There is an advantage to how Brett Veach is building this team.
By focusing on youth, the Chiefs have given themselves a shot to improve each season even if there are no other significant additions. By investing in coaching, Andy Reid and company should be able to get more out of many of the young players in 2019 than they did in 2018.
Practice squad guys could become active roster guys by contributing on special teams. Backups who only played special teams last year might earn time on offense or defense. Role players could become starters. The most significant leaps often come between year one and year two, or year two and year three.
Let’s discuss five candidates that might take the next step, simply by continuing the arc of development they have already started:
1. CB Charvarius Ward
A player who was a late addition last preseason put together a solid rookie year with 13 games played and a couple of starts. It appeared he was improving as the season went on. Sometimes it is the little things: I believe fans and pundits might be higher on Ward had his AFC Championship-clinching interception counted. It remains to be seen how Ward will respond to new coaches and scheme, but the team certainly showed a vote of confidence by not adding any serious challengers for his job. I’m optimistic that Ward can continue to develop into a starting outside cornerback, but if all he does is stay on the same path, he will at least be a good part of the rotation in 2020.
2. WR Byron Pringle
I’ve been skeptical of the love that Pringle gets from #Chiefs Twitter. But he did show enough last preseason to suggest he will make the roster this season. The coaches have been raving about his development so far in OTAs, and it seems almost guaranteed that he will at least be a core special teams contributor on this year’s 53. Can he take the next step by taking advantage of a wide-open depth chart as a receiver and continue developing chemistry with Patrick Mahomes?
3. LG Andrew Wylie
Already earning praise from coaches for his athleticism, Wylie is the man to beat at left guard this season. With the evolution of the NFL pass rush featuring more inside threats, the Chiefs need to make sure they are solid up the middle. The Chiefs’ 2018 Mack Lee Hill award winner appears to be a guy trending in the right direction to make a difference.
4. NT Derrick Nnadi
Craig Stout and Matt Lane are really diving into the potential tendencies in this defense during their Summer of Spags series. One observation they found from film analysis was that nose tackles can put up significant stats in Spagnuolo’s scheme. Nnadi showed signs of being a disruptive interior player in his rookie season as a 3-4 nose tackle. This season, he will have the benefit of an attacking 4-3 scheme with stunts and matchups that should be favorable for him to be right in the thick of things. There is good reason to believe that Nnadi will continue to develop in this defense and be a force on the inside.
5. OG Kahlil McKenzie
We honestly have no idea what to expect from McKenzie this year, if anything. But it’s telling that the Chiefs saw enough potential in McKenzie to keep him on 2018’s active roster all season with little chance that he’d ever play (McKenzie was transitioning from defensive line to offensive line). He’s now had an entire season of coaching and training, plus a full offseason without significant additions at the guard position. An imposing physical figure, he will be one guy with a lot to prove in St Joseph.
From the upside down: What if Tanoh or Speaks gets better?
For those of you that aren’t fans of the Netflix show, Stranger Things, the “upside down” is an alternate dimension where things are crazy.
In the real world, actions mean more than words. The Chiefs have completely overhauled the EDGE position in a way that doesn’t show much confidence in Breeland Speaks or Tanoh Kpassagnon. Both former second-round picks fit the mold of what Steve Spagnuolo is looking for in a defensive end, at least physically. But, they both have been underwhelming thus far. If the team really loved the potential of Speaks or Kpassagnon, they wouldn’t have invested in three guys to play ahead of them.
That being said... what if they do somehow get an opportunity and show improvement?
Even if that opportunity is at a different position. Speaks appears to have bulked up (maybe or maybe not on purpose), so perhaps he will get an opportunity inside. What if Kpassagnon could get snaps as a situational pass-rusher, maybe even from the SAM position? These two guys are still on the roster, and any significant contribution would be a surprise at this point, but they are at the point of their careers where they just might make a jump.
The new coaching staff could get more out of them and in doing so, create a scary rotation.