The Arrowhead Pride Nerd Squad has you covered when it comes to lottery tickets from this year’s draft class and UDFA signings. But there are also some sleepers from the free agent class and 2018 holdovers that I’m excited to watch this year in St. Joseph.
These forgotten additions could provide a boost to the team’s depth or even surprise us by becoming playmakers in 2019.
1. Jeremiah Attaochu
An EDGE rusher that has experience in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, he’s got all the measurements, including sub-4.6 speed and a huge wingspan, and a little bit of NFL production, with a six-sack season to his name. Attaochu prides himself on versatility, and the Chiefs could deploy him in a few different ways if he makes the roster. We’ve talked a lot about the type that Spagnuolo likes— power over speed, length and strength to slide inside or out— and they’ve loaded up with similar types of guys. Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, and Emmanuel Ogbah, Breeland Speaks and Tanoh Kpassagnon all fit that description. Attoachu might just have a chance to carve out a little role as a situational pass rusher, perhaps from the SAM position. We haven’t seen or heard a peep about him yet, so he’ll need to make some noise in camp.
2. Blake Bell
If there’s a small opening for a speed rusher, there’s a canyon at tight end right now in Kansas City. Bell is a really interesting guy, a top-tier athlete and former quarterback. “The Belldozer” was featured in short yardage and goal line runs after converting to tight end in college. He’s also displayed good hands and run-after-the-catch ability, with at least a couple of 40-plus yards plays to his name in the NFL. By all accounts, he’s a fierce competitor, a leader and a team-first guy. Bell will get a lot of reps in training camp, and based on his résumé should be one of the favorites to be the Chiefs’ second tight end. Others, like John Lovett and the newly signed Neal Sterling may provide the competition, but don’t forget about “The Belldozer.”
3. Alex Okafor
It’s odd to put a starter on a list of sleepers. Especially one that was brought in on a decent-sized free agent contract. In any other year, adding Okafor would have been a much bigger story. This season, all the talk is about moving on from Dee Ford, Justin Houston, trading for Frank Clark and adding Tyrann Mathieu. Rightfully so, those moves represent a seismic shift in the identity of the Chiefs defense. But, Okafor is starting to make himself noticed in minicamp, starting with a pick-six off of Mahomes. He won’t lead the team in sacks or make as many plays as Clark or Chris Jones, but Okafor is an important cog on the new defensive line.
4. Emmanuel Ogbah
If Okafor is a sleeper, Ogbah is a guy we have downright forgotten about. A depth player at defensive end, he was acquired in what is already a successful trade, even if Ogbah never sees the field (given that the Chiefs got something of value for Eric Murray, who should likely have been cut). There isn’t much reason to believe that Ogbah would overtake Okafor to win a starting job, but he might be the more intriguing of the two. Ogbah can win with strength and leverage and has an uncanny knack for knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage (17 in three seasons). Thought to be a player on the rise, he’ll fit right into the rotation in KC, and he might just surprise us.
5. Keith Reaser
The pride of the AAF Apollos, Reaser has endeared himself to the Chiefs front office, as he starts his second stint with the team. With the team (so far) unable to make a splash move at cornerback, Reaser might get an opportunity to be the fourth corner. Reaser’s career has been one of hard luck so far, with injuries getting in the way at nearly every stop. But he does seem to have a bit of a knack for getting to the football, and at the very least is among the more experienced members of a very young secondary. Expect Reaser to be the guy who gets the call when there’s an injury or a need for an extra defensive back in 2019. Rookies like Mark Fields and Rashad Fenton will be given a chance to develop and earn their roster spots, but Reaser could finally get his chance to shine in the NFL this season.
From the upside down
What if we’re missing the opportunity when it comes to receivers?
The Chiefs should have at least three speedy deep threats at wide receiver, when/if they can get Tyreek Hill on the field with Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson. It sure sounds like Sammy Watkins is taking full advantage of his opportunity to shine, and he can really do it all. If you ask most Chiefs fans for a sleeper at wide receiver, everyone loves Byron Pringle to the point that he’s not really a sleeper anymore. Many are high on UDFA wide receiver Cody Thompson, and we’re expecting Jamal Custis to get a long look, given his contract. But what’s the actual opportunity for them to contribute?
Last year, Chris Conley was on the field for almost 77% of the Chiefs snaps. The Chiefs have several speedy guys who can make plays, but that might go off script a bit. Yes, that makes them a good fit with the reigning MVP quarterback, but Andy Reid’s offense does call for some receivers that can do the dirty work. Conley was that guy over the last couple of years; blocking, playing special teams, reliably running routes even if there was little chance he’d be targeted. Who is the best fit for filling that role this season?
It might be Pringle, Marcus Kemp or Gehrig Dieter, who all have good size and experience on special teams and likely have a good feel for the offense by now. This would mean that the undrafted receivers are all competing for the sixth or seventh wide receiver position or hoping to stick on the practice squad. The sleepers to get excited about might just be the holdovers from 2018.