, the second-highest total on the team. He has racked up four more sacks in the team’s two playoff games, and has been a force on the edge in the running game. He is now playing at the level Chiefs fans hoped to see on the day he arrived last spring.
Clark came to Kansas City with the bar set astronomically high. After being acquired just before the 2019 draft, Clark immediately signed a five-year, $104 million contract. In 2020, he will have the largest cap hit of any AFC defender other than Denver linebacker Von Miller. The expectation with the Chiefs was set: Clark would play as Spaguolo’s cornerstone, and would be the leader of the front seven.
To acquire Clark, the Chiefs surrendered the 29th overall pick in 2019, plus a 2020 second-round pick. Entering the 2019 draft, fans clamored for a cornerback. When pick #29 came up, several players that the Chiefs may have coveted were still available, like corners Byron Murphy and Deandre Baker. The Seahawks went with defensive end LJ Collier, and while it’s far too soon to discern what kind of player Collier will be, his 2019 stat line (2 tackles, 0 sacks in 11 games played, 0 starts) leaves much in question.
In hindsight, the draft capital was not as expensive as one might think. Consider this: if you could have hypothetically inserted Frank Clark into the 2019 draft, he almost certainly would have been a top-ten pick. The Chiefs took their 29th overall pick and, in essence, “moved up” 20 or more slots in the first round, and all it cost them was a 2020 selection that will end up being a mid-60’s pick in this year’s upcoming draft.
Fans were divided over the acquisition of Clark. In a corresponding move, the team had just traded pass rusher Dee Ford to San Francisco, and some felt that the two players were comparable. It felt like a lateral move from a personnel perspective, but at a great cost. The outlook worsened when Clark got off to a very slow start, accumulating just one sack in his first six games. Chiefs Kingdom clamored that Clark was a “waste,” and a “bust.” In Week 7, Clark got two sacks in an apparent breakout game in Denver, but he then missed the subsequent two games with a neck injury that apparently had plagued him for much of the first half of the year.
No one is angry about Frank Clark now. Now fully healthy, he has come around as a dominant force in the Chiefs defensive line, and pairs with defensive tackle Chris Jones to form the best pair of pass rushers in the NFL. Clark is a constant pressure off the edge in the passing game, but perhaps the greatest upgrade he has given the KC defense is with his strong presence in the run game.