A hobbled Patrick Mahomes took the snap in shotgun. He stepped up in the pocket, shuffled to his left and spotted Foyesade Oluokun, a 230-pound free-running blitzer who had a clean shot at him.
Mahomes bent down into a semisquat, coiling himself in preparation for contact that never came. Jerick McKinnon had uncorked his 5'9", 200-pound frame directly into Oluokun’s chest with a force that rendered NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth unable to gasp a word in the English vernacular. (Instead, Collinsworth went with DAAAHHH, a sound similar to the one Guy Fieri makes when biting into a hot stromboli.)
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Oluokun tumbled backward, trying to find stability like a bird who’d just flown into a window. For another down, the Chiefs’ quarterback maintained a clean uniform.
The play spotlighted a somewhat unsuspecting—but highly critical—role for McKinnon, a running back whose nickname is “Jet” and is known more for his speed than his physicality (and for the fact that he scored nine touchdowns over a torrid stretch between early December and the end of the regular season that kept the Chiefs’ offense and your fantasy football team humming in 2022). But “bodyguard” is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity for the Chiefs as they head into an AFC title game matchup against the Bengals with a quarterback determined to play despite a high-ankle sprain. Mahomes limped for most of Saturday’s game, unable to evade the pass rush. Without McKinnon, especially against a tandem of pocket-collapsing defensive ends who foiled Kansas City in the same game a year ago, he becomes a pawnless queen on the chessboard.
“[Jerick’s] doing an outstanding job,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, himself a former punishing, pass-blocking back in the NFL, told reporters a few weeks back. “That’s a thing, probably one of the most underrated deals, something people don’t think about when they mention his name. Jerick has always been a great pass protector. … He brings a lot to the table. He does a great job in protection.”
McKinnon’s bodyguard duties have earned him some viral fame among Chiefs fans and some more astute viewers. But they have also garnered the attention of actual bodyguards who know something about protecting the most important players on Kansas City’s roster.
In an attempt to understand the scope of McKinnon’s bodyguarding skills, Sports Illustrated called S.K. Security in Kansas City, a private firm that specializes in various protective services, including personal bodyguarding. After reaching the company’s dispatch and explaining our line of inquiry about a Chiefs player with unique bodyguarding skills, company COO Alex Gibb asked: “Do you mean Mr. McKinnon?”
Gibb then connected us to Charles Davis, one of S.K.’s most experienced bodyguards. Davis is 6'6", 290 pounds and, at 66 years of age, claims to still be able to run a 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds. He was a strike-year replacement football player for the Oakland Raiders and has experience protecting Mahomes and the Chiefs on various outings in K.C.’s popular downtown Power and Light District.
Davis agreed to watch a clip of McKinnon in the backfield and offer some professional critiques, while also providing us with a look at what makes an ideal bodyguard. He agreed that the running back seemed to satisfy his three essentials for elite bodyguarding.
1. Eye contact
“I don’t have to say nothin’; I can just look at you. The look I give people is like, ‘You need to get the f--- up out of here. Turn around, get the f--- up out of here and walk out the room.’ And I can say that with my eyes. That’s what’s different about a bodyguard and being security. Security is observe and report. Bodyguard, you’re there to guard that body.”
2. Keep your back to the wall
“You control the area in front of you. You can’t control what’s behind you, what you can’t see. If you have to turn around somewhere to look, chances are you get got.
3. Keep your head on a swivel
“Anything happens, I’m there. I’m not gonna allow people to walk up to shake your hand, unless you want to. I’m not gonna let people ask for no autograph. As far as people walking up to you [without warning]? Naw. Turn around. Turn around. Walk back over there.
“I’ve had to put people on the ground, several times. They remember. There were times I have to lift people up and slam them into the wall. There were times I had to lift people up and slam them to the ground. There were times where I’d grab a person by their face and lift them off the ground to let them know I ain’t playing.”
On one of his assignments, Davis was called to protect Mahomes and a few teammates at a bar in Kansas City called PBR. The mission came with a secret launch code whispered over his radio—“football’s here”—and a rendezvous with a team of seven police officers and three other security guards down a back stairwell. Across the street was a bus full of Chiefs who wanted to enjoy a night out on the town without getting mobbed by their rabid fan base, often referred to as the “kingdom.” Davis says that when they head out to the Power and Light District they ask for him (“Where’s the big guy at?”).
McKinnon seems to take the job with the same level of diligence. There is a small library of (literal) greatest hits, including a comical helicoptering of Cardinals defensive back Marco Wilson back in Week 1, a blistering knockout on a kick return (yes, the Jet blocks on kick returns instead of … returning kicks), a touchdown-sealing pop on a defensive back against the Titans and the pickup of a blitzing linebacker on the Packers, on which McKinnon looks like the male lead of a figure skating tandem, lifting his fellow ice dancer during a competition.
Against Oluokun and the Jaguars last week, one aspect of the block that isn’t as discussed is the way McKinnon immediately braces himself again, as if the thwarted linebacker is going to make another attempt to rush Mahomes. It shows his passion for the side hustle that may end up saving Kansas City’s season.
Davis, upon finishing the video of the block, has just one more suggestion for his budding protégé (NFL rules be damned).
“That’s what you do, but then when you hit him right there, keep going. Once you make that initial hit and he goes backwards, you hit him again. You put him on his ass. PUT. HIM. ON. HIS. ASS. Then stand on him so he can’t move.
“It’s the same thing a bodyguard would do.”