In the game of football enough is never enough, especially when it comes to finding talent and depth at certain positions. In 2019, the Kansas City Chiefs showed off arguably one of the deepest, if not the best safety units in the NFL.
The unit consisted of All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu, who became the vocal leader as well as the face of the defensive resurgence, rookie stand-out Juan Thornhill who made the NFL all-rookie team and set the stage for a successful 2020 campaign, as well as long time Chiefs veteran Daniel Sorensen, who made some of the biggest plays in the biggest moments of the 2019 season.
When problems raised early on with the defense struggling to stop the run, as well as the defense struggling to cover passes out of the backfield or routes in the flats and across the middle, it was this unit that was called on to find the solution. As the weeks went by we saw it flourish into a well-oiled machine and in the right circumstances, all three individual pieces came together to help the Chiefs to a Super Bowl Championship.
I have written about Juan Thornhill before in my rookie season grades in which I gave him an A, and I also wrote about him again when doing an article on the defensive back outlook for the Chiefs. He had a tremendous season that might have come as a surprise to many, but the Chiefs knew exactly what they had in their new free safety.
One of the biggest strengths that Thornhill has is his ability to anticipate routes by reading underneath coverages and using his physical skills to go after the ball.
Thornhill has a very quick trigger when it comes to diagnosing plays and we also saw in 2019 that he is more than a sure player when it comes to going to the line of scrimmage and and getting physical. I think a lot of people in the Kingdom were surprised to see how strong of a tackler Thornhill was in the box, but with his technique and vision he made his impact felt.
Thornhill has tremendous anticipation for the underneath routes and game but he also showed the ability to be able to run with the best in the game in the open field.
Thornhill showed tremendous range as a player and he is who I would describe as the Chiefs most traditional safety they have in their line up. He has huge range in space, takes great angles when cutting off runs, and has shown a quick trigger when jumping to cover underneath routes.
A torn ACL robbed him of a chance to compete in the postseason, but it appears even though he is starting the training camp period on the PUP list he should be ready to go early in the season. 2020 could be a breakout year for a player with high potential.
Sometimes a team’s biggest contributors come from the most unexpected places. No player on the Chiefs defense stepped up in bigger moments or key games more than Daniel Sorensen. The fifth-year veteran has had an up and down tenure in Kansas City, but has had a knack of finding ways onto the field and has been able to make key plays.
Sorensen can play the pass well at times, but his biggest strength is his ability to play the run or even cover the short flat routes and backs out of the backfield. His ability to do this and play bigger than he physically is bailed the Chiefs out of a big problem they had early in the season finding solid linebacker play to stop the run and the pass.
Sorensen’s ability to cover running backs out of the backfield carved out a role for him in the Chiefs D playing at linebacker depth, but it has also been his ability to make a play in the biggest moment of games that opened up more snaps to him as the season would progress.
Over the course of the last two seasons when the Chiefs absolutely needed to have a play Sorensen was able to deliver. In the 2018 season it was the interception of Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, as well as a huge tackle on a fourth down. His most clutch performance of all came in the Divisional Round this past season against the Houston Texans.
Say what you want about Sorensen and his ability, but every championship team needs a guy that will play clutch snaps in the game’s biggest moments and become a hometown hero forever. If Sorensen can keep up his performance in 2020 I would expect him to be an unsung hero yet again.
For the Chiefs to be successful with their three safety sets on the field and for them to be able to get the most out of Thornhill and Sorensen, it all comes down to the performance of Tyrann Mathieu. In 2019 he had been the Chiefs swiss army knife on his way to being a first-team All-Pro performer. With the perfect combination of instinct and athletic ability he lead the defensive turn around for the Chiefs.
His vision and ability to play both the strong safety as well as guard the slot made him dangerous and allowed players like Thornhill and Sorensen to play to their strengths making the defense overall better as a whole.
He also managed to make some wow plays in 2020. These play weren’t flashy or highlights that would be seen during film review, but it lets the viewer know just how prepared he is based on his film study and how he takes his knowledge and instinct to become the player he is.
Of all the things Mathieu does well to make the biggest impact he can on the Chiefs, it is his effort and heart that he brings play in and play out that makes him special. The willingness to do what it takes to win no matter the opponent is what sets him apart from other safeties in the league.
Steve Spagnuola hit a gold mine as far as the safety position is concerned in Kansas City, and a lot of that credit should go to Brett Veach for bringing in Mathieu via free agency and Thornhill from a deep draft of defensive backs.
With the ability Mathieu has to play the slot and be the do-everything player the Chiefs need him to be, Thornhill’s anticipation and range and decision making, and Sorensen’s ability to play bigger than he is in the box as well as cover backs and create clutch plays, this safety group could help put the Chiefs defense into an elite group.