On Saturday night, the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers in each team’s opening preseason contest. So it’s time to check in on which Chiefs players are trending up — and which ones are trending down — as the preseason begins.
Safety Devon Key: There are very few open spots on this roster where an undrafted free agent might be able to win a job. Key might be locking one of them up as we speak. He’s been impressive enough in camp to get a substantial look with the first team. Watch for No. 24 on Saturday night. During any of the first three quarters of the game, he could be anywhere in the secondary or on special teams. If he continues to show his versatility — and look like he belongs — his will be one of the better stories of the preseason.
tackle end Chris Jones: Everyone has been talking (Jones included) about his move to the EDGE position — and the preparations he’s made for the job. He’s been unblockable in camp so far — and appears to be more motivated than ever. We might be looking at a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. It starts on Saturday.
Right guard Trey Smith: The other guy everyone has been talking about is the self-proclaimed goon lining up at right guard. Smith has done everything right so far — and has put highlights on tape that have all of us excited about his role on the team. Watch to see how Smith works with the other rookies around him to see if the consistency is there. That might be the last remaining question about him — because there’s no question he’s a draft steal and Day 1 starter.
Wide receiver Marcus Kemp: It seems as if Kemp has already been on this team for a decade — and it seems like he dominates in training camp every single season. But this year, the hype around Kemp seems more real than ever. He’s a known quantity on special teams — and appears to have taken huge strides on offense. We’re bullish on Kemp making the roster. We’ll have to see if he can also make an impact.
Tight end Noah Gray: Maybe it’s normal for this time of year, but there are so many players to get excited about, this list could go on forever. But Gray might be the skill player we’re most looking forward to seeing in live action. Whether he’s Kelce’s backup, the true No. 2 tight end or a unique hybrid role player, Gray’s possibilities are endless. His route running and receiving ability were highly touted coming into the NFL — and those skills appear to be legit. But watch his blocking in the preseason games; that could be the difference between Gray being a part-time player or pushing for a bigger role.
Defensive tackle Jarran Reed: His acquisition was once an overlooked part of the Chiefs’ offseason, but Reed is proving to be a pivotal player in the front seven. Much has been made of the fact that adding Reed allowed Jones to move outside. But don’t overlook the fact that against the run or the pass, Reed can be an impact player in his own right. He’s been disruptive and stout in camp thus far, so we’re looking forward to seeing him do it in a game. With Reed, the defensive line looks like a big strength this season.
Others trending in the right direction: running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, defensive tackle Khalen Saunders, running back Jerrick McKinnon, wide receiver Mecole Hardman and linebacker Nick Bolton.
Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif: After the good doctor spent last year saving lives, it doesn’t appear he’s going to be able to save his starting right guard spot. He now has a broken hand — and he’s behind Smith, who is arguably the most exciting rookie in camp. If he’s not able to soon get back on the field and make his move, Duvernay-Tardif could be a candidate for injured reserve — or even be off the roster.
Safety Juan Thornhill: One of the most promising members of the Chiefs secondary hasn’t had an ideal training camp so far. He was just getting back to himself after his 2019 knee injury — and is now fighting a groin injury. Even when he’s been able to practice, he’s mostly been on the second team. We still believe Thornhill has a bright future with Kansas City — but at the moment, his trendline isn’t great.
Wide receiver Cornell Powell: With all of the fanfare around this Chiefs draft class, Powell has been flying under the radar. But camp hasn’t been great for him so far. He’s mostly been playing with the third team — and has been overshadowed by Kemp and Byron Pringle in the competition for the team’s X-receiver role. Powell could make his case during preseason games — but until then, we should keep our expectations low.
Defensive end Alex Okafor: Like Groundhog Day, Okafor is already fighting a hamstring injury — and missing time. Meanwhile, Chris Jones, Mike Danna and even Joshua Kaindoh have been getting reps and opening eyes at the EDGE position. Okafor needs to get healthy and show he belongs in the rotation — or he could be buried on the depth chart to start the season.
Tight end Blake Bell: We haven’t heard or seen anything particularly negative (or positive) about The Belldozer in the offseason. But everyone is talking about his competition, as Noah Gray and Jody Fortson have been the talk of camp. The Chiefs will have a tough decision to make at tight end: do they keep four, or have they seen enough from Gray and Fortson to let Bell go? Keep an eye on Bell’s reps on Saturday.
Others trending in the wrong direction: center Austin Blythe, safety Armani Watts, linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, safety Will Parks, wide receiver Antonio Callaway and defensive end Tim Ward.
Hold (wait and see):
Wide receiver Tight end Jody Fortson: It’s prudent to be skeptical of the hype around Fortson thus far. He’s made waves in camp before — only to spend most of his career as a practice squad player. So far in camp, he looks bigger, stronger and more refined as a tight end than he was as a wideout. He’s making plays every day and drawing praise from players and coaches alike. Fortson will have plenty of opportunities to prove that it’s different this time — but until he does perform in game action, we’ll hold off on placing him on the Bulls list.
Right tackle Lucas Niang: The good news is that Niang is running with the first team at right tackle — and improving every week. He’s on this list only because he’s on the first team as a result of his main competition being injured. So we don’t yet know yet if Niang has won the starting job or if he’s simply there by default. A great performance in the preseason could shed some light — or change his status from temporary to permanent.
Cornerback Mike Hughes: There’s been a competition to become the third cornerback — primarily between Hughes and Deandre Baker. On the recent unofficial depth chart, Hughes was listed as a starter in the slot alongside Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed. But in camp, most of Hughes’s reps have been on the outside — at least as far as we’ve seen. So perhaps the depth chart has it wrong — or perhaps the competition is still very much up in the air.
Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh: Expectations have been low for Kaindoh, but the rookie has shown that he belongs on the field. It’s early in the development curve for him, but he’s still one to watch in preseason games. Perhaps he can carve out at least a situational role — maybe sooner than we thought.
Left tackle Orlando Brown, Jr.: Much has been made of some training camp clips showing Brown getting beat in one-on-one reps. Many have justified it by saying that Brown has to learn an entirely new offense and style of play as compared to his time with the Baltimore Ravens. Others have noted that the one-on-ones favor the defense — and Brown was clearly working on bits of technique instead of trying to win every rep. But if he struggles when the lights come on against San Francisco, there is reason to panic. Until then, hold on to your Orlando Brown, Jr. stock.
Others for whom we’ll have to wait and see: linebacker Willie Gay, Jr., wide receiver Byron Pringle and linebacker Darius Harris.