L’Jarius Snead is going to be a star in the league
By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)
On a team loaded with superstars like Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, it is actually a much less known player that is the key to their success this upcoming season. That player is their young second-year cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. He is a versatile weapon on defense who was impressive playing multiple defensive back positions.
An impressive rookie season
His skills and athleticism allowed for him to be both a lockdown corner and successful on the blitz as well. In just 9 games played last season, he recorded 41 tackles, 7 passes defended, 3 interceptions, and 2 sacks. Maybe most impressively, the rookie allowed only a 52 completion percentage when targeted in man coverage. Opposing quarterbacks completed only 13 passes for 108 yards on 25 targets when throwing to the assignment of Sneed. For reference, he recorded the fourth-best coverage efficiency based on passer rating in the entire NFL and by far the number one best among rookies.
Unfortunately for both Sneed and the Chiefs, after recording an interception in each of his first two NFL games, he injured his collar bone in week 3 and missed the next 7 games of the season. When he returned his position was switched from an outside coverage corner to a slot defender. In this new spot, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was able to get more creative with Sneed and used him in more ways than just in coverage. His versatility shined and he was arguably even better as a utility defender than just in a role of man coverage on the outside.
Interestingly, minus the week 17 game where the Chiefs had nothing to play for, the only regular-season game that they lost all season was to the Raiders in week 5. Sneed did not play this game due to his injury, and the Chiefs defense got torched for 40 points. His presence is clearly a big factor for the Chiefs. He is an important piece to the puzzle if the Chiefs want to make another Super Bowl run.
The Chiefs total defense last year was middle of the pack, ranking 16th in yards allowed per game with 358.3 and 11th in points allowed per game with 22.6. They ranked 14th in passing yards allowed per game with 236.2 but where they actually thrived was in forcing turnovers. They recorded 16 interceptions which were the 5th most in the NFL last season. These defensive rankings are not bad but there is definitely some room for improvement.
It’s very important to remember that Sneed only played about half of the season last year. This gives a very good reason to be optimistic that if he is able to play a full season this year then all of those rankings, especially against the pass, could all improve. Sneed recorded 3 out of the 16 interceptions for their defense, which was actually the second-highest total on the team. Only Tyrann Mathieu had more picks with 6 total and he played in 15 games. Sneed also had the second-most passes defended on the team with 7 on the season. Mathieu and Breeland tied for the lead with 9 and they played 15 and 11 games respectively.
If the numbers for Sneed last year were doubled, which would roughly account for the half-season he missed, he would have potentially registered an estimate of 82 tackles, 14 passes defended, 6 interceptions, and 4 sacks. That would have been the most passes defended on the team by far and tied him for the team lead in interceptions. Just as impressively, that would be the third most sacks too. Even his 2 sacks total were good enough for 5th most on the team. The projected numbers would have not only been good enough to make the Pro Bowl, but Sneed would have had a strong case for Defensive Rookie of the Year as well.
With the hopes of getting a full season out of Sneed in 2021, the Chiefs defense expects to make a significant improvement. He has the skillset and potential to be an All-Pro at cornerback, especially considering that with more experience and maturity his game should improve even more. Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions to learn in the NFL but Sneed has made it look relatively easy so far. If his game takes the next step, the Chiefs could definitely be a top 10 defense next season. That is a scary thought considering how dominant their offense already is.
Head coach Andy Reid is one of the greatest offensive minds in NFL history and he has a generational talent in Patrick Mahomes quarterbacking his Chiefs offense. They have blazing speed at all of the offensive skill positions including the fastest player in the NFL in wide receiver Tyreek Hill and the best receiving tight end in Travis Kelce. Just to put the cherry on top, they have a very solid offensive line as well. This lethal combination makes an absolutely stacked offense from top to bottom. It would be expected for them to be one of the best units in the league, but how much better they are compared to other teams is amazing.
The Chiefs were by far statistically the best offense in the NFL with 415.8 yards per game. That is almost 20 yards per game more than the second-place Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, who were tied at 396.4. Passing yards per game is a similar story, leading the NFL with 303.4 and almost 15 better than the 289.1 by the second-best Tampa Bay Bucs. All things considered with this Chiefs offense, they have little to worry about in the upcoming 2021 season. As long as they are healthy, they will most likely once again be the best in the league.
With how good the Chiefs offense is, they will always have a shot to win every game. This is why they won 14 games last season and made it all the way to the Super Bowl despite having an average-ranked defense. The thing that can take this team to another level, such as transforming from a yearly Super Bowl contender to a true dynasty, is by improving on the defensive side of the ball. The offense couldn’t really be much better, as it is already better than the rest.
Sneed is definitely someone to watch this season and his play could be the key to unlocking a new level for the Chiefs. He was dominant in his half of a season and expectations are sky-high heading into the 2021 campaign. If he develops into an elite defensive back and helps the defense move firmly into the top 10, it would be really hard to see anybody taking down the mighty Chiefs this season. They are already the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year and their chances would improve even further if Sneed takes the next step.