Kansas City Chiefs training camp is upon us and with that we’re taking a look at some under-the-radar players people may be forgetting about.
Honorable mention: LB Justin Houston
Hey, relax. I get it. No one has forgotten about linebacker Justin Houston. But the reason I bring him up is because I think people may have forgotten about healthy Justin Houston.
That arguable-best-linebacker-in-the-league Justin Houston.
Back in June, at the start of mandatory minicamp, Houston said that he spent his offseason working out and resting in Atlanta, something he couldn’t do last year, when he was hurt and rehabbing. This is how he spent the offseason before 2014, the season he came within a play of breaking the all-time NFL single-season sack record.
“I feel great,” Houston said. “Last year I couldn’t even run at this time, so it’s a night-and-day difference. I feel great—to get up and just be able to go without even thinking about it.”
Last year, we saw a glimpse of the old Houston—when he had three sacks in one half in Denver, including this safety:
Houston was one of the very best players in the NFL before he got hurt so this isn't surprising. pic.twitter.com/h2W2V4gwVQ— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) November 28, 2016
Time has a funny way of making people forget. Don’t.
TE Gavin Escobar
Did you realize there is a tight end on the Kansas City Chiefs that was drafted before Travis Kelce?
His name is Gavin Escobar, and the Dallas Cowboys selected him with the 47th overall pick in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft (Kelce went 63rd overall in the third round).
With the status of the incumbent No. 2 tight end, Demetrius Harris, still up in the air, Escobar becomes all the more interesting for that role, which is very important, as we know Andy Reid loves him some three-tight end sets.
Remember, Escobar has spent the last four years playing behind Jason Witten, and I’m not suggesting that playing behind Kelce will be much different as far as No. 1 time, but what I’m saying is, Harris got key looks last year—he was the target on the two-point conversion to tie the Sunday night game in Denver, the once-in-a-lifetime pass from Dontari Poe and the two-point conversion to potentially tie the divisional round game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If Harris’s offseason issue means any missed time then that would mean a golden opportunity for Escobar, who is 6’6 and 260 pounds, experienced, athletic and likely itching to play meaningful snaps.
Oh hey Gavin Escobar pic.twitter.com/Hod3NHP65f— Blake (@NflDraft_KC) July 12, 2017
WR Demarcus Robinson
First thing’s first.
Ima run routes Until they bleed pic.twitter.com/1Rdoe0MJgC— Demarcus Robinson (@honeythunder14) July 21, 2017
Robinson wants to run routes until his feet BLEED!
…but seriously (and I know they practice in shorts), Robinson looked LEGIT during the earlier offseason practices, making difficult catches I wasn’t used to seeing him make and running good, precise routes. He also said he spent much more time this offseason getting into the playbook.
And aren’t the Chiefs going to need that?
With Jeremy Maclin now a Baltimore Raven, this receiver room is wide open. We know Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley will be factors. That’s easy.
But after that, what do we know for sure?
“He’s the young one that’s come up here a little bit and had a pretty good offseason,” Andy Reid said of Robinson in early June. “We’ll see how he does once we get going during the offseason.”
RB Charcandrick West
Something very interesting happened this offseason.
Some of the top fantasy football analysts out there have all unofficially agreed that Spencer Ware and rookie Kareem Hunt belong on their top 100 lists (examples: here, here and here), with Charcandrick West nowhere to be found.
I get that fantasy football is very different from reality—trust—but production is production, and these analysts are paid to be right, correct?
So what’s the deal? Why is West flying so under the radar?
One has to do with Ware’s production—he has 4.6 yards per attempt the last two seasons to West’s 3.7, and another has to do with the fact that the Chiefs traded up AND spent a third-rounder on Hunt, who they obviously like.
But let’s jump back to 2015. I’m not here to make excuses for West’s 2016 campaign, but a running back doesn’t typically just fall off the face of the Earth at the age of 25. Perhaps he was more banged up than we realized. Maybe it was just a bad year.
Ware will be the No. 1 (maybe). Hunt still needs to learn a very complicated playbook, and West is off the skittles for goodness sake.
I wouldn’t write Charknado off just yet.
S Eric Murray
The Chiefs selected Minnesota corner Eric Murray in the fourth round of the 2016 draft and decided it would be best to convert him to safety.
Murray only played 64 snaps on defense last season, but what’s noticeable is just how much he played on special teams. Murray played 367 snaps for 81.92 percent on special teams, and he played especially well.
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus “awarded” Murray with a first-team special team honor, saying this:
“The term “special teams ace” gets thrown around a lot, but we’re looking to grade more than simply a tally of special teams tackles. Eric Murray was a key part of the Chiefs’ kickoff, kick return, punt coverage, and punt return units. He routinely made impressive blocks in the return game, and was often found beating blockers to force returners to change direction.”
Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub called Murray the Chiefs’ most consistent player, before secondary coach Al Harris said this in mid-June:
“[Murray is] night and day from last year,” Harris explained. “He’s doing a great job. He’s going to be a really, really good player.”
Murray is following in the footsteps of “Dirty” Dan Sorensen, who proved his worth on special teams before getting a shot on defense. Sorensen, by the way, just got a new four-year deal this offseason.
Murray is on the same filthy course.
ILB Josh Mauga
Return of the Maug!
A big welcome back to the salty 30-year-old Josh Mauga who last played 362 defensive plays for the Chiefs back in 2015. Mauga started 30 games for the Chiefs between 2014 and 2015, but he missed all of 2016 when he tore his labrum.
Mauga was pivotal for the Chiefs back in 2014 when the team lost Derrick Johnson for nearly the entire season, and he called all the defensive plays and led the team with 103 tackles.
Of course, things are very different now with Johnson back and healthy, along with Ramik Wilson, DJ Alexander, Justin March, Terrance Smith and rookie Ukeme Eligwe.
I’m not here to say Mauga will start, but given his familiarity with the playbook, experience in the locker room and favor with defensive coordinator Bob Sutton (dating back to the New York Jets), he’s an under-the-radar player that could realistically crack the 53-man roster to provide veteran depth.