Just like that, the preseason is over, and the Kansas City Chiefs will now go through the parallel processes of getting the team ready for the Cleveland Browns, while cutting up to 27 players, signing some back to the practice squad — and likely a flurry of other roster moves. They finished on a high note, defeating the Minnesota Vikings with a group of first and second-team players that are hitting on all cylinders. The third and fourth teams gave plenty of reasons to be excited as well, including a thrilling goal line stand.
Here are a few things that stood out on Friday night:
Patrick Mahomes: Yes, we reluctantly had him listed as a “loser” last week after a tough outing. But, all memories of that game have effectively been wiped out after a near flawless performance on Friday. Mahomes was 8/9 for 117 yards and two touchdowns — one to Hill on a beautifully thrown deep ball, and one to Bell out of the rarely-seen-four-tight-end set. He looked quite comfortable behind the new offensive line and ready to dominate when the games actually count.
Derrick Gore: It likely will not lead to a 53-man roster spot, but Derrick Gore has been fantastic this preseason. His 56-yard touchdown was one of the highlights, as he took a screen pass and did a really good job of setting up and following the blocking for the score. He’s earned a practice squad job and could be a player with a bright future.
Tim Ward: Yet again, Tim Ward made his case for sticking around. He had a sack with a forced fumble and three tackles to go along with it. It remains to be seen whether this is just another strong preseason performance or if Ward can make the roster and work his way into the EDGE rotation.
Marcus Kemp: Perhaps it should have been obvious all along, but all signs point to Kemp winning a job on this year’s 53-man roster. He had another special teams tackle this week, which is what he’s known for, but he also hauled in all three of his targets including an impressive touchdown catch in traffic. Kemp seems to have the full respect of the coaching staff, without a lot to prove, but he made his case anyway with a strong summer.
Armani Watts: Another bubble player who we might have been underrating made some plays again this week. When the Chiefs brought in competition for the backup safety positions, it appeared Watts was on his way out. But Will Parks has already been released, and Devon Key has been exposed a bit in preseason action. Watts, with his second interception in as many weeks, showed he might still have a place here in Kansas City for another season.
Nick Bolton: While it hasn’t yet resulted in splash plays during a game, the development of the Chiefs first 2021 draft pick seems to be right on track. Bolton might just have a knack for reading offenses and getting himself in the right place. He has affected plays by getting into the backfield — and by cutting off running lanes for backs and receivers all over the field. He looks the part of a future starter at the MIKE position and a player Steve Spagnuolo can get on the field as a rookie without looking lost.
Brett Veach: The Chiefs general manager and his staff deserve a lot of credit for how this roster appears to be coming together. They kept the top talent together and added some key veteran pieces like Joe Thuney, Orlando Brown, Jr. and Jarran Reed. But perhaps most exciting is how the rookies and second-year players have been developing. It starts with the three rookies on the offensive line, but extends to pretty much every other position group. This might be the deepest roster in the Andy Reid era, and it’s full of promising youth to complement their stars.
Darrius Shepherd: Shepherd has a reputation for being a good enough returner to make an NFL roster solely on special teams. But this Chiefs roster has a number of players that can return kicks and punts, including Mike Hughes who had a touchdown called back this week, and Shepherd’s competition at wide receiver, Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman. Without winning the returner jobs outright, Shepherd would have to show out as a receiver. In his final opportunity, he didn’t catch either of his two targets and most likely ran the wrong route leading to an interception. Probably not the lasting impression he had hoped for.
Darwin Thompson: Darwin Thompson has been great this preseason, but he’s caught in a tough spot. The Chiefs have some extra skill players they likely will be trying to keep. If they keep four tight ends and a fullback, it might be tough to justify four other running backs. Newcomer Jerrick McKinnon has carved out a role as a playmaker, and the team sees Darrel Williams as a reliable backup. So Thompson has to not only convince the team he’s earned the No. 4 running back job, but also that the Chiefs should carry a fourth running back at all. That means potentially having to cut an extra tight end, receiver or offensive lineman. In the preseason finale, Thompson had six touches for 25 yards — has he done enough?
The rest of the NFL: It’s hard to imagine how this preseason could have gone much better for the Chiefs. The 3-0 record doesn’t matter, but how the team has come together does. They’ve built an offensive line that appears to be somewhere between very good and dominant, which has led to success for all of their running backs and comfort for Mahomes. The Chiefs also have more weapons on offense and a defense that looks ready to take a step forward. They also came through the preseason process without major injury issues, which is huge.
We’re not predicting 23-0, but these Chiefs will likely be favored and feared in every single matchup.