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Updates from Week 4
Over his two preseason appearances, Patrick Mahomes II went 18 of 26 for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns. That was all the team wanted to see of him in exhibition action and enough for the football world to buzz about the new-look Chiefs’ distribution of the ball. In the opener, Mahomes completed six throws to six different receivers, sampling from the team’s stable of wideouts, tight ends, and fullbacks. "I think it’s going to be a lot like that this year," Mahomes said last week when asked about the opener. "It’s going to come from everywhere. It’s going to be hard for teams to game plan against. Obviously, Travis [Kelce] is going to probably have a lot of catches. That’s just who he is. Other than that, it’s going to come from the whole group, and I think the guys have kind of embraced that and know that whenever their number does get called, they’re going to play.” Down the depth chart, Shane Buechele gave a valiant preseason effort (31 of 51, 335 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception) but looks unlikely to unseat 15-year veteran Chad Henne as the No. 2.
To the surprise of few, ex-Buccaneer Ronald Jones II has spent training camp tumbling from likely 1A back to likely preseason cut. At this point, most of the local and national media expect Jones to land as the Chiefs’ No. 4 back, at best, which would put his roster viability squarely in question. Jones made a last-gasp attempt at relevance in Friday’s preseason finale, turning his 9 touches into 47 yards from scrimmage. But as the Kansas City Star’s Herbie Teope points out, Jones simply lacks the dynamism or special-teams value of rookie Isiah Pacheco or the fullback utility of Michael Burton. Pacheco also showed well against the Packers (10 carries, 52 yards), and he’s almost certainly locked down the kick return job. Clyde Edwards-Helaire remains safe on his rookie deal, so Jones is likely battling Jerick McKinnon, who also contributes on special teams, for the third slot. And for his part, the nine-year veteran McKinnon hardly played in the finale. The team knows what they have in McKinnon; he’s likely sewn up regular third-down duties for the potent Chiefs offense.
Former Steeler JuJu Smith-Schuster looks healthy, dynamic, and ready to slot in as Mahomes’ de facto No. 1 wideout. The team even boosted his contract last week, giving him additional opportunities for per-game bonuses. Clearly, they view him as the furthest along of the many new faces in the receiver room. There’s still a logjam down the depth chart, where a handful of role players continue to jockey for position in the offense. The only holdover of note is Mecole Hardman, who didn’t practice much in camp as he worked through a minor groin injury. He’s now back in action – he even played Friday against the Packers – and his time off left more reps for ex-Packer Marquez Valdes-Scantling and rookie Skyy Moore. Both have made impressions on the coaching staff, but neither seemed to do much climbing the ladder in the preseason. Valdes-Scantling spent the last week of camp (and Friday night) in the concussion protocol, which doesn’t boost his chances of making a Week 1 impact. Moore may not be climbing the depth chart, but he showcased his explosive value Friday night with a 35-yard punt return.
Travis Kelce’s role is as locked-in as that of any NFL veteran, but the rest of the depth chart is still shaking out. Last week’s injuries to veterans Blake Bell and Matt Bushman should lock Noah Gray and Jody Fortson into regular roles to open the year. Gray will spend most of his time filling in for Bell as a blocker in the run game; he drew only one target this preseason. But Fortson has been utilized plenty (7 receptions, 45 yards, 2 touchdowns) as a mismatch up the seams. Bushman’s loss was bad tough luck; he caught two touchdowns Friday night before going down with a broken clavicle that will cost him two months and likely a roster spot.
Lost among the chatter of the Chiefs’ new-look offense is the preseason coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense has put up. There are new faces all over the defense, and early reviews have been widely positive. But the biggest impact may come from first-round cornerback Trent McDuffie, who’s flashed shutdown ability inside and outside the formation. SI.com’s Zack Eisen points out that McDuffie has drawn ample preseason snaps yet allowed just a single completion as quarterbacks look to avoid the rookie’s “elite movement skills, athleticism, and coverage instincts.” If the team can dodge the recent injury woes of Carlos Dunlap and Chris Jones – neither of which seem overly serious – there is massive playmaking potential here.
Updates from Week 3
Patrick Mahomes II’ training camp has been quiet and uneventful, which is just how the Chiefs like it. The MVP has nothing left to prove, and he’s already done ample work acclimating to his batch of new receivers. There doesn’t seem to be any hesitation or lack of trust in his new weaponry; Mahomes expects similar results to what we saw of the Chiefs offense with Tyreek Hill still on board.
