KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The top-ranked cornerback in the NFL, at least according to some advanced metrics, is not Jalen Ramsey or some other high-profile player that was a first-round pick and developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber talent.
The top center isn't Jason Kelce or some other longtime stalwart in the middle of the offensive line.
Rather they are Rashad Fenton and Creed Humphrey of the AFC champion Chiefs who, along with cornerback L'Jarius Sneed and a few others, have emerged as the unsung heroes of a club seeking a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
“Our staff does such a great job of turning over every stone,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said earlier this season. "If we can make ourselves better or do anything, we won’t be afraid to do that.”
Now, the grading services such as Pro Football Focus that have elevated Fenton and Humphrey to the top of the heap are inherently subjective. They break down every play from every game, assign a grade for each player, and then run the results through various filters and computations to spit out a number that is more easily digestible.
Yet where Fenton and Humphrey are concerned, several grading services are coming up with basically the same result.
They're as good as anybody in the league.
Fenton has been targeted 29 times and allowed 19 receptions the entire season, a big reason why the Chiefs (7-4) have turned things around on defense and won four straight games.
And while he doesn't have an interception and has relatively few tackles, that's mostly because opposing quarterbacks have learned it's foolish to challenge him.
Humphrey has played 789 snaps and allowed one sack — yes, one — while committing just three penalties. And that's a big reason why Chiefs fans have embarked on a grassroots effort to get Humphrey voted Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Asked whether he pays attention to such things, Humphrey replied: “No, not really.”
“I just kind of focus on tape and things like that. Don't really pay attention to anything outside the building,” he added. “It really just shows how good of a unit we've been so far with having guys like Joe (Thuney) and Trey (Smith) by me, things like that. Everybody is working together well, and that’s the biggest thing for us.”
To say that Fenton and Humphrey have exceeded expectations would be a gross understatement.
Fenton was a sixth-round pick in the 2019 draft out of South Carolina, meaning there were 24 other cornerbacks that teams liked more than him. The first of them, DeAndre Baker, was chosen in the first round by the Giants and subsequently cut; he now plays for the Chiefs, where he's buried behind Fenton on the depth chart.
“Fenton is one of my favorite guys,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, "because he’s so mellow and yet he plays so aggressive. If you watch him during practice, he just kind of cruises along and all of a sudden there’s that burst once he gets out there, but if you saw him just walking out onto the field, you go, “Man, this guy needs to get some sleep.”
When you combine him with Sneed, a fourth-round pick in last year's draft whose physicality has made him a menace for wide receivers, the Chiefs suddenly have one of the best young cornerback tandems in the NFL.
Humphrey was the top center chosen in April's draft, but that merely meant he went No. 63 overall.
He's not the only rookie to earn a starting job right away, either. The Chiefs used a sixth-round pick on Trey Smith, whose stock dropped because of some medical concerns, and he's been a stalwart at right guard since training camp.
“That position, you’re never quite sure how that’s going to transition with the big guys, especially at the center spot,” Reid said. "You come in and you’ve got all this stuff dumped on you, the mental part of the game, and Creed has handled that.
"Then, Trey has brought a different style in there," Reid continued. "He’s going to maul you and try to beat you up and that whole deal, so he does a nice job with that. There’s a physical presence to his game. Both of them have a ton of room to grow, but they're sure doing a nice job right now."
NOTES: WRs Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman returned to practice Thursday. Both were excused the previous day for non-injury reasons. ... Fenton and OL Lucas Niang (ribs) missed Thursday's workout. ... CB Mike Hughes will continue to be the primary punt returner after taking over for Hardman two weeks ago, special teams coordinator Dave Toub said Thursday.
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Dave Skretta, The Associated Press