Super Bowl 2023: How the Chiefs' key contributors ranked as high school recruits
Not everyone who will be playing in the 2023 Super Bowl was a highly touted recruit.
The rosters for both the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs are great examples of how many players who were ranked as three-star prospects and below can have great careers in the NFL. Likely 2022 MVP Patrick Mahomes was a three-star recruit while Travis Kelce was a two-star recruit and his brother Jason wasn’t ranked at all.
Jason Kelce isn’t the only unranked player who will play a key role on Feb. 12 either. Three starters on the Eagles’ offensive line weren’t ranked by Rivals while three of the rookies playing key roles in the Chiefs’ secondary weren’t ranked either.
Here are how the key contributors for the Kansas City Chiefs stacked up as high school recruits according to Rivals and make sure to check out Rivals for everything you need to know about Wednesday's National Signing Day.
[Related: How the Eagles’ key contributors were ranked out of high school]
*Specialists were not included in these rankings due to the nature of rankings for kickers and punters.
5 stars, No. 11 overall, No. 2 athlete (2016)
Round 2, pick 52 (2019)
Hardman had offers from nearly every college football powerhouse and was one of two top-11 recruits to sign with the Bulldogs in 2016. He ranked ahead of players like Jeffery Simmons, Nick Bosa, Ed Oliver, A.J. Brown and Brian Burns in his class. The speedster was a dangerous kick returner at Georgia and had 532 receiving yards in his junior season before declaring for the draft. He hadn’t played since Nov. 6 before playing in the AFC title game and re-aggravating the pelvic injury that had sidelined him for 10 weeks.
DT Chris Jones
5 stars, No. 20 overall, No. 2 strongside DE (2013)
Round 2, pick 37 (2016)
Jones made it clear early that he was heading to Mississippi State. The five-star recruit committed to the Bulldogs in June of 2012 as the top prospect in the state. The only strongside DE that ranked ahead of Jones in Rivals’ rankings was Robert Nkemdiche. He signed with Ole Miss. Jones played right away at MSU and had 102 tackles and 8.5 sacks in three seasons.
5 stars, No. 24 overall, No. 2 safety (2014)
Round 2, pick 62 (2017)
Smith-Schuster was one of the best players in the country in 2014 and ranked ahead of the Seahawks’ Jamal Adams and the Cardinals’ Budda Baker among safeties in his high school class. After playing both receiver and safety in high school, Smith-Schuster exclusively played wideout at USC and tallied 159 catches for 2,368 yards and 20 TDs over his final two seasons. Despite being in his sixth NFL season, Smith-Schuster only turned 26 in November.
5 stars, No. 5 overall, No. 1 weakside defensive end (2007)
Round 2, pick 54
Dunlap is the only top-25 member of the high school class of 2007 playing in the NFL. The four players ranked ahead of him were Jimmy Clausen, Joe McKnight, Eric Berry and Ryan Mallett. After visiting South Carolina and Tennessee, Dunlap committed to Florida and had 19.5 sacks in three seasons with the Gators. After playing 10-plus seasons with Cincinnati and over a season with Seattle, Dunlap signed as a free agent with the Chiefs ahead of training camp.
RG Trey Smith
4 stars, No. 49 overall, No. 8 OT (2017)
Round 6, pick 226 (2021)
Tennessee kept Smith in state after he had offers from nine other SEC schools and ACC schools like Clemson, Florida State and Miami. Smith started up front for Tennessee right away but missed the second half of his sophomore season because of blood clots in his lungs. Smith was medically cleared to continue to play football and was a first-team all-SEC lineman in his final two seasons at the school.
DE George Karlaftis
4 stars, No. 137 overall, No. 14 strongside DE (2019)
Round 1, pick 30 (2022)
Karlaftis started playing football after moving to West Lafayette from Greece as an eighth grader. With help from his water polo background, he quickly developed into one of the best recruits in the country and made the decision to stay in his hometown for college. Karlaftis had 99 tackles and 14.5 sacks over 27 games from 2019-21 and forced three fumbles in his final season of college football.
LB Willie Gay
4 stars, No. 73 overall, No. 8 OLB (2017)
Round 2, pick 63 (2020)
Gay went to high school at Starkville High School in Mississippi and stayed in the town for college. He was the No. 2 recruit in the state behind Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers. Gay had 48 tackles in 2018 as a sophomore before missing eight games in 2019 because of a violation of team rules. He had 28 tackles in five games as a junior before declaring for the draft.