The team’s March signing of ex-Buccaneer Ronald Jones II, a second-round pick in 2018, looked to put a sharp ding in Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s outlook. Here in August, that may not be a concern. By numerous accounts, Jones has slipped so far down the depth chart that his job is not even secure. Last week, The Athletic’s Nate Taylor became the latest member of Chiefs media to point out Jones’ disappearing act and question his fit on the 2022 roster. On Saturday night, Jones played into the second half with the Chiefs’ backups, an ominous sign so late in the preseason. (It’s not as though he did anything with that time, though, touching the ball once for three yards.) Always a shaky receiver and blocker, Jones doesn’t look poised to stick as a part-time contributor. Still, even with Jones cut or deactivated weekly, it’d be a bit early to anoint Edwards-Helaire as the Chiefs’ workhorse. Coach Andy Reid has long favored committee backfields, and the team has stocked up on a versatile cast of role players. Edwards-Helaire has been wildly inconsistent in the NFL, and he’ll have his hands full holding off camp sensation Isiah Pacheco for pass-down duties. Pacheco continues to draw praise from coordinator Eric Bieniemy for his speed, toughness, and versatility. There’s also Jerick McKinnon, who shined brightly as the team’s third-down option last postseason, to consider. McKinnon mixed in with the first team Saturday night and made a clutch third-down catch; he and Pacheco look more every day like locked-in parts of the team’s plans. Taylor cautions that Jones and Derrick Gore may both lose the numbers game here.
The Chiefs have left no stone unturned in the rush to paper over Tyreek Hill’s departure. They’ve pieced together a depth chart that’s plentiful, diverse, and of course, blazing fast, and now the task is to unravel it. JuJu Smith-Schuster has been the camp’s “best receiver,” according to The Athletic’s Nate Taylor, who praised the former Steeler’s consistency and “smooth” route-running prowess. He looks like the closest thing the Chiefs will feature to a No. 1 wideout entering the year. Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman, the team’s only prominent holdover, both missed practice time last week, but both injuries are considered minor at this point. In their place, the team is taking an extended look at rookie Skyy Moore, ex-Packer Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and ex-Buccaneer Justin Watson. “They’ve been doing it at practice,” Mahomes said of the new faces. “They’ve been making the plays at practice, doing it the right way. For them to get in there and get some opportunity to run with the ones, I think it’ll help us out in the long run.” Moore has drawn praise from coaches for attention to detail and desire to be more than a mere gadget speedster. For his part, Valdes-Scantling is a known commodity as a deep threat with relatively shaky hands. There may be movement brewing down the depth chart, where Justin Watson has led the team in preseason receiving. He’s a dependable slot type who could carve out a role as a trusted underneath target for Mahomes.
The Chiefs still boast the league’s premier tight end in Travis Kelce, who enters his 10th camp with zero questions or drama. What is up for consideration is just how much (if at all) the team wants to incorporate reserves Noah Gray and Jody Fortson into play. Of course, any regular member of the Kansas City offense enjoys some degree of a boost in fantasy simply due to its high-powered and high-scoring nature. Therefore, if either can establish himself with regular snaps, he’d be worth at least monitoring in fantasy circles. Gray is primarily a blocker and looks like a pure backup; if one does leave a 2022 mark, it’s likely to be Fortson, who scored twice Saturday night against the Commanders. Both scoring catches were made in the end zone, which may be a sign that Mahomes will lean some on the 6-foot-6 Fortson near the goal line.
Harrison Butker wowed onlookers before the game against the Commanders by hitting a 68-yard field goal in warmups and then making a 74-yard kick. He has said he thinks he can consistently make kicks from 63 with the wind at his back and wants a shot to make a 70-yard kick this year. There’s a case to take him as the No. 1 kicker in leagues with distance bonuses.
Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense knows it’ll be involved in plenty of shootouts, so it’s a unit predicated on aggressiveness and big-play creation. So, it’s no surprise Spagnuolo has stocked his front line with playmakers adept at penetrating the backfield. They’re led by Chris Jones, who has been nothing short of “dominant” in camp, per Mahomes. “He’s the first one that I think of,” Mahomes told media last week. “I mean, he was down there dominating stuff, making tackles on the run game just as much as he was getting to the quarterback and getting around me, affecting how I threw the ball.” Jones looks poised to chase double-digit sacks again – though he’ll first have to get back onto the field after suffering an unspecified practice injury last week.
After threatening to hold out, left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. signed his franchise tag. With Lucas Niang (PUP) still rehabbing his leg, Andrew Wylie has the apparent lead in the right tackle job over Prince Tega-Wanogho and rookie Darian Kinnard (fifth-round, Kentucky). Geron Christian and Roderick Johnson are other options, but they play mostly on the left side. With the other starters dominant (Joe Thuney, Creed Humprey, Trey Hill), this group carries the second-highest grade in the model.
