Usually, around this time of the year, we’d all be getting amped up to make the drive to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri to watch the Kansas City Chiefs during their annual training camp. The chance to watch the newest Chiefs in preseason practices was always exciting — and we’d already have some knowledge on how the coaches felt about certain players based on minicamps and OTAs.
You can throw that all out the window. We barely know anything about the new players on the team. We haven’t seen any anyone on the field yet — and we likely won’t until the regular-season opener.
But that won’t stop me from making four bold predictions for Chiefs training camp:
1) Andrew Wylie loses his place in the rotation — and on the team
After starting 11 regular-season games for the Chiefs in 2019, a shoulder injury prevented left guard Andrew Wylie from starting during the postseason run. He was able to get healthy for the Super Bowl, but was scratched in favor of rookie offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, among others. Veteran left guard Stefan Wisniewski did a tremendous job starting in Wylie’s place — and the offensive line seemed to play its best with that particular unit of five.
Basically, Wylie was exposed as expendable. Amid the offseason uncertainty, the Chiefs still decided to re-sign him for another year — but now that practices will be starting, I believe Wylie will get phased out of the active rotation.
It’s pretty simple: recently-signed veteran Kelechi Osemele has always played left guard, and I believe he will beat out Wylie to start. At right guard, I expect third-year lineman (and former third-round pick) Martinas Rankin to play. If not Rankin, offseason acquisition Mike Remmers has more starting experience than Wylie — and is just as versatile.
That would leave Wylie in a swing tackle role — which can now be occupied by rookie tackle Lucas Niang. The Chiefs may simply prefer the long-term forecast for guys like Allegretti and undrafted rookie center Darryl Williams more than the one for the soon-to-be 26-year-old Wylie.
That would total nine offensive linemen — which is where head coach Andy Reid usually is for Week 1; since 2013, he’s had 10 just once. I believe Wylie will be the odd man out — and could potentially be traded for late-round draft compensation.
2) Tanoh Kpassagnon takes command of a starting defensive end position
However, I don’t think that will be the sole reason he earns a starting position opposite Frank Clark. It will be exciting to get veteran defensive end Alex Okafor back from his injury-shortened season that ended after Week 15 — but let’s face it: the 31-year-old’s health issues could affect his role on the unit.
Instead, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could trust Kpassagnon to step up and take the majority of the reps as the weak-side defensive end in his 4-3 Under scheme. Kpassagnon won’t be new to that responsibility: after Week 7 last year, he led the all edge players in total snaps. In fact, he had more snaps than Clark in the three postseason games.
Initially, Kpassagnon’s youthful energy and fluidity will give him an edge as the early-down player over Okafor. The veteran’s role could be also be limited in order to keep him fresh for later in the year. Recently-acquired defensive end Taco Charlton may also cut into Okafor’s snaps.
3) Darwin Thompson does not make the 53-man roster
It’s important to consider the wording of this bold prediction. Initially, I believe the Chiefs will keep four running backs on the active roster — just as they have for three of the last four season openers.
The top guys should be Damien Williams and rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who are both dynamic playmakers in open space. Offseason signing DeAndre Washington is a quality player who could spell either of them — and second-year back Darrel Williams is a bigger, stronger runner who still has receiving ability.
I believe that is what will give Darrel Williams the edge over Thompson. The aspects of running back play in which Thompson excels are already covered among the top three backs; Williams’ contrasting style may be more attractive to balance the unit.
So I believe Thompson will initially be placed on the practice squad. With the glimpses of good play that he showed in his rookie season, another NFL team may try to sign him away — but I believe the Chiefs will take advantage of their newfound ability to protect four practice squad players to prevent him from departing. It’s a long season — and one COVID-19 related absence or injury could have Thompson playing in the biggest role of his career.
4) Darius Harris — instead of Dorian O’Daniel — makes the 53 man roster
Chiefs fans have learned to listen carefully to what general manager Brett Veach has to say. After one meaningless start, he called quarterback Patrick Mahomes the greatest player he’d ever seen — and all offseason, Veach told us that signing defensive tackle Chris Jones to a long-term contract was a team priority.
“[Harris] is a guy that you might want to watch,” Veach remarked. “And maybe it’s not this year, but we think he has a lot of talent moving forward. He can be a guy that doesn’t just make the roster but starts one day. We are excited about him; we are [also] excited about the speed that [Gary] Johnson brings. But those are two guys that we liked. Being that we didn’t draft any linebackers, we were certainly aggressive. If you go back to this Harris kid, this was a kid that if he didn’t have the shoulder issue, he gets drafted.”
Last season, the Chiefs initially kept six linebackers, which means there could be room for both Harris and third-year linebacker Dorian O’Daniel to make the team. But I believe swapping Harris for O’Daniel would be a more efficient move, opening up a spot at another position.
O’Daniel is frequently labeled as an impact special teams player. But according to Pro Football Focus, he led the team in two negative categories during 2019: special teams penalties and missed tackles. Yes, he did play the second-most special teams snaps on the team. But is his lack of defensive upside worth the continuity on special teams?
Harris should be able to step into O’Daniel’s existing role. His potential as a linebacker could get him on the field with the defense more often than O’Daniel has.