Perhaps the most important storyline of Super Bowl LIV will be the matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs offense and the San Francisco 49ers defense, two of the league's respective bests. But unlike some of the top offenses the 49ers have faced this year, the Chiefs have one weapon you can't teach — speed.
The Chiefs are loaded with so much speed on offense that 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh compared them to an Olympic track team last week.
“They're very explosive,” Saleh said, responding to a question, last week at a press conference, about how explosive Kansas City's offense is. “[Patrick] Mahomes has gotten better. They’re at every position -- it almost looks like they got their roster from the Olympic relay team and threw them all on the field. Not to say that they can’t run routes or can’t catch either, because they can do that. They are a special group and you can see why they are there."
He added that the Chiefs are the "fastest team by far" and there is no comparison in the league for what they offer, with the likes of wide receivers Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, running back Damien Williams and Mahomes. “To try to compare it to another team would not do them justice to be honest with you. But anytime you have speed like that it will naturally stress the defense.”
So just how fast are the Chiefs?
It's one thing to look at 3-cone drill and 40-yard dash times, but players rarely run 40 yards in a straight line on a play. Data from NFL Next Gen Stats gives an even better idea just how explosive the Chiefs offensive weapons are, starting with Hill.
The 2016 5th-round draft pick out of West Alabama is likely too big of a name at this point in his career to be considered an X-factor, but the four-time Pro Bowler has been the apple of Andy Reid's eye since coming into the league.
Initially known for his prowess returning kicks, Hill has continued to improve as a pass-catcher in his four years in the league, running crisp routes and demonstrating reliable hands, dropping just three passes in 2019, according to Pro Football Reference. But it's Hill's speed that keeps defensive coordinators awake at night.
Over the past two seasons, Hill has topped 20 mph a whopping 24 times when carrying the ball. That's nearly the same amount of touches as the next two players, New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley and Chicago Bears kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, combined.
In the 2016, 2017 and 2018 NFL seasons, Hill appeared on the list of 20 fastest ball carriers six times out of a possible 60 appearances, including a 27-yard kickoff return when he ran 23.24 mph and an 86-yard kickoff return when he motored 22.77 mph. By comparison, the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, once clocked in at nearly 28 mph in a 100-meter sprint, according to LiveScience.
Hill did not crack the top 20 fastest ball carriers in 2019, but was on the list for the individual weeks a total of six times, including three in Week 10 alone. If that isn't enough, Hill ran down and surpassed Williams on his 91-yard touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings in November in Week 9.
Drafted out of Georgia in the 2019 NFL Draft as a possible replacement for Hill, who at the time was undergoing legal issues, Hardman has moved out Hill's shadow and firmly into the spotlight.
Hardman ran his 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine at 4.33 seconds, the fifth-fastest overall, according to CBS Sports. The regular season, though, is where Hardman really opened eyes, appearing on the top 20 fastest ball carrier list twice, once for a 63-yard touchdown reception and the other for an 83-yard touchdown reception. In the individual weeks, Hardman's name appeared six times, including two in Week 8.
For the full year, Hardman returned 27 kickoffs for 704 yards, including one for a 104-yard touchdown. He tacked on 26 catches for 538 yards and 6 TDs, good for 20.7 yards per catch. He was named to the Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro as a kick returner for his efforts.
Hill and Hardman may be the two most well-known speed merchants on the team, but don't let their running backs and other wide receivers lull you to sleep.
Williams, he of the aforementioned 91-yard run in Week 9, did not appear on the top 20 overall fastest ball carriers, but was on the list in Week 9 and Week 17, reaching a top speed of 20.78 mph and 21.33 mph, respectively.
Sammy Watkins was the 20th-fastest ball carrier during the regular season, reaching a peak speed of 21.33 mph during his 68-yard touchdown reception in Week 1. Williams reached 20.88 mph in Week 3 on a 41-yard rush and defensive back Juan Thornhill, who is not playing in the Super Bowl, reached 20.35 mph on a 46-yard interception return in Week 13.