Updates from Week 2
Patrick Mahomes II got his wish and played a full series in Saturday's preseason opener. The established superstar likes to “get hit, like, one time” in the preseason to remind himself of “what it is to get hit again as a quarterback.” Mahomes looked flawless in his lone series of action, hitting different Chiefs on each of his six completions and capping his night with a touchdown pass. Fully healthy and clearly ready for this season, Mahomes’ uneventful offseason has been a blessing. Behind him, the team used the opener to get a closer look at potential future backup Shane Buechele. It’s safe to pencil in Chad Henne as the No. 2, but it’s also worth noting the team promoted him from the practice squad last season to keep him away from the Cardinals. He has a great shot at claiming a roster spot.
The Chiefs added ex-Buccaneer Ronald Jones II in March, presumably to pair as the top running threat with Clyde Edwards-Helaire. But to this point, little positive has come out of camp about Jones’ prospects for 2022. Long a liability in the passing game, Jones hasn’t exactly turned the corner yet for new coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and a lack of versatility would devastate Jones’ outlook in this offense. Pro Football Rumors’ Ben LeVine, among others, even sees Jones as a potential cut or trade candidate. In the preseason opener, Jones ran exclusively with the reserves and turned his four touches into just one yard.
Meanwhile, Edwards-Helaire continues to lead the pack, though his starter’s margin has shrunk since the start of camp in favor of widely buzzed-about rookie Isiah Pacheco. Unheralded during draft season, Pacheco has lit the internet ablaze in camp with his speed, dynamism, versatility, and a surprising chunk of time spent with the first-team offense. Pacheco has drawn praise throughout camp from Head Coach Andy Reid, who loves his Brian Westbrook-like quickness, and Mahomes, who thinks he can contribute immediately. The fantasy value to be squeezed from the Chiefs’ 1B or 2A running back is obvious, so Pacheco’s usage will be monitored closely through the rest of the preseason. He’s already laid a strong claim to a role in the backfield, so he may not see more than a few kick-return reps from here out. His emergence leaves a logjam at the No. 4 spot that could be the last straw forcing Jones off the roster. The team values Jerick McKinnon, who made several key plays in the passing game in last year’s playoffs, for the third spot. The final spot likely comes down to Jones, who doesn’t play special teams, and Derrick Gore, who did himself no favors in the preseason opener.
The Chiefs just watched Tyreek Hill leave town, but they can’t be accused of standing pat to find reinforcements. The preseason opener showcased just how much intriguing, dynamic depth they’ve stocked up during the offseason. “It’s going to come from everywhere,” Mahomes told reporters after Saturday’s game saw virtually the whole gang get involved on the starters’ drives. “You saw six different receivers, but JuJu [Smith-Schuster] didn’t even get a catch… I think it’s going to come from everywhere this year; it’s going to be hard for teams to game plan against.” All the depth seems to shine a bright light on holdover Mecole Hardman, whom PFF recently named the Chief with the most to prove entering 2022. Hardman hasn’t set the NFL world ablaze, but the team clearly values his speed and versatility. He’ll retain some role in the offense, if not a huge one. Atop the depth chart, Smith-Schuster and former Packer Marquez Valdes-Scantling continue to rotate as the nominal No. 1 guy, though it’s Smith-Schuster that turned the most heads. Arrowhead Pride’s Pete Sweeney spent last week beating the ex-Steeler’s drum as the go-to WR in camp. And that says nothing of explosive rookie Skyy Moore, who’s also been juggled all over the formation. For his part, ex-Buccaneer and deep reserve Justin Watson made a strong pitch Saturday for the No. 5 job, leading the entire game with 5 catches for 45 yards and a score.
Travis Kelce played six snaps in the opener, catching his only target for 19 yards. The future Hall of Famer has nothing left to prove on the practice field, of course – just that he’s not distracted by the launch of his new cereal. The only real question in camp is whether the reserves, a deep, dynamic group of role players, can force their way onto the field when the games matter. The team would love to see Noah Gray and Jody Fortson, both athletic seam-stretchers, get healthy and keep improving. That kind of depth can both keep the 32-year-old Kelce fresher and help fill in the formation gaps caused by Tyreek Hill’s loss.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knows his unit will find itself in more than its share of shootouts, so the offseason focus has been on remaking a dynamic but flawed secondary. To that end, first-round rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie opened camp with a flourish, drawing hefty praise from his coordinator in the process. Spagnuolo wants to move McDuffie around the formation, taking advantage of his aggressiveness and ball skills against the big, dynamic wideouts of the AFC West. The team added journeyman nose tackle Danny Shelton to the rotation last week to add run-stuffing beef up front. Shelton will only play in run-heavy sub-packages, but he’ll help take pressure off the playmakers on early downs.
