SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Kansas City Chiefs found their Energizer Bunny in seventh-round running back Isiah Pacheco.
The rookie has taken over starting duties, jumpstarting the K.C. running game down the stretch, leading the Chiefs with 951 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in 2022, including the playoffs. Pacheco has generated 80-plus scrimmage yards in nine of the past 11 games, bringing a power element to the offense.
Throughout Super Bowl week, Kansas City coaches and players have beamed about the rookie runner.
"He's got a tremendous amount of energy," coach Andy Reid said this week. "Loves to play the game. He's smart. We ask the running backs to do quite a bit in the run game and the pass game and protections. So he has handled all that, done it well. But most of all, he is that Energizer Bunny guy. He's got endless energy. You see it when he's on the field playing. You see it at practice. That's who he is."
Pacheco runs with the tenacity of an angry fireball, bursting through holes and punishing defenders in his path. With speed and power, the rookie brings an element to the Chiefs' offense that turned even teammates' heads.
"He has a lot of energy and a lot of juice," veteran Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon told NFL.com ahead of Sunday's showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. "We were playing one game, and he kind of got burped on the sideline; somebody got him good. He popped straight up, sprinted right back to the huddle. Everybody on the sideline just looked like, this dude is wired different. He's wired different."
Entering the NFL as a seventh-round pick out of Rutgers, Pacheco stood out in training camp with his relentless effort. Early in the season, he played sparingly, seeing three or fewer carries in four of the first six games. But since Week 7, the rookie has blasted off, starting the final 13 games, including playoffs, and carrying the early-down workload most weeks.
"Growth and confidence," McKinnon said of what he's seen from Pacheco. "The way he's picked up on the offense from Day 1 until now has been phenomenal. At first, he didn't know too much about protections and things of that nature. … He's definitely caught on. You can see he's playing fast, and he's playing with a lot of confidence. When you have those two things, it's really hard to stop somebody."
Pacheco is poised to be the third rookie RB to start the Super Bowl in the last five seasons, including Chiefs' former first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire in 2020. The chance to be a difference-maker in Super Bowl LVII is not lost on the young back.
"It's a blessing for me to be here, for the position I'm in," he said. "Most rookies, seventh-round picks, probably home right now. To be here at the Super Bowl, the journey, the hard work I've put in, it's all paid off, but the job is not done."
Sunday's job entails Pacheco taking advantage of an Eagles defense that has given up yards on the ground. From Week 9 through the NFC Championship Game, Philly has allowed plus-199 rushing yards over expected, ninth-most in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats.
Pacheco's ability to take advantage of light boxes could be critical for the Chiefs' offense to move the chains. Of his plus-159 RYOE this season, 112 came on rushes versus light boxes, which is sixth among all RBs and tops among rookies. The Eagles' defense has utilized light boxes on 47.2% of rushes this season, including the playoffs (eighth-highest in NFL), and have given up plus-189 RYOE on such rushes.
"He has all the talent in the world," quarterback Patrick Mahomes said during Super Bowl LVII Opening Night. "We keep putting him in there, and he keeps producing. He'll be a main staple for this team for a long time, and hopefully, he can be a main staple in this Super Bowl, too."
In the Chiefs' 2019 Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers, former K.C. running back Damien Williams played a vital role, generating 133 scrimmage yards and two TDs. Williams nearly swiped the MVP award from Mahomes with his performance that night. In the 2020 Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay, K.C. didn't have the same oomph on the ground, with CEH leading the way behind a banged-up offensive line.
Even with Mahomes brushing off any lingering questions about his injured ankle, the Chiefs could use a Williams-like performance from Pacheco Sunday night.
Offensive lineman Andrew Wylie, one of the few remaining holdovers from the previous Super Bowl run, unprompted, glowed about playing with the talented rookie.
"I love blocking for Pacheco," Wylie told NFL.com. "He runs angry. So, you're really trying to give it all you've got, giving him however much space he needs to get through the line because you never know if he's going to pop off that block or not. He's a really hard guy to tackle with an arm tackle, so we just try to get him through the line to the end zone."
Despite the hoopla surrounding the seventh-round pick this week, Pacheco remains grounded, focusing on the "little things" that have gotten him to this stage in his first season.
"Be yourself," he said. "They always tell me to be yourself, don't change. That's what coach preaches to us, show your personality."
His upbeat attitude and tireless effort "inspires" teammates, McKinnon said.
"Anytime you have a teammate who makes a play, it's inspiring," he said. "Especially the physical aspect he brings to the game. It gets everybody going. He brings energy, not just for himself but for the team. When he makes a play, and you see him get up fast and sprint back to the huddle, everybody knows what time it is. So it's been fun to watch his maturity and growth."
Added McKinnon: "Just the tenacious attitude he runs the ball with. You see, once he gets past that first level, it's trouble."
If Pacheco brings trouble to the Philly defense in Super Bowl LVII, K.C. could hoist another Lombardi Trophy on Sunday.