Super Bowl LIV has been billed as a battle between Kansas City’s pass-happy offense and the 49ers’ stout defense. But both teams are filled with talent at skill positions on offense.
Both teams ranked in the top-five in scoring this season, with the 49ers second and the Chiefs fifth. They went about it in different ways, too. Only three teams attempted fewer passes than San Francisco; only five ran the ball less than Kansas City.
In ranking the top 10 offensive players in the Super Bowl, I focused on those playing at the highest level now. I took into account stats, unique skill sets, and how their coaches may deploy them.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs, QB (Round 1, 2017)
The obvious choice. The reigning MVP battled through a knee injury but still threw for 26 touchdowns against only five interceptions. In the playoffs, the NFL's most talented passer has eight touchdown passes with no picks. Mahomes is a major weapon running (106 yards on 15 carries through two playoff games). His highlight-reel, 27-yard TD run against Tennessee may have been the most spectacular play of the postseason.
2. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs, WR (Round 5, 2016)
Hill’s numbers this season (58 receptions, 860 yards, seven touchdowns) aren’t eye-popping, but he did post them in just 12 games. Hill's value to the Chiefs is two-fold: He can beat any defender vertically and make big plays himself, and his pure speed requires double-teams more often than not, affording the rest of Kansas City’s skill talent more room to operate.
3. Raheem Mostert, 49ers, RB (Undrafted, 2015)
If Hill is a home run hitter through the air, Mostert is his mirror on the ground. Though his season-long rush is just 41 yards, Mostert leads all Niners backs with 5.6 yards per carry, and he set a franchise game rushing record with his 220-yard outburst against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in the league, excelling at creating mismatches. Mostert is the perfect back to take advantage of the big holes Shanahan’s scheme creates, as he was the sixth-most efficient (north-south) runner in the NFL this year, per Next Gen Stats.
4. George Kittle, 49ers, TE (Round 5, 2017)
Kittle is the total package at tight end, and a perfect fit for San Francisco. He owns the season receiving yardage record for a tight end (1,377) and is also an excellent blocker. Kittle is Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target, as well as his most reliable, having dropped just 1.9 percent of passes thrown his way this season, lowest on the team. He is a mismatch for just about every linebacker and safety in the league, and his willingness to buy into whatever a particular week’s scheme requires of him is what makes him so valuable.
5. Travis Kelce, Chiefs, TE (Rounds 3, 2013)
Tough draw for Kelce. If he puts up two or three more seasons of excellent production, he’ll likely end up in Canton. But he's the second-best tight end in this game. Kelce is not much of a blocker, but the Chiefs don’t ask him to be, and he is a devastating receiving threat. He is the only tight end in NFL history with four straight 1,000-yard seasons, and was outstanding even before Mahomes’ arrival. Hill might be Kansas City’s best quick-strike threat, but Kelce is their best overall target.
6. Damien Williams, Chiefs, RB (Undrafted, 2014)
Williams could easily be a forgotten man in Kansas City’s pass-happy scheme, but lately he has shown a knack for an important task: scoring touchdowns. Williams has six in the Chiefs’ past three games, including three against the Texans in the divisional round. 2019 was Williams’ best season as a pro, which is striking considering he only played in 11 games. His 711 yards from scrimmage were third on Kansas City, and his seven touchdowns tied Hill for the team lead.
7. Deebo Samuel, 49ers, WR (Round 2, 2019)
Samuel is second on the 49ers in targets, catches and receiving yards, and among those on the team with at least 20 catches, his 14.1 yards per reception led the way. His value wasn’t just in the passing game, however. He carried the ball 14 times for 159 yards and three touchdowns this season, and was devastating on Jet sweeps and other unconventional running plays. Samuel brings explosiveness and unpredictability to San Francisco’s passing game.
8. Sammy Watkins, Chiefs, WR (Round 1, 2014)
Watkins has the loftiest draft pedigree of any offensive player in the game, having gone to Buffalo with the fourth overall pick in 2014. He also had a strange regular season, catching three touchdowns in the season opener, then failing to score again the rest of the regular season. Against Tennessee, Watkins had his best game since the season opener, with 114 yards and a touchdown on seven catches. Watkins, who had only 673 yards receiving during the regular season, is physical, versatile, and adept at taking advantage of the space created by Kelce and Hill.
9. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers, QB (Round 2, 2014)
There is no bigger wild card in this game than Garoppolo. Will he rise to the occasion? Will the Niners even need him to? Kansas City’s rush defense tightened considerably over the second half of the season, so there is a good chance San Francisco won’t simply be able to line up and grind down the Chiefs. Garoppolo was good for most of the season, but only three teams attempted fewer passes than the Niners. Including the playoffs, Garoppolo posted a passer rating of 100 or better in 10 starts; he had a rating of 83 or worse seven times. (League average passer rating during regular season: 90.4.)
10. Emmanuel Sanders, 49ers, WR (Rounds 3, 2010)
Sanders averaged 1.7 more yards per catch with the Niners than he did in his seven games with the Broncos. His receiving yards per game (52.5 in Denver; 55.7 in San Francisco) remained about the same despite catching almost one fewer pass per contest with the Niners. Sanders is a crafty veteran skilled at finding openings in the defense, and though he is past his physical prime, he is still more than capable of having a big game. Drops are a concern, however. Sanders had none with Denver, but two after coming over to San Francisco. He won’t be the primary focus of Kansas City’s defense, but if any under-the-radar player is poised to grab headlines, Sanders might be the guy.
HONORABLE MENTION: Mecole Hardman (Chiefs wide receiver), Matt Breida (49ers running back), Kendrick Bourne (49ers wide receiver)
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