With a week to go before KC’s matchup in Tampa Bay, there are quite a few things to watch, football-wise, during the Chiefs’ bye week before capping off their “Run It Back” season.
Although Chiefs fans are obviously ecstatic that Kansas City has kept true to their word all year and ran it back to the Super Bowl, they are most likely biting their fingernails in anticipation and in need of some sort of football entertainment to ease their minds during the empty weekend before Super Bowl LV.
Lucky for us, the football gods have blessed us with a weekend of different football events to keep our eyes glued on, both professionally and collegiately.
First is the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl, essentially the All-Star game of college football while also simultaneously being a critical job interview for all 136 players that will be suiting up at 2:30 ET today (Sat, Jan. 30) in Mobile, Alabama at the brand new Hancock Whitney Stadium.
The game is known around the country as being the most prestigious game–other than the National Championship–that a collegiate athlete can participate in, mainly because it’s the only game to be coached by entire NFL staffs.
This year’s coaching staff consists of HC Brian Flores and his Miami Dolphins (representing the National team) as well as 2nd-year HC Matt Rhule and the Carolina Panthers (representing the American team).
For the Dolphins, this will be their first time coaching the Senior bowl since 2010 when Tony Sparano lost 31-13 against Jim Schwartz and the Lions’ staff. As for the Panthers, this will be their first Senior bowl since 2000 when George Seifert beat Gunther Cunningham and the Chiefs’ staff by a score of 24-21.
All-in-all this will be the Dolphins’ fifth time coaching the Senior Bowl, coming into it with a 2-2 record while the Panthers have only been here once before (see above). For perspective, the Chiefs have coached six Senior Bowls and are currently holding a .500 record (3-3).
Not only will there be an actual football game to watch this weekend, in lieu of professional football, but there will be plenty of players to keep an eye on as a fan of the Chiefs–or any team really–especially considering the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine has been canceled thanks to COVID-19 safety precautions.
Members of #ChiefsKingdom watching the Senior Bowl should keep their eyes on offensive linemen and how well they can hold the line, predict blitz packages, and their overall protection of their QB.
While it’s obvious the Chiefs are in dire need of some stability on the offensive line these players bring more than just consistency and youth to aging, aching offensive line, they bring hope that Mahomes’ illustrious career can continue on the path that it’s on right now.
Here are some key linemen to keep an eye on during the Senior Bowl:
- James Hudson III (Cincinnati)
- Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater)
- Robert Hainsey (Notre Dame)
- Royce Newman (Ole Miss)
- Trey Smith (Tennessee)
- Dillon Radunz (NDSA) — 2021 “Overall Practice Player of the Week”
This draft is also chop-full of good offensive linemen that aren’t participating in the Senior Bowl, so even if the Chiefs don’t get a good look at them Saturday there will be plenty of prospects to help backup the likes of hobbled Eric Fisher and a well-rested Duvernay-Tardif, even in the later rounds.
Another big hole the Chiefs will need to look at will be the linebacker position that has become one of their most decimated positions over the course of the season. Add in the fact that rookie LB Willie Gay Jr. just had emergency surgery on a torn meniscus Thursday and the spot looks to be a necessity for Kansas City to reinforce.
Some key linebackers to watch for in this game:
- K.J. Britt (Auburn)
- Monty Rice (Georgia)
- Baron Browning (Ohio State)
- Chazz Surratt (North Carolina)
- Hamilcar Rashed Jr. (Oregon State)
- Derrick Barnes (Purdue)
While all of these LBs have major upsides, none have as much as Surratt (2019 ACC Defensive Player of the Year runner-up) or Rashed Jr. (14 sacks, 2 FF in 2019); both have the skillsets to take the position to levels the Chiefs haven’t seen since prime Derrick Johnson days.
Not that the rest would be terrible pickups, by any means, but the ‘boom or bust’ narrative is filled with the careers of great collegiate linebackers and many have looked better than most of the field this draft.
As one could rightfully see this season the Chiefs’ offense is stacked at wide receiver, even without Sammy Watkins for half the season, but that doesn’t mean that Coach Reid and KC should steer away from the WR talent that is in this draft.
This is especially true considering it will be difficult to keep major WRs like Watkins or Demarcus Robinson when they hit free agency this offseason. While the Chiefs will still have Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman (on a rookie deal), Byron Pringle (on a rookie deal), and the ever-dangerous Travis Kelce, it’s important to prepare for any injury while also bolstering the WR2 spot to keep opposing defenses on their toes every game.
Some key WRs to watch in the Senior Bowl:
- Marquez Stevenson (Houston)
- Austin Watkins (UAB) — cousin of Sammy Watkins
- Demetric Felton (UCLA)
- Shi Smith (South Carolina)
- Cornell Powell (Clemson)
While all of these WRs would be great additions to an already dominant WR core there are some that stand out above the rest, namely Powell (2020: 882 receiving yards) and Felton who doubled as a RB during his four seasons at UCLA which would be a fine addition to a Chiefs offense that uses or fakes, jet sweeps multiple times per game.
Note: Kansas City does not have to take a WR very early in the draft considering how deep the WR talent is (as well as in the free agency market) but these players in the Senior Bowl are most likely not 1st-round talents, meaning many of the WRs we’ll see today will be available late in the draft–something the Chiefs admire considering they will likely spend early picks on OL, LB, or DL.
After the Senior Bowl is over there will still be a full Sunday that is seemingly without football for the first time since early September, which is a total bummer for pretty much everyone.
But all is not lost! There is still the Pro Bowl…kind of.
Although the 2021 Pro Bowl will not look like it has since 1950 there will still be plenty of NFL-related events to watch, like the Pro Bowl: Madden NFL 21 Edition where celebrities and players alike will compete against each other in the classic video game for bragging rights.
The two teams competing against one another in Madden NFL ’21 will be:
– Snoop Dogg (Rapper, DJ, celebrity)
– Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)
– Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans)
– Keyshawn Johnson (Retired NFL WR)
– Bubba Wallace (NASCAR driver)
– Marshawn Lynch (Retired NFL RB)
– Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals)
– Jamal Adams (Seattle Seahawks)
The Madden ’21 event will be hosted by Super Bowl champion Michael Strahan and ESPN’s Charissa Thompson as well as popular video game streamers Ninja, FaZe Swagg, AustinShow, and AMP at 5 p.m ET.
BEFORE the Madden ’21 event there will be a replacement show for the Pro Bowl, the NFL is calling it an “NFL Pro Bowl celebration”, where celebrities, NFL players, and NFL fans will all be featured in a three-hour spot where the annual Pro Bowl game would typically fill.
The Pro Bowl Celebration consists of a round-table discussion with NFL legends and current NFL stars, both looking over highlights from the season as well as from all of NFL history before giving the mics up to Joey Bosa and DeAndre Hopkins who will “break down game footage and discuss the proper way to play with rising youth football stars” (according to CBS sports).
Even if the Pro Bowl slot is filled with highlights, discussions, and Madden ’21 games it will still be better than nothing and will also still show the NFL fan a solid amount of football that they can enjoy, especially Chiefs fans who just know that Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce will all be gracing the “Best of” highlight reels.
After this weekend, then there will truly be nothing to help football fans pass the time before Super Bowl Sunday other than sports talk shows, highlight shows, and the occasional sports podcasts, but be thankful that during a year that COVID has interrupted so much, it doesn’t interrupt the chance to watch football during the Super Bowl bye week.