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Kansas City Chiefs 2021 Regular Season Awards

Who stood out the most over the course of the Chiefs' 2021 regular season?
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It’s been a long and grueling 18 weeks of regular-season NFL football, and just before we enter this month of playoff action to determine who gets to lift the Lombardi Trophy this year, let’s look back at the Kansas City Chiefs' 2021 regular season and hand out some hardware to the team's top performers.

Most Valuable Player: quarterback Patrick Mahomes

Naturally, the most valuable player on the team is typically the quarterback, as they're most often involved in the most important plays. This is especially true for an offense like the Chiefs', where they passed the ball on 63.1% of early downs, the second-highest rate in the NFL behind only the Buffalo Bills. 

Along with being among the most-used quarterbacks in the league, Patrick Mahomes was also once again among the league’s best. His Expected Points Added (EPA) was the second-best in the league behind Aaron Rodgers and his EPA+CPOE (Completion Percentage Over Expected) was the third-best behind Rodgers and Joe Burrow. Mahomes had his share of off-games this season and this was probably the worst season of his career to date, but make no mistake, Mahomes still often kept the offense moving at an elite rate and was certainly the victim of a handful of undeserved turnovers.



Offensive Player of the Year: center Creed Humphrey

While this could potentially also go to Mahomes or tight end Travis Kelce, I had no choice but to give this one to rookie center Creed Humphrey. This addition is among the best of the Brett Veach era. Humphrey was a borderline sure-thing as he came into the league, earning high praise from the likes of then-Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley after Humphrey allowed zero sacks in three years and nearly 1,300 pass-blocking snaps as the Sooners’ starting center.

Still, this was unexpected from his rookie campaign. Humphrey, as a rookie, gained a team-high 91.4 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) after going the full 17-game regular season with 1,184 snaps played and one sack and 10 pressures allowed over a staggering 804 pass-blocking snaps. His run-blocking grade was also higher than his pass-blocking grade, earning a 92.5 in the run-blocking department. His grade was the best among NFL centers, with second-place more than five points below him.

Despite this performance, Humphrey was recently snubbed from both Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, coming behind the clear current second- and third-best centers in football, the still-fantastic Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles and Corey Linsley in his first season with the Los Angeles Chargers. With or without those awards, he should be the Chiefs' offensive player of the year.

Defensive Player of the Year: defensive tackle Chris Jones

It’s honestly staggering how this guy continues to do what he does on the football field. Chris Jones is one of the sport's best game-wreckers and he, despite playing lesser football off the edge to start the season, still ended up with 65 pressures and nine sacks (or 10 sacks with half-sacks counted as full) over 436 pass-rushes, according to PFF. This earned him the highest PFF grade on the Chiefs’ defense and the fifth-highest among interior defenders. 

From Week 9 (the week where he mainly returned back inside) through the rest of the regular season, he was once again back in his usual spot for PFF grading: second behind only Aaron Donald. Jones has now been in the top 10 interior defenders in PFF grading in each of the last five seasons and in the top five in three of them. If it wasn’t for Donald putting up the greatest defensive career in modern football history, Jones would be the talk of the town.

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Offensive Rookie of the Year: center Creed Humphrey

This award certainly could have gone to rookie guard Trey Smith, since Humphrey already won Offensive Player of the Year, but ultimately, the most-deserving player has to win. Let’s give a quick bit of recognition to Smith, who has had a tremendous season as a day-three draft pick and immediately stepped in as one of the better right guards in the NFL. Great work by Brett Veach to bring both of these steam-rollers into the Chiefs' offensive line when they needed it. 

Defensive Rookie of the Year: linebacker Nick Bolton

This is the easiest award of all, as Nick Bolton is clearly the favored choice over fellow defensive rookies Joshua Kaindoh and Zayne Anderson, who haven't seen much time on the field this year. 

As for Bolton, he has really come into his own in several of the games he’s played this season. Early in the year, it was clear he was a strong tackler and made plays on runs behind the line of scrimmage, but that he was also not good in coverage, getting lost often and being unable to make certain plays that more athletic linebackers like teammate Willie Gay Jr. can make. 

However, as the season progressed, he continued developing, improving, and securing his role in the Chiefs' defense. Late in the season, there were games where he was the best player on the defense through a quarter, a half, or even a full game. His coverage didn’t improve a ton, but it did improve, and that was good enough for the Chiefs. Bolton ended the season with an 83.6 tackling grade from PFF, the second-best in the NFL among linebackers behind Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who had an outstanding year. Bolton was one of the best run-defending, tackling linebackers in the NFL this season, and for that, he is the Chiefs’ runaway defensive rookie of the year.

Comeback Player of the Year: defensive end Melvin Ingram III

Melvin Ingram was a familiar face to Chiefs fans before he came to Kansas City. After nine stellar years with the Chargers, Ingram was a highly-discussed option for the Chiefs heading into this past offseason. Ultimately, Ingram went to the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he played the first six games of the season while the Chiefs’ pass rush struggled.

Then an opportunity presented itself. The Steelers were looking to let Ingram go mid-season. It’s a real surprise, as his PFF numbers were still quite good in Pittsburgh, even with a lack of sacks despite his pressure numbers being fine. (Better than many of the Chiefs' top pass-rushers, in fact.) General manager Brett Veach decided to make his most shrewd move yet, trading a sixth-round pick to Pittsburgh for Ingram. This move has certainly been worth it. 

With the Chiefs, since Week 9, Ingram has had a 79.0 PFF overall grade, an 88.2 PFF run-defense grade, 24 pressures (third behind Jones and Clark) and many huge back-breaking plays for opposing offenses, including a forced fumble that essentially won the game against the Denver Broncos in Week 18. Ingram’s impact has truly been felt and he has revived his career with some great play in Kansas City.

Breakout Player of the Year: cornerback Rashad Fenton

Rashad Fenton's impact has been massively underrated for so many reasons, he has truly been one of the best players on the team throughout this season. Fenton’s 82.0 PFF overall grade puts him fifth among cornerbacks with 500+ snaps played, his 90.4 PFF tackling grade puts him first and other notable stats such as 293 yards and zero touchdowns allowed over 381 coverage snaps should also tell you much of what you need to know about Fenton’s season. 

This year, Fenton has been a legit lockdown cornerback for the Chiefs, and his accomplishments deserve recognition. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a lot of it because he has faced some easier matchups than L’Jarius Sneed and Charvarius Ward and because he has zero interceptions. Fenton does what he needs to do, however: he shuts down the guy across from him and make tackles when he needs to. Don't forget about Fenton when you talk about the Chiefs' top defenders.