Kansas City‘s young secondary is one of the reasons the Chiefs are heading to the Super Bowl. In the AFC Championship Game, four rookie DBs helped hold the high-powered Bengals air attack to 238 yards.
With help from a defensive line that recorded five sacks, the secondary picked off two Joe Burrow passes.
In camp, Coach Merritt called the Chiefs’ rookie DBs “The Fab Five.” In the AFC title game, they did the following:
Trent McDuffie: 6 TKLs, 1 TFL, 2 PDs
Jaylen Watson: 4 TKLs, 2 PDs, INT
Joshua Williams: 5 TKLs, INT
Bryan Cook: 4 TKLs, 1 PBU
Nazeeh Johnson: 1 TKL
— Matt McMullen (@KCChiefs_Matt) February 1, 2023
Though it may come as a surprise that the Chiefs used so many rookies to keep Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins at bay, Kansas City saw their potential last summer in training camp. That’s when Kansas City defensive backs coach Dave Merritt dubbed the group the “Fab Five.”
Cornerbacks Jaylen Watson and Trent McDuffie played larger roles as the season progressed. After McDuffie returned from a hamstring injury, the Chiefs traded veteran Rashad Fenton.
With that move, it was obvious the Chiefs were ready to roll with the young defensive backfield. In the second quarter of the title game, Watson picked off Burrow.
In the third quarter, McDuffie stopped a third-down conversion with a deflection on a pass heading for Higgins. Joshua Williams stepped in when L’Jarius Sneed was ruled out with a concussion at the beginning of the game. Along with his special teams duties, he made an interception in the final quarter.
Safety Bryan Cook played a key role in that turnover as he batted the ball in the air and away from Higgins. Kansas City can trace the rebuilding of the secondary to the trade of WR Tyreek Hill last offseason.
The Chiefs received five picks for Hill, including a first-, second- and fourth-rounder in the 2022 NFL Draft. To land McDuffie, the Chiefs traded a first-, third- and fourth-round pick to New England to move up to the 21st pick.
“Anytime you can get a good young corner, I think that’s something any team wouldn’t pass up,” Chiefs GM Brett Veach said at the time, per ESPN.com. The Chiefs didn’t stop there, selecting Cook with one of their second-round picks.
After that, the Chiefs nabbed Williams in the fourth before they grabbed Watson and Johnson in the seventh round. The rookies probably didn’t expect they’d play such a huge part so quickly, but by training camp, the Chiefs knew what they had. Six months later, the “Fab Five” is heading to Super Bowl LVII.