While these players aren't as well known as some of their teammates, they'll still play a deciding role on Sunday
Super Bowl LIV between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will be a classic battle of strength against strength. The fifth-ranked passing attack (Chiefs) against the second-ranked rushing attack (49ers). A true offensive juggernaut against a defensive stalwart.
Both teams are worthy conference champions with star-studded rosters. It should be one of the closer Super Bowls in recent memory too, if the current one-point spread is any indication of how the game will go.
There are plenty of x-factors that could flip the balance of the game, but it's also important to consider which players will make a key impact. Everyone knows about Patrick Mahomes and even Raheem Mostert at this point, but let's focus on players who may not have the highest Q score.
Deebo Samuel, WR, 49ers
It's only a matter of time before Samuel becomes a household name. The 49ers haven't passed much during the postseason, but the rookie Samuel is their most dangerous weapon, as he is fulfilling his potential he flashed for four years at South Carolina. Samuel broke out with an eight-catch, 112-yard performance in Week 10 and finished the final eight games of the season with 575 receiving yards. A threat to break off a big play on a reverse as well, there's no limit to the ways head coach Kyle Shanahan can use this 24-year-old.
Harrison Butker, K, Chiefs
Butker has been very consistent lately — he hasn't missed a field goal since Nov. 10. However, only one of those 12 field goals came from beyond 50 yards, and he did miss two PATs during that stretch. Still, the Chiefs will need more of that accuracy against the 49ers, who have by far the toughest defense they have faced this postseason. Points may come at a premium, and the Chiefs are hoping that Butker can continue to be near-perfect (31-for-32) from inside 50, where Butker holds a distinct advantage over his counterpart, Robbie Gould (23-for-27).
Dee Ford, DE, 49ers
Ford used to be the Chiefs' top pass rusher before he signed a five-year, $87.5 million deal with the 49ers last offseason. He had a down year with just 6.5 sacks in 11 games due to injury, but he also came off the bench after Week 2 because the 49ers' defensive line has so much depth with Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, and DeForest Buckner. As if Ford needed any extra motivation against his former team, the man who replaced him in Kansas City, Frank Clark, called him out for being offsides in a key play in last season's AFC Championship Game.
Mecole Hardman, WR, Chiefs
Most of the 49ers' attention will rightly be on Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce, but the Chiefs have yet another dangerous weapon in Hardman. The rookie out of Georgia has as much speed as anyone on the field, which makes him useful even if just to distract a safety on a deep route. Hardman has broken off big plays before, including an 83-yard touchdown against the Ravens in Week 3, but has been held in check over the last eight games. He has totaled eight catches for 128 yards and one touchdown, so anything the Chiefs can get from him at this point is welcomed.
Emmanuel Moseley, CB, 49ers
Richard Sherman is by far the most important player in San Francisco's secondary, but he occupies a unique role in the 49ers' defensive game plan. Instead of shadowing the other team's top receiver, he almost exclusively sticks to the left side of the field (right side from the quarterbacks' perspective). While that allows him to be more comfortable, it puts more pressure on his fellow defensive backs in coverage, especially against a team's top target, should their opponent try to exploit Sherman's tendencies. Moseley (as well as Ahkello Witherspoon) may be called upon for some of the toughest assignments on Super Sunday.