Deciphering the news coming out of Kansas City Chiefs training camp in St. Joseph is problematic for a couple of reasons.
First, nearly every good play by a offensive player is a bad play for a Chiefs defender — and vice versa. So are you excited about a big play, or concerned the defense gave up a big play? Excited for an interception by the secondary, or concerned the quarterback threw a pick? I call this the camp conundrum.
Second, we’re all getting the highlights, but we’re not able to watch the whole game film. We also don’t know what the coaches were working on — or what the specific responsibilities were on each play. Contact is limited or non-existent, which means it’s not the same as in-game action.
Finally, coaches are playing around with different combinations of players, rotating young guys in with the starters to see what they can do. That means starters are expected to execute without familiarity.
But based on what we see and hear — and even with all of these limitations — we can still spot overall trends with certain players.
Let’s look at some of the Chiefs whose stock is rising (or falling) in the early days of camp.
Defensive end Frank Clark: The offseason’s biggest acquisition is showing why the team felt he was worth it. It appears he’s controlling the line of scrimmage and getting after the quarterback — all while bringing an attitude and aggressiveness that was lacking in previous seasons.
Safety Juan Thornhill: Thornhill is the Juan draft pick that most of us agreed was an ideal fit and value. He’s impressing observers and coaches with his ability to play centerfield and find the football. It’s safe to assume he’s a day-Juan starter along with the Honey Badger Tyrann Mathieu — and it’s looking like both could be impact players.
The wide receivers: The Chiefs wideouts are impressive from top to bottom. There are a couple of reasons for that. One of them wears number 15. The other is the lack of contact. But it does appear that when it comes to the pass catchers, the team may have an embarrassment of riches. Tyreek Hill hasn’t missed a beat after rejoining the team. He missed a couple of days of practice with a quad contusion, but it isn’t expected to be an issue. Sammy Watkins is healthy and making plays, Byron Pringle and Cody Thompson are turning heads and Mecole Hardman’s development appears to be ahead of schedule. This group is now deep enough that Demarcus Robinson may be a trade candidate — even though he has established himself as a playmaker and a good fit with Mahomes’ improvisational style.
Cornerback D’Montre Wade: A forgotten man in the Chiefs secondary has been the first one to step up into the first team when Bashaud Breeland and Keith Reaser got hurt. Is it possible we overlooked an in-house option that can not only make the team, but handle significant snaps?
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: It sounds crazy to say the reigning MVP’s stock is going up, but he’s come into camp in better shape, in full command of the offense and reportedly has improved footwork and accuracy. Don’t expect regression. Those who are actually watching already see that Mahomes is getting better — which is insane.
Running Back Darwin Thompson: Quick and fast skill players are always the talk of training camp, but from Thompson thus far, we’re seeing exactly what we hoped to see. It seems he’s willing (and able) to pass protect, and he’s as dynamic as advertised. Keep an eye on this rookie. He could just be an impact player this season.
Others improving their stock thus far: Chris Jones, Damien Wilson, Tyrann Mathieu, Travis Kelce
Defensive end Breeland Speaks: We haven’t heard much from the former second-round pick — other than seeing pictures that would lead us to believe he’s gained a bunch of weight. Again, the Chiefs showed us what they think of Speaks and Tanoh Kpassagnon when they invested in a number of players to plug in above them on the depth chart. Speaks needs to be seen and heard in the preseason to win a role in a suddenly crowded group of EDGE players.
The cornerbacks: Keith Reaser appears to be out for the season with an Achilles injury. Kendall Fuller is working exclusively in the slot — which may or may not be news. That leaves a remarkably thin depth chart on the boundries, where Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland are your starters. The Chiefs will have to make some moves at this position sooner or later. It was the biggest concern prior to camp — and the injuries happening in St. Joseph aren’t helping.
Running back Tremon Smith: First, the Chiefs added Hardman — who is a dynamic returner. Smith was already buried on the cornerback depth chart — and didn’t seem to be moving up even when the position was depleted by injuries. Now it appears they are trying him at running back in St. Joseph. That can’t be a great sign. Smith is going from a position where the Chiefs have an arguably desperate need to a position where they have an abundance of options.
Others trending in the wrong direction thus far: Jamal Custis, Jordan Lucas
Offensive Tackle Cameron Erving: Some thought that Erving could win the left guard job outright, but it appears the team is high on Andrew Wylie for that spot. Erving is now working as the backup to both offensive tackle positions. The Chiefs really don’t have anyone else who can play those spots behind Fisher and Schwartz, so it makes sense for Erving to settle in there. Until there’s another option, it’s pretty safe to assume Erving is on the roster in a backup role.
The other tight ends: There’s a pack of guys competing for the second tight end job (and potentially a third one). Thus far, each has made some plays in camp. The coaches continue to give everyone reps. It might be awhile before someone emerges from the competition for depth at the position.
Defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon: Getting some rotation with the first team could be a good sign for Kpassagnon, but the Chiefs really buried him on the depth chart this offseason. He will likely need to make a really strong case in order to solidify his roster spot and have a chance to get on the field. So far, not much has changed.
Carlos Hyde: I have a feeling the coaches like Hyde’s ability and have plans for him this season. That said, as Pete mentioned here, the rest of the running back group might be making more noise — in a good way. We’ll see how the rest of camp goes, but in my opinion it’s too early to put Hyde on the roster bubble, in my opinion.
Others who are who we thought they were: Eric Fisher, Harrison Butker, Daniel Sorensen, Chad Henne, Reggie Ragland