With the NFL draft looming and the 2021 season slowly approaching, the Chiefs roster is filling up piece-by-piece, and players are already being underappreciated or underestimated, here are some Chiefs who could prove they’re being underrated by having a superstar season.
After a somewhat disappointing pushback from big-name free agents who have decided (for the most part) that Kansas City is not the ideal landing place for them, it seems the Chiefs will be working with mostly familiar faces who may have not been very prevalent before the ’21 season, which begs the question “who will be the breakout star on offense, defense or special teams?”
Free agency has been give-and-take so far for GM Brett Veach and the Chiefs but the good thing about this unsatisfying response from the players KC has brought in from the free agency pool is that the in-house talent which Coach Andy Reid and Veach have been building for the past few years will likely get their chance to prove why they’re here.
So, without further ado, here are some underrated, undervalued, and some underappreciated players who have the best chances of being breakout stars this upcoming season:
#13 Byron Pringle, WR
Pringle has shined when he’s touched the ball for the past two seasons, especially on special teams, and with the likely departure of Sammy Watkins, it might finally be Pringle’s time to step into the limelight a little and take over in the receiving game much like he did at Kansas State University.
Like his time at K-State, where Pringle averaged 27.6 yds/kick return, he can be the most reliable return man on the whole field and has the ability to turn on the jets when he sees a hole in the special teams coverage. He showed that against Denver in a snowy game last October:
Pringle had two kickoff return TDs in his two years at K-State but he also showed he has some of the most reliable hands on the field which Reid and Mahomes have slowly-but-surely nurtured over Pringle’s first two years in the NFL.
With only two drops in his NFL career, not including his “drop” on a circus show Hail Mary late in Super Bowl LV, he can be looked at as more than just a solid special teams player or an X receiver this upcoming season, if Reid and Mahomes target him more than his season-high 17 targets then he can have a real impact as WR3 on the depth chart.
Another facet of Pringle’s game that shines especially bright is his ability to move around the field and create open space between him and defenders while simultaneously staying aware of where he needs to be for Mahomes to give him an open shot, much like Kelce does.
If Pringle can be correctly utilized by the Chiefs this next season he could easily achieve over 500 receiving yards (his season-high is 170 yds) and prove he can take over for Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, or even potentially Mecole Hardman in the future.
Honorable Mention: #31 Darrel Williams, RB
Williams has the potential and strength to eclipse any-and-all of his previous season records, especially if the Chiefs aggressively attack the offensive line holes and depth in the draft and with what’s left in the free agency pool.
He’s shown he can handle a heavy workload, especially this last postseason when Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell were both injured, and Reid could easily use Pringle more with the absence of Bell and Damien Williams this next season, even if he is simply being used to confuse or confuddle defenses before the snap with motion or after with trick plays.
#94 Taco Charlton, DE
Taco Charlton was Dallas’ first-round pick back in 2017 and never truly performed like a first-round pick while he was wearing the famed Cowboys colors. After Dallas cut Charlton he made a splash in Miami but was waived after one season even though he had a team-high five sacks in his ten games as a Dolphin.
Fast-forward to his 2020 season with the Chiefs and everyone could see his presence was felt while he was on the field, and although he only played seven games due to a fractured ankle he suffered during the Week 9 game against Carolina he showed flashes of his playmaking ability and speed off the edge that looked more like the Miami Taco instead of the Dallas Taco, which is exactly why he could go off this year.
Before the injury he had four QB hits, two sacks, 12 pressures, and a major forced fumble in Week 4 to keep the Newton-less Patriots from scoring with his leaping start off the line (below).
Charlton has a lot to prove considering he’s once again playing on a one-year deal which he signed on March 16th (what shall now be known as the Taco Tuesday in Kansas City) and that will just add more fuel to the fire underneath Charlton’s healing ankle.
With the one-year deal, the still-burning urge to prove why he was selected in the first round, and his tight-knit relationship with former Michigan teammate DE Frank Clark (above) it could be Charlton’s best season yet, especially if he is placed opposite of Clark on the line rather than just being used as a rotational piece like he was for much of last season.
Honorable Mention: #35 Charvarius Ward, CB
With the stout amount of talent that the Chiefs have collected in the secondary since bringing DC Steve Spagnuolo in it’s tough for Ward to showcase his talents as much but when he has it has been pretty spectacular to watch.
Ward already has over 190 total tackles, two interceptions, a sack, three QB hits, and 25 passes defended in his first three seasons but with this next season being a contract year for him just watch out because Ward can play almost anywhere on the field and will likely be looking to make a name for himself so he can get paid the big bucks next offseason.
#5 Tommy Townsend, P
After one of the worst punting performances in Super Bowl history Townsend received a lot of hate on social media and on sports talk shows all across the country but his three punts in the big game should not take away from the respectable rookie season that he had beforehand.
Townsend punted three times in the Super Bowl, two of them were under 30 yards, but not to be overlooked is the 51-yard punt earlier in the game that could’ve been stopped within the 5-yard line and the 56-yard punt that came after a fumbled snap inside the Chiefs own endzone which was negated by a penalty on Ben Niemann.
Townsend averaged 44.5 yards/punt in the regular season (according to TeamRankings) which is not typically a good number to hover around for an NFL punter but let’s remember that Patrick Mahomes and company don’t normally leave the punter with much field to punt into.
In his first season in the NFL, he had 37.5% of his punts land within the 20-yard line and had the 4th-longest punt of the season (67 yards) but he also had the second-most touchbacks which–as stated before–is likely a result when you’re continually forced to punt within the 50-yard line.
If Townsend can effectively adapt situationally in the 2021 season and pinpoint his kicks with a little more accuracy then the Chiefs defense will have better opportunities (obviously) and Townsend will begin to step out of Dustin Colquitt’s shadow.
On the other hand, perhaps Chiefs Kingdom has simply been spoiled for the past 15 years with Colquitt and now Kansas City is just going to have to adjust to a less-than-great punter for the foreseeable future.
Honorable Mention: #17 Mecole Hardman, PR
Hardman has been plagued with fumbling issues on punt returns during the biggest of games, most recently in the AFC Championship game against Buffalo, but with every botched punt return comes a learning experience –something that showed on the next possession during the AFCCG:
With the previous three seasons worth of growth Hardman has shown that he is capable of the big plays, he’s obviously blazing fast, and he can be one of the better returners (and receivers) in the league if he simply holds onto the ball and stops getting into his own head during big games.
Look for Hardman to silence the haters that have been piping off on him through social media all season and offseason long, if not in the receiving game then in the return game.