TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — This year’s Super Bowl truly features two of the best teams in the NFL, and both the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are stacked with big-time talent on their rosters. To help narrow down such extensive lists of which players to keep an eye on, we’re focusing on two players to watch from each team — one from offense and one from defense — that could have a significant impact on Sunday’s outcome at Raymond James Stadium.
We’ll start with the home and host team first.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offense: Leonard Fournette (Running back)
Yes, we could have gone with the obvious – Tom Brady, Mr. G.O.A.T. and 6-time champion – but that would be too easy.
Fournette, however, is a Bucs player who has been highly underrated, playing more of a situational role for most of the season behind their every-down-back Ronald Jones. But since RoJo missed two games in December with COVID-19 and missed the Washington game with quad and finger injuries, Fournette has burst onto the scene like the main back he was in Jacksonville, and even before that at LSU.
In case you forgot, I’m sure he reminded everyone of his strength and balance after that 20-yard spinning touchdown run he had in the 2nd quarter of the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. “Playoff Lenny,” as he’s been known these past few weeks, has had a touchdown in all three postseason games and has 313 total yards (211 rushing and 102 receiving.)
And on the note of his receiving yards, he takes it personally when people try and say he’s not a pass-catching back. Case in point—he’s caught 14 of the 17 passes thrown his way this post-season.
Fournette is a physical back, and with the line blocking as well as they have been, he’s a tough match-up for any secondary to bring down if he breaks loose.
Defense: Sean Murphy-Bunting (Cornerback)
Meet the interception machine. SMB has a pick in all three playoff games, which includes ones against Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, who have had very few errors all season.
Murphy-Bunting had battled injuries all season long but has recently found his groove out there and is playing with the highest of confidence (as is the entire secondary, to be honest).
Bruce Arians said this group has matured and really come together, citing their ability to play man-to-man aggressively but also play zone. Murphy-Bunting has been at the forefront in his second season in the league and has the speed to hang with some very fast players on that Chiefs offense.
Tyreek Hill torched the Bucs in October when they played earlier this season, so you can believe Bucs DC Todd Bowles will make sure his guys stay with him this time.
Kansas City Chiefs
Offense: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Running back)
Again, not going with the clear superstar Patrick Mahomes. We know he will play at an elite level.
So we’re sticking with the NFLSU theme of offensive weapons, and this rookie for the Chiefs burst onto the scene from Week 1 and has been their leading rusher by a long shot all season. In 13 regular-season games, he amassed 1,100 total yards (803 rushing and 297 receiving) and had five touchdowns.
Edwards-Helaire suffered hip and ankle injuries in week 15 against the Saints that had him sidelined for three games, but he made his return in the AFC Championship game against the Bills. He only had 7 yards on six carries but got in for a touchdown.
Even if he’s not at full-strength, he’s a tough match-up because he is so small in stature. Standing generously at 5’8”, that low center of gravity makes him very slippery and enables him to get past some of the big guys up front.
Defense: Juan Thornhill (Safety)
We’re staying with the theme of the not obvious choice because, of course, we know fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu, who led the Chiefs with six regular-season interceptions and one in the post-season, would be a guy who could ruin this game for the Bucs. So with that in mind, watch out for this second-year guy, Juan Thornhill.
He has just one pick this season but could see some action if the Bucs decide to throw anywhere other than where Mathieu is on the field. Thornhill, who has been battling back to full-strength from a knee injury (he suffered a torn ACL in the 2019 regular-season finale,) has the play-making ability and high football IQ to step-up if Tom Brady gets pressured and throws an ill-advised pass, which we saw three times in their game against the Packers.
Thornhill is also coming off one of his best games against the Bills, flying around the field with four passes defended.