CB Trent McDuffie
4 stars, not in top 250, No. 29 athlete (2019)
Round 1, pick 21 (2022)
The California native committed to Washington in December of 2018 and had scholarship offers from programs all over the country. Once he got to Washington he focused on cornerback and played right away as a freshman. McDuffie played in 27 games across two full seasons and the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign and ended up as a first-round pick as Pac-12 teams avoided throwing to his side of the field. In KC, he started in Week 1 and has been a huge part of a young secondary since returning from a hamstring injury.
QB Patrick Mahomes
3 stars, not in top 250, No. 12 dual-threat QB (2014)
Round 1, pick 10 (2017)
Mahomes is another great example of how you can be a phenomenal college and NFL QB without being a top-tier recruit. According to his Rivals page, Mahomes’ only three scholarship offers came from Texas Tech, Houston and Rice. Mahomes threw for 93 TDs and just 29 interceptions over 1,349 passes in 32 games at Texas Tech. His 2016 performance against Oklahoma (734 passing yards, 85 rushing yards, 7 total TDs) is the stuff of legends and he might have been the best player on the field in Tech’s 2015 Texas Bowl loss to LSU.
RB Isiah Pacheco
3 stars, not in top 250, No. 46 RB (2018)
Round 7, pick 251 (2022)
Pacheco’s offers out of high school were a mix of ACC and Big Ten schools with a couple group of five schools thrown in as well. He chose to stay near his hometown of Vineland, New Jersey, and head to Rutgers where he rushed for over 500 yards in each of his four seasons in Piscataway. Pacheco had 2,442 career yards on 563 carries and scored 18 TDs with the Scarlet Knights. The lack of eye-popping stats is a reason why he fell to the seventh round and he’s currently averaging more than a half yard more per carry as a pro than he did in college.
RB Jerick McKinnon
3 stars, not in top 250, unranked wide receiver (2010)
Round 3, pick 96 (2014)
McKinnon was offered scholarships by triple option-based schools like Georgia Southern, Air Force and Navy. He stayed in his home state and went to Georgia Southern where he played both quarterback and running back for the Eagles. McKinnon rushed for 1,817 yards and 20 TDs in 2012 and finished with 3,404 rushing yards and 39 TDs on 510 career carries as Georgia Southern was still at the FCS level. That production led to the Vikings picking him in the third round of the draft and he’s in his second season with the Chiefs.
3 stars, not in top 250, unranked WR (2013)
Round 5, pick 174 (2018)
The Florida native had just five Power Five scholarship offers out of high school. He played two seasons at NC State and had 44 catches for 538 yards before transferring to USF for his final two seasons. He set the school’s single-season receiving record in 2017 with 53 catches for 879 yards and was a fifth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers before signing with the Chiefs ahead of the 2022 season.
3 stars, not in top 250, No. 63 athlete (2017)
Round 1, pick 20 (2021)
Toney was an incredible dual-threat in high school. He played quarterback at Blount High School in Mobile, Alabama, and threw for nearly 2,900 yards and rushed for almost 900 yards as a senior. He played in at least seven games in each of his four seasons at Florida and was phenomenal in 2020 with 70 catches for 984 yards and 10 TDs while also rushing 19 times for 161 yards. By now you know how his time with the Giants went and how he ended up with the Chiefs.
LT Orlando Brown Jr.
3 stars, not in top 250, No. 46 OT (2014)
Round 3, pick 83 (2018)
Brown had a host of Power Five offers out of high school and was even recruited by Arkansas and coach Sam Pittman when Pittman was an assistant there. He chose the Sooners and started right away at left tackle. He played in 40 games in three seasons at OU and started each of them at that spot before declaring for the draft after his junior season.
LG Joe Thuney
3 stars, not in top 250, unranked OT (2011)
Round 3, pick 78 (2016)
Thuney played both football and basketball in high school before redshirting in his first season at NC State. The Wolfpack were one of just four Power Five teams to offer Thuney a scholarship as a 6-5, 250-pound OT out of high school. He became a starter as a redshirt sophomore and played right tackle, right guard and left tackle before settling in as the team’s left guard in 2014.
C Creed Humphrey
3 stars, not in top 250, No. 5 C (2017)
Round 2, pick 63 (2021)
Humphrey was a highly recruited center out of high school and stayed in his home state despite offers from schools like Alabama, Texas and Texas A&M. The former high school wrestler redshirted in 2017 before becoming the team’s starting center for the next three seasons and being named the Big 12 offensive lineman of the year in 2020.
