KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles make the headlines for the Kansas City Chiefs and rightfully so. The quarterback and running back are the biggest names on one of the NFL’s surprise teams.
However, it’s been a cast of misfits that has fueled the Chiefs’ run toward the playoffs.
Take safety Quintin Demps, who three years ago was playing in the UFL. Not only does he have four interceptions, he also returned a kickoff for a touchdown last Sunday against Washington.
Or try Sean McGrath, who was plucked off waivers before the season. The former Henderson State — yes, that’s Henderson State in Arkadelphia, Ark., — standout has been the team’s most reliable tight end.
Big names? Surely not. But they’ve been the unsung heroes leading a dramatic turnaround.
“I’ve seen some young guys step up, and that’s where your biggest question comes in: How do they fit in there?’” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “How fast are they going to fit in? How fast are they going to learn? And they’ve handled that well.”
There are others, too.
Marcus Cooper, also claimed off waivers, has gone through plenty of ups and downs as a rookie. But he still has three interceptions, forced a fumble that Tamba Hali returned for a touchdown, and made a fumble recovery of his own on special teams for a touchdown.
Defensive tackle Mike DeVito, who’s signing in free agency flew under the radar, has been a big reason that Kansas City is allowing 17.2 points per game, fourth-best in the NFL.
Just peruse the roster. There are more guys from Ivy League schools (Mike Catapano from Princeton and Josh Martin from Columbia) than from Alabama (Nico Johnson). More guys out of tiny California (Pa.) University (Rishaw Johnson, Eric Kush) than Oklahoma (Donald Stephenson). And twice as many players from Central Michigan (Eric Fisher, Frank Zombo) as Michigan (Junior Hemingway).
Scroll through the list of colleges and you’ll see contributors from such talent hotbeds as Shepherd (Dominique Jones), Newberry (Ron Parker) and James Madison (Akeem Jordan).
Perhaps nobody has a feel-good story quite like Demps, the former UTEP star who remembers what life was like playing for the Hartford Colonials in the UFL during the 2010 season.
“The locker room was in a hotel meeting room,” Demps said Wednesday. “It was just a very humbling experience. Every time I get to put the NFL jersey on, I don’t take it lightly.”
After fizzling out in Philadelphia, Demps began to reclaim his career in Houston, only to be waived again. That’s when Reid decided to give him another chance in Kansas City.
Demps has played in every game during the Chiefs’ 10-3 start, starting four of them. He leads the team in interceptions and is third in passes defensed, even though he doesn’t play every down. And his 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Redskins put the game away by halftime.
“I understand the process of not just the NFL but life, man, you go through different things and grow as a human being,” Demps said. “And I always say, ‘There’s no struggle, no progress,’ and I look back on those thing and I’m thankful for them because they molded me into who I am now.”
McGrath has become a cult favorite in Kansas City for his Duck Dynasty-like beard that spills out of his chinstrap. But he’s also become a favorite because, on a team that’s struggled with injuries at tight end, he’s been the one guy who is consistently on the field.
He had two catches in a 45-10 blitz of Washington last week.
“We’re rolling in all three phases now,” said McGrath, who is fifth on the team with 23 catches for 277 yards and a touchdown this season.
Thanks in no small part to the Chiefs’ band of unsung heroes.