Kansas City's hopes of staying atop the NFL pecking order will be boosted if the Chiefs have a couple of underrated sleepers break out during the 2024 NFL season. On the shortlist are linebacker Leo Chenal, who seems to be everybody's break-out darling, and safety Bryan Cook.

Chenal is a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder while Cook stands 6-1 and weighs 206 pounds. Both will enter their third season in the NFL.

The Chiefs leaned heavily on their defense in 2023 but suffered free agency losses of linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and cornerback L'Jarius Sneed. They also traded safety Mike Edwards in the offseason, but Chenal and Cook seem to have the potential to shore up the ranks.

Chiefs LB Leo Chenal looks to make big impact

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Leo Chenal (54) tackles Baltimore Ravens running back Justice Hill (43) in the AFC Championship football game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The gate is wide open for Chenal with Gay Jr. no longer in the mix. It could be a boon for Kansas City because Chenal graded out much better than Gay last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Chenal's 76.5 overall rating topped Gay Jr.'s 53.3 mark, which was dinged by poor numbers in pass coverage.

Chenal figures to be a key influencer for the Chiefs defense in 2024. He found his groove late last season and carried the momentum into the playoffs. The overall postseason efforts were the foundation that gave rise to Chenal's popularity as a breakout candidate. He graded out at the top of the linebacker list for postseason games only.

And in the Super Bowl, he totaled six tackles and forced a fumble while playing less than a third of the team's snaps. The forced fumble — knocked loose from 49ers' superstar running back Christian McCaffrey — stopped a dominant drive by San Francisco on the game's opening series. Some analysts viewed it as a major course-changing play, allowing the Chiefs to get their footing. They eventually won 25-22 in overtime.

A third-round pick out of Wisconsin, Chenal played mostly as a run stuffer and part-time pass rusher during his rookie season. His role increased in 2023, and he finished the regular season with 45 tackles and two sacks.

Chiefs' S Bryan Cook looks to bounce back from injury

A late-season ankle injury temporarily interrupted Cook's progress, but a healthy 2024 season might put him among the AFC's better safeties.

One thing the Chiefs like about him is physical play. Therefore, Cook needs to prove his injury won't slow him out of the gates.

Before the setback, Cook's numbers showed a growth in his NFL comfort level. He totaled 38 tackles, intercepted a pass, and picked up a pair of fumble recoveries. The ability to attack ball-carriers and finish boosted his Pro Football Focus rating. Cook landed at 65.2 in the overall category.

Cook's has the full endorsement of one teammate as Travis Kelce praised him in a comment to si.com. Kelce said, “He's an absolute stud of a professional and a football player. You can just see him getting better and better every single snap, every single day.”

It will be an important year for the former second-round pick. He will have a chance to move into an even bigger role for 2025. That's because Chiefs' top safety Justin Reid is possibly headed for free agency.