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Film review: Against 49ers, Chiefs running backs display great depth

One of the team’s deepest position groups displayed plenty of talent and variety on Saturday night.

Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Depth among the roster was one of the main takeaways about the Kansas City Chiefs following their preseason opener on Saturday night. In their victory over the San Francisco 49ers, we see that Kansas City’s running back group is one of the deepest on the team. Each back offers a little bit of a different dynamic — but each also provides pass-catching ability out of the backfield.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire got the start, setting the tone on the first play from scrimmage with a 10-yard carry. The second-year man out of LSU carried the ball four times — and made one reception that went for five yards and a first down. In fact, three out of the five times Edwards-Helaire touched the ball, he moved the sticks.

New free agent running back Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL prior to the 2018 season and was unable to play in 2019 due to lingering problems. He then spent 2020 trying to regain his confidence and footing. Now he is trying to find a home in Kansas City — and on Saturday night, he did a lot toward achieving that goal. In the Kansas City offense, he looks perfectly comfortable.

Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams are presumed to be locks to make the 53-man roster — but the third running back spot isn’t cemented quite yet.

McKinnon made a number of plays, leading all Chiefs rushers with 19 yards on three carries — plus 21 yards on two receptions. McKinnon’s performance in camp — and now proving he can perform at game speed — does not bode well for third-year running back Darwin Thompson, who is securely on the roster bubble.

Thompson was flagged for unnecessary roughness after his first carry of Saturday’s game. Intensity comes in many different forms — but anything that hurts the team will not be tolerated for long.

Thompson is a skilled football player who has had multiple chances to make a mark as a tailback and return specialist. I am not sure how many more opportunities he will be given.

The other running backs to get looks on Saturday were Derrick Gore and Elijah McGuire. Gore received five touches but only converted that into eight yards. McGuire was used more as a receiver, with two receptions and just one carry. McGuire and Gore each played a part in plays from the game-winning drive.

McGuire made a nice catch and turned it into a 22-yard gain that put the Chiefs in scoring position with under two minutes left. These are the types of plays that impact roster decisions. But McGuire sprained his ankle in the game and was placed on the team’s Reserve/Injured list on Tuesday.

Gore also got an opportunity, nearly delivering a touchdown — but still putting the ball inside the two-yard-line.

The bottom line

The Chiefs have plenty of playmakers in the running back room. Some tough decisions lie ahead — not only about which players they will keep, but also about how many. Right now, Edwards-Helaire, Williams and McKinnon are safe bets — but if head coach Andy Reid decides to carry four running backs, either Thompson or Gore (or even McGuire, if he’s healthy by then) could easily make the final cut.

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