The Super Bowl is must-see TV.
The NFL championship game is the most-watched television broadcast in the United States every year and also is broadcast in over 125 countries in more than 30 languages. To further reinforce the popularity of the NFL, 69 of the top 100-most watched broadcasts in 2020 were NFL games, according to Sportico.
Drawing more than just passionate football fans, the Super Bowl empowers players to become household names overnight.
Larry Brown, a 12th-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, became the first cornerback to win the Super Bowl MVP with two interceptions.
David Tyree, a sixth-round pick who had just four receptions for 35 yards during the 2007 season, made one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history. Known as the “Helmet Catch,” Tyree was covered tightly yet managed to press the ball against the top of his helmet for a 32-yard gain on 3rd down. Four plays later, the Giants scored a touchdown and toppled the previously undefeated New England Patriots 17-14 to win Super Bowl XLII.
And who could forget undrafted cornerback Malcom Smith’s goal-line interception against the Seattle Seahawks to remarkably preserve the Patriots victory in Super Bowl XLIX? The play was so important — and perhaps improbable — that Tom Brady gave Butler the brand new Chevy truck he was awarded for being the Super Bowl MVP.
Brady will obviously play a central role in this Super Bowl’s outcome. But it always bears mentioning that the most accomplished player in NFL history was passed over by 30 clubs and had six other quarterbacks selected ahead of him in the 2000 NFL Draft!
So who are some of the more unheralded players in Super Bowl LV who could shine? Let’s take a closer look:
Chiefs defensive tackle
Wharton played collegiately at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Never heard of it? Not surprising, given the Miners are a Division II program and that Wharton is the first player in school history to reach the NFL. But Wharton played in every regular-season game, and he had a tackle and a quarterback hit in the AFC title game against the Buffalo Bills.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wharton was the Chiefs fourth-best graded defensive lineman and particularly strong stopping the run.
“Coming here, I just really wanted to make the team,” Wharton said in December, according to Arrowhead Pride. “I feel like I did some of what I wanted to do, (but) not all the way accomplished yet.”
Wharton noted that one of the big differences for him was that opponents keyed on him in college, while the focus isn’t on him with the Chiefs.
Bucs outside linebacker
His emergence is, by any measure, a stunning one. A native of Baltimore, Barrett headed to Boys Town, a private boarding school in Nebraska known for discipline and academic rigor. A two-star recruit, he started his collegiate career at Nebraska-Omaha, until it dropped its football program after his freshman year. He then transferred to Colorado State, where he worked his way to becoming Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
Still, Barrett went undrafted and signed with the Denver Broncos, where he was largely a rotational defender, totaling 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles over five seasons. He signed a one-year deal with the Bucs in 2019. He had nine sacks in his first month, as well as an interception and three forced fumbles.
Remarkably, he finished the 2019 season with 19.5 sacks!
Barrett’s stats dropped this past season (8 sacks), but he tallied three sacks in the postseason. Along with Jason Pierre-Paul, Barrett drive a fearsome Bucs’ pass rush. But Mahomes is an excellent decision-maker, and Reid and Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are incredibly creative at game-planning against opposing defenses.
Can Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul continue their dominant ways?
Chiefs tight end
A three-sport athlete at Cleveland Heights High School in Ohio, Kelce shined as a quarterback in football. But he was a two-star recruit, and he followed his older brother Jason to the University of Cincinnati, accepting a scholarship over offers from Akron and Eastern Michigan,
among others. He redshirted his first year, and he had some ups and downs over the next three seasons, posting modest statistics. But in his last collegiate season, he caught 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns, earning first-team all-conference honors.
Once again, Kelce benefited from his brother’s reputation. New Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had drafted and coached Jason with the Philadelphia Eagles. In the 2013 NFL Draft, with a Chiefs’ third-round pick, Reid selected Travis. Four other tight ends were selected ahead of Kelce. His rookie season was wiped out by knee surgery, but Kelce broke out in his second NFL season, and he’s been a force ever since. A six-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time first-team All-Pro, Kelce holds the NFL record by a tight end with five consecutive seasons with 1,000 receiving yards. In two postseason games, Kelce has dominated with 21 catches for 227 yards and three touchdowns.
Bucs wide receiver
The Bucs have several receivers who were underdogs and overlooked. Chris Godwin was the 10th receiver taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, Scott Miller was a two-star recruit and Tyler Johnson is a fifth-round draft pick.
But Brown could be an x-factor in the Super Bowl.
Does the four-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl receiver seem out of place on this list?
In 2018, in his final season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown had 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. But he’s had a lot of challenges — many of his own doing — in the time since.
Technically, Brown was unranked and zero-rated coming out of high school. That status, though, was somewhat murky since he was a very talented track athlete and played multiple positions on the Miami Norland High School football team. He had assorted issues with a handful of colleges, then he headed to Central Michigan, where he was invited to tryout as a walk-on receiver.
After a few weeks, though, Brown was offered a scholarship and posted dizzying statistics over his three seasons with the Chippewas.
In his first two postseason games for the Bucs, he had just three catches for 59 yards, including one touchdown. And though he missed the NFC title game, Brown is expected to play against the Chiefs. Will the playmaker rise to this occasion?
Chiefs left tackle
A two-star guard, Fisher was not ranked among the top offensive linemen coming out of Stoney Creek High School in Michigan. Fisher has said that was largely because he weighed just 225 pounds as a high school senior.
But he thrived at Central Michigan, becoming the first overall pick of the Chiefs in the 2013 NFL Draft. Now 6 foot 7 and over 300 pounds, Fisher has started 113 of 117 career games, and he made the Pro Bowl for the second time this season.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs will have to try and repeat as Super Bowl champs without Fisher, who tore his Achilles in the AFC title game. That’s a tall order, since Fisher protects quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ blindside and the Bucs boast one of the league’s top pass rushing units. They pressured Packers Aaron Rodgers 21 times in the NFC championship game and racked up five sacks. In Week 12, the Bucs pressured Mahomes 24 times and notched two sacks. In that game, Fisher played but right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was out.
Schwartz is unlikely to play in the Super Bowl, either. He hasn’t played since leaving the game against the Bills on Oct. 19th with a back injury.
“The other guys are doing a nice job, and we should be able to be OK there with the guys that we have, who will step in,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters. “If Mitch can work it out to where he can go, that’s great. There’s nobody that wants to be there more than him. But I just can’t tell you that I’m that optimistic about it.”
To see the ranking of the Super Bowl players, check out this list from CBS Sports by clicking here.
Want more Super Bowl themed content? Sean’s got you covered! In his podcast Winning Is Not Everything, Sean will break down the 4 Keys to a Championship Team, highlighting the importance of having “coachable” players. In his weekly message to Minnesota Youth Athletic Services, Sean focuses on one of the most “coachable” athletes to emerge from the state, Tyler Johnson, who starred at North Community High School in Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota before being drafted by the Bucs last offseason. On NBC Sports’ Sports Engine, Sean reinforces “How to Relish a Big Moment.” And on Friday, two days before Super Bowl LV, Sean is hosting a free webinar of his video series Model Student Athlete, including a full viewing of his training session on “Being Coachable.”