Chiefs rookie went from Wendy’s to intercepting NFL’s greatest QBs. Will Jalen Hurts be subsequent?

PHOENIX — Because the Tremendous Bowl neared, Steve Spagnuolo referred to as Jaylen Watson into his workplace for corrections.

The Kansas Metropolis Chiefs defensive coordinator implored his seventh-round rookie cornerback to be extra bodily on the blitz.

Then, the coach whom gamers affectionately name “Spags” took a second to play off the ball. To step again and remind Watson the route alongside which he’d traveled right here.

“I introduced him again there and mentioned: ‘Do you keep in mind what it was like? Remember that,’” Spagnuolo instructed Yahoo Sports activities on Monday. “Issues are actually, actually, actually good now. However be humble and keep in mind the place you got here from.”

Watson has advanced from a seventh-round draft decide final April right into a key secondary member contributing 720 defensive snaps (together with the playoffs) on a Tremendous Bowl-bound roster.

Alongside that path, he hauled in a 99-yard pick-six in Week 2 that swing the Chiefs’ win likelihood towards the Los Angeles Chargers from 31% to 85% in a single play — the largest such swing on a pick-six in three seasons, per NFL Subsequent Gen Stats.

Now, he rides a two-game playoff interception streak that he hopes to increase a recreation additional within the Tremendous Bowl.

However earlier than Watson’s 10-month transformation from Chiefs depth-chart dweller to postseason decide monster, he wanted to earn his ticket to the NFL.

And three years in the past, that appeared oh-so-unlikely.

‘That job made me a person’

At Wendy’s, Watson was a fast-food “jack of all trades,” he instructed Yahoo Sports activities on Monday.

He cooked french fries and hen nuggets, dragged meat from the freezer and grilled hamburgers. He took the trash out.

“I used to be doing all of the work,” he mentioned. “I simply needed to get the job executed. If I did not, I used to be going to have to listen to my mother out at house.”

The change of surroundings was sturdy.

For 2 years, Watson posted Junior School All-American seasons at Ventura School in California. He accepted a scholarship provide from close by USC in 2019. Then, because of educational causes, Watson introduced he would redshirt that season.

“Do [sic] to an overload of programs I wanted to take this Summer season I’ll use this upcoming season as my Redshirt yr,” Watson tweeted on July 5, 2019. “I’ll use this time to develop into a greater pupil, athlete, and man.”

Watson would additionally, he discovered, work at Wendy’s alongside his mom.

“I really feel like that job made me a person, made me extra resilient,” he mentioned. “Confirmed me what actual life was, and I did not need to reside it. I needed to do something to make my mother glad.

“I simply needed to make my mother proud.”

Watson in the end grew to become academically eligible to just accept a scholarship provide from Washington State the next summer season, and he introduced his dedication on June 26, 2020, with an apt rollercoaster emoji.

“I persevered [through] so many obstacles all through this yr, went by means of so many highs and lows,” Watson tweeted. “Sitting again an entire yr having to observe gave me extra drive and can.”

By the 2022 draft, he’d notched 44 tackles on the Energy 5 degree, deflected seven passes, together with two interceptions, and recovered 5 fumbles; his 4 in 2021 have been the second-most within the nation.

From Kansas Metropolis, a Chiefs entrance workplace with an eye fixed for defensive backs was watching.

Chiefs rookie Jaylen Watson learned a lot from working at Wendy's.  He'll take those lessons with him to Super Bowl LVII on Sunday.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Chiefs rookie Jaylen Watson discovered rather a lot from working at Wendy’s. He’ll take these classes with him to Tremendous Bowl LVII on Sunday. (AP Picture/Charlie Riedel)

Younger Chiefs DBs exceeding expectations — and going through tall process vs. Eagles

When the Chiefs dedicated to paying hefty contracts to stars resembling quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight finish Travis Kelce and defensive sort out Chris Jones, they understood they would want to supply some roster depth through the draft.

The secondary, normal supervisor Brett Veach and colleagues determined what a first-rate spot to strategize.

Certain, worth at any place is welcome. However with top-end cornerback contracts surpassing $20 million per yr and NFL offenses more and more tilting towards pass-heavy assaults, Veach and his workforce doubled down on savvy secondary funding.

“We began the method three, 4 years in the past the place we nearly began as a gaggle watching [cornerbacks] as a employees early within the fall in order that after we get to the pre-draft conferences, we will watch extra tape of that place than wherever else,” Veach instructed Yahoo Sports activities. “I really feel like we have been in a bit of little bit of a groove at a nook over the past couple years.”

The groove hasn’t simply manifested in drafting gifted gamers in Rounds 1-7. Veach emphasizes how necessary it has been to additionally guarantee these gamers match what Spagnuolo and defensive coaches need.

Six Chiefs defensive backs performed greater than a 3rd of defensive snaps this season. 5 have been homegrown draft picks enjoying on their rookie contracts.

Watson is the lone participant drafted after the fourth spherical, but it’s he who secured interceptions in every of the Chiefs’ playoffs wins. Kansas Metropolis’s cross rush has swarmed within the postseason, hitting Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence 12 occasions and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow seven extra.

Watson cashed in on that stress to intercept Lawrence within the fourth quarter with only one hand — a hand he’d damaged a month earlier, no much less.

Going through Burrow within the convention championship one week later, Watson was lined up in “easy man, and I used to be exterior leverage,” he mentioned. “I simply saved my leverage, and as I used to be conserving my exterior leverage, I noticed the ball coming and went up and made a play on the ball.”

Subsequent up, Watson desires to purpose to bait Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, whose Professional Bowl season included a 22-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Hurts’ errors are few and much between, aided by a dependable offensive line and a secure weapon together with Professional Bowl wideout AJ Brown and shifty receiver DeVonta Smith.

However Watson and his fellow defensive backs will search alternatives to disrupt what their coordinator calls a “juggernaut.”

The rookie is way from complacent at the same time as he believes the boldness and swagger he has lengthy felt are more and more on show to the world. He offers himself solely partial credit score, preferring to shift focus to the trainers who helped deal with his damaged hand, the coaches who guided his growth and particularly the mom who saved believing in him as he shuffled between french fries and burgers and hen nuggets together with her supervision at Wendy’s.

Watson identifies at the very least one fixed among the many three video games wherein he nabbed a decide this season: They’re the one three his mom, hard-pressed to get off work, has attended.

He ensured she’ll be in Arizona on Sunday for the Tremendous Bowl. Can he prepare dinner up another decide beneath her watch?

“She’s my good-luck attraction,” Watson mentioned. “We’ll see if we will go 4-for-4.”

Observe Yahoo Sports activities’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

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