The San Francisco 49ers are back in the Super Bowl for the second time in five years, and they will face off against the team they last played on the big stage in the Kansas City Chiefs. The postseason has been more of a grind than anticipated for the 49ers. They needed a game-winning drive and then an interception vs. the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, and then a historic second-half comeback vs. the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship. But, the 49ers have successfully run the gauntlet, and have the talent necessary to win it all.
You’re familiar with San Francisco’s stars, such as Brock Purdy, Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and Nick Bosa. But are there other players who can decide what happens on Feb. 11? Below, we will break down five under-the-radar players who could make the difference for San Francisco vs. Kansas City.
Maybe we should just put “the entire interior offensive line” here. Quarterbacks are most uncomfortable when they face pressure from the inside. That’s what Chiefs star defensive tackle Chris Jones is great at. He recorded the second-most sacks (10.5) and QB hits (33) among defensive tackles this season, and had the second-most pressures at the position (75). Banks has started 16 games including playoffs this season, and hasn’t allowed a sack on 528 pass blocking snaps this season.
The Chiefs have a great offensive line — especially when it comes to their three interior players. Bosa is going to register some wins on the outside, but can you imagine if Kinlaw and the 49ers interior defensive linemen can collapse the pocket or win those battles to quickly stuff the run? It would be a complete game-changer. Kinlaw was one of the players that got to David Montgomery behind the sticks on the third-and-goal from the 3-yard line late in the fourth quarter, which caused the Lions to use a timeout that may have decided the game. Kinlaw actually put several nice plays on tape that game, getting off blocks on run plays and pressuring the quarterback on pass plays. Keep an eye on him.
Ever since I heard “third-and-Jauan,” it’s turned into my favorite saying. A total of 121 of his 265 receiving yards have come on third downs this season, which ranks fourth on the team. You can’t deny he came up huge with that one-handed catch on third down vs. the Lions.
Jennings is one of the more underrated wide receivers in the NFL. He’s got hands, but also blocking ability. He’s a legitimate football player, and if one of the 49ers wide receivers go down, he’s the next one up, and he usually comes through.
Stopping Travis Kelce is again the point of emphasis for San Francisco’s defense. Yes, Fred Warner is going to get reps against the best tight end in the game, but he won’t be on him every single passing down. I think mixing it up could be smart, with shading a safety towards him. If I’m the 49ers, I’m not calling on the veterans Tashaun Gipson Sr. or Logan Ryan. I’m going to the young Ji’Ayir Brown.
The third-round pick out of Penn State recorded 35 combined tackles, four passes defensed and two interceptions in the regular season, while starting in five of 15 games played. He didn’t play vs. the Packers, but started vs. the Lions and recorded 10 combined tackles — which was second on the team behind Warner. Maybe Brown could be a difference-maker next Sunday.
The 49ers made Moody the highest drafted kicker since 2016, and he went 60 of 61 on extra points this season, and 21 of 25 on field goals. He’s 7 of 7 on extra points in the playoffs, and 3 of 5 on field goals. Moody is 1 of 2 on game-tying or go-ahead field goals in the fourth quarter this season, and rookies are 14 of 16 on field goals in Super bowl history. They’ve actually made eight straight dating back to 1997. Moody isn’t going to want to break that streak.
In a matchup where points could come at a premium, Moody could be the hero. Or the villain.