DE Frank Clark
3 stars, not in top 250, unranked OLB (2011)
Round 2, pick 63
Clark had offers from Cal, Michigan State, Minnesota and North Carolina before choosing Michigan as a 6-2, 210-pound outside linebacker. Clark transitioned to defensive end with the Wolverines and played in 46 games in his four years with the team. He had 83 tackles and nine sacks over his final two seasons with Michigan before he was chosen by the Seattle Seahawks.
LB Nick Bolton
3 stars, not in top 250, No. 33 ILB (2018)
Round 2, pick 58 (2021)
Bolton’s two official visits were at rival schools. He visited Kansas and Missouri and committed to the Tigers three days after he was in Columbia. He emerged as one of the best linebackers in the SEC as a sophomore, with 107 tackles and two interceptions before recording 95 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss in 10 games in 2020.
S Justin Reid
3 stars, not in top 250, No. 47 safety (2015)
Round 3, pick 68 (2018)
Reid chose to go to Stanford after visiting LSU, Notre Dame, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. He also had scholarship offers from Brown, Harvard and Yale. Reid played in nine games as a freshman for the Cardinal before starting every game for the team over his sophomore and junior seasons. Reid had 94 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and five interceptions as a junior in 2017. The Cardinal won 31 games in Reid’s three seasons there. It’s won 23 games in the four-plus seasons since.
S Juan Thornhill
3 stars, not in top 250, No. 37 safety (2015)
Round 2, pick 63 (2019)
Before emerging as one of the best safeties in the ACC during his time at Virginia, the Virginia native was recruited by other ACC schools like Boston College, Duke and Virginia Tech. Thornhill became a starter as a sophomore and got better every season. His senior season included 98 tackles and six interceptions. He’s started 52 of the 65 regular-season games he’s appeared in for the Chiefs and has eight career picks.
TE Travis Kelce
2 stars, not in top 250, unranked athlete (2008)
Round 3, pick 63 (2013)
Kelce is another member of the Chiefs offense who played quarterback in high school. His only Power Five offer came from Pittsburgh but he elected to join his brother Jason at Cincinnati. After redshirting in 2008, Kelce played tight end and wildcat QB in 2009. He sat out the 2010 season before a breakout 2012 season with 45 catches for 722 yards and eight touchdowns.
RT Andrew Wylie
2 stars, not in top 250, unranked OT (2012)
The Michigan native had just one offer according to Rivals. He grayshirted in 2012 before becoming a four-year starter for the Eagles from 2013-16. After he went undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Colts signed Wylie and released him during the 2017 season. Wylie spent time on the practice squads for the Browns and Chargers before catching on with the Chiefs in 2018.
DL Mike Danna
2 stars, not in top 250, unranked DE (2015)
Round 5, pick 177 (2020)
The Detroit native went to Central Michigan for his first four years of college football and became one of the better defensive ends in the MAC. Danna had 23 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks over his final two seasons with the Chippewas before he graduate transferred to Michigan for his final season. Danna had three sacks with the Wolverines over 12 games.
CB L’Jarius Sneed
2 stars, not in top 250, unranked safety (2016)
Round 4, pick 138 (2020)
Sneed’s other two offers on Rivals’ site were from Arkansas State and Louisiana. He stayed close to home at Louisiana Tech and was a key contributor in all four seasons with the school. Sneed had at least one interception in all four seasons at Tech and had three picks in each of his final two seasons in Ruston. He’s the joker in the Chiefs’ defensive system who can be called upon to blitz off the edge one play and cover a team’s top receiver the next.
CB Jaylen Watson
Round 7, pick 243 (2022)
Watson has as many interceptions this postseason as he did during his Washington State career. After playing two seasons at Ventura College and grabbing four interceptions in 2018, Watson committed to USC but didn’t enroll. After he didn’t play in 2019, Watson was an immediate contributor for Washington State. He started all 12 games for the Cougars in 2021 before the Chiefs took him in the seventh round this spring.
CB Joshua Williams
Round 4, pick 135 (2022)
Williams was one of just two Division II players invited to the Senior Bowl last year. The former track star played just three seasons at Fayetteville State thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but tallied five picks and 63 tackles over the 2019 and 2021 seasons. He had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and has seen significant playing time right away as one of three rookie cornerbacks who the Chiefs rely upon.
S Bryan Cook
Round 2, pick 62
Cook didn’t even have a Rivals profile out of high school and his only scholarship offer was from Howard. He attended Howard and played cornerback there before transferring to Cincinnati. Luke Fickell and his staff moved Cook to safety and he had a huge 2021 after starting just two games in 2020. Cook had 96 tackles in 14 games and also had two interceptions and 11 passes defensed in his final season with the Bearcats.