Seventh-round rookie picks often don't even make a team's final roster. Still, Isaiah Pacheco is not only earning a roster spot, but he’s also carving out a genuine role with his stellar performance during camps. Special teams coach Dave Toub said, "He’s going to be the guy (on kickoff returns)... we’re going to give him every chance to be that guy. I just think he’s got all the attributes to be a good kick returner, and he’s gotten better and better out at practice." Veteran Mecole Hardman will likely retain punt return responsibilities.
Updates from Week 1
All-World quarterback Patrick Mahomes II gave onlookers a scare at the onset of camp, hobbling into the trainer's tent and reminding the world of the threat posed by non-contact injuries. Thankfully, Mahomes quickly returned to action, and his camp has been uneventful since. The only real drama for the team now is deciding whether to keep a third quarterback on the roster. It's unlikely they'll tie up the spot, given the expanded practice squad rules and the team's confidence in 37-year-old Chad Henne as the clear No. 2. But second-year man Shane Buechele, who spend last year buried off the roster, is getting ample reps in his attempt to stick.
Presumed lead back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has come off the PUP list, and not a moment too soon, as he enters his third camp on relatively shaky ground. The young back points to this being his first healthy, in-person camp as a reason for optimism. As for new signee Ronald Jones II, the prognosis is all over the place. Described in early July as “a legit candidate to earn the starting spot,” not all are convinced the mistake-prone ex-Buccaneer will even stick in the team's plans. Another wild card is rookie Isiah Pacheco, lost in the shuffle as a seventh-round pick but the toast of camp thus far. The praise has come from far and wide, with coach Andy Reid impressed with the rookie's “speed, toughness, all that.” If Pacheco can indeed emerge as “Mahomes' new Kareem Hunt,” it will ease some of the pressure on Edwards-Helaire, who's yet to prove himself dependable on passing downs. Of course, Pacheco will also have to battle Jerick McKinnon, who excelled in the 2021 postseason in that role, and intriguing practice squad back Derrick Gore.
With Tyreek Hill out the door, a full-on competition is underway to absorb his massive stake in the offense. Holdover Mecole Hardman, ex-Steeler JuJu Smith-Schuster, ex-Packer Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and rookie Skyy Moore will vie for prominent roles in one of the game's premier attacks. For his part, Smith-Schuster opened camp showing off his versatility and impressive catch radius. After the first act of his career sputtered out in Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster is poised and ready to “play inside or outside” and “run more routes here than [Pittsburgh].” He doesn't offer the lid-lifting deep speed of Hill, but his all-around rapport with Mahomes has mirrored Hill's across-the-field usage from 2021. Valdes-Scantling drew raves in pad-less minicamp practices, but his long-term battle with drops has already reared its head. The team is also scrambling down the depth chart to replace do-it-all man Byron Pringle, who signed with the Bears. Pringle was a special-teams stalwart who made himself visible on offense last year, catching 42 of 60 targets and scoring five touchdowns. Hardman likely fits Pringle's overall profile best of the candidates, though the team has high hopes for Moore's future (“It's starting to click,” he told reporters last week). He'll have to work up from the bottom as a rookie under Reid, but he's impressed early with his clear-out speed (4.41 at the combine). Reid has already manufactured ways to get the ball into Moore's hands – such as on the ground with a lead blocker. “Potentially, I could see him playing running back, doing stuff like that just because he has it in him,” Smith-Schuster said of the rookie.
First-ballot Hall of Famer Travis Kelce needs little seasoning, so the Chiefs' tight end room is simply jockeying for roles behind him. KSHB.com's Nick Jacobs sees a crowded depth chart mostly sticking on the final roster as the team evaluates youngsters Noah Gray and Jody Fortson. The latter remains sidelined. Gray's spot is locked in, thanks to his versatility and special-teams role. But Coach Reid is giving Gray, a full-time contributor at Duke, more of an opportunity to emerge as a receiving complement to Kelce. Per Ron Kopp Jr. of the Arrowhead Pride, Gray has been “running a variety of routes for the first-team offense.” With the receiving corps in flux, Mahomes could benefit from additional matchup-winners on the field and in close.
These Chiefs will always draw more attention on offense than on defense, but the defense led to most of their 2021 issues. At least four new faces will open the season in the regular rotation, and two have already made their presence known in camp. Rookie Trent McDuffie keeps flashing as a shutdown-level cornerback. He saved his best for Saturday's practice, which saw him trail and deny veterans JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman on downfield routes. Fellow first-rounder George Karlaftis has looked the part, according to the Kansas City Star's Herbie Teope, winning “with a combination of speed and power, but mostly the last part.” New edge man Carlos Dunlap was a savvy, affordable July signing for just $8 million, and he'll bring size and technique to a pass rush that fluctuates between dominant and nonexistent. Overall, there's potential here for a pass defense that can keep pace with Mahomes in a shootout.