On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs’ regular season kicks off with a big challenge against a talented Cleveland Browns team.
The Chiefs have assembled their deepest, most-talented roster in years — and the preseason went as smoothly as we could have hoped. It seems like we’re feeling bullish on nearly the entire roster.
But now, it’s all about opportunities. This edition of Market Movers features some young players who will have expanded roles due to injuries, along with some preseason stars whose roles may contract — now that the games count.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: The second-year running back has proclaimed himself 100% healthy. Expectations are high for the upcoming season. He’s got a more powerful offensive line in front of him — and a coach committed to getting him the ball in the passing game. That should start in Week 1 against Cleveland, where Edwards-Helaire will have plenty of opportunities to show that he is a three-down chain mover — and in the conversation with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill as one of the top three offensive weapons in a balanced Chiefs offense.
Mike Danna: With Frank Clark likely to see a ceiling on his snaps, Danna might be the beneficiary. Based on what we saw in the preseason, that might not be a bad thing. Danna had a solid rookie season, but really seems to be taking a big step forward in 2021. He isn’t the kind of player that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo typically likes as a defensive end, but he brings energy, effort and an advanced understanding of the techniques and responsibilities of the position. He’ll be a big part of the rotation all season — but on Sunday, he may have an especially substantial opportunity.
Nick Bolton: This is another young defender who will have an expanded role early in the season. It takes time for linebackers to develop an understanding of the whole defense — but based on what we saw in the preseason, Bolton seems to have the mental side of the game down cold, putting himself in positions to make plays. With Willie Gay Jr. now on injured reserve, Bolton will have at least three weeks to show he’s ahead of schedule in his development. We should also be prepared to see a lot of Ben Niemann — but there’s a chance that Bolton not only gets on the field, but makes an impact.
Others trending in the right direction: Jody Fortson, Chris Jones, Tershawn Wharton, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Anthony Hitchens, Jerick McKinnon and L’Jarius Sneed.
Lucas Niang: His early returns — along with the other new faces on the offensive line — have all been positive. His appearance here isn’t an indictment of his ability or his long-term outlook as Kansas City’s starting right tackle. But Market Movers is about looking forward, trying to identify who is positioned to make a move in either direction. Up to now, Niang hasn’t been really tested — but on Sunday, he’ll face one of the league’s best: Myles Garrett. The self-proclaimed Lebron James of NFL defenders, Garrett is difficult even for the best, most experienced offensive linemen to handle. He’ll likely give Niang fits at least a few times during the game. How he responds will tell us a lot about his outlook.
Noah Gray: This is another promising rookie who might be taking a temporary step back. Once the talk of training camp, Gray wasn’t as involved in the preseason games as we thought he could be. Meanwhile, Jody Fortson has shown off a well-rounded game — including blocking and special teams. There have been a few subtle signs that at least for now, the team might trust Fortson ahead of Gray. They’ll have a plan for the rookie tight end — but it’s possible that it starts later in the season.
Daurice Fountain: The preseason’s surprisingly super-productive receiver might take a step back in the regular season; against the Browns, the Chiefs could go back to their familiar rotation of Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman — thereby relegating Fountain to the bench for now. He’s has done everything right while making the team and showing that he belongs, but it’s just possible Fountain will have to wait for an injury to see his next opportunity.
Others trending in the wrong direction: Austin Blythe, Khalen Saunders and Armani Watts.
Value (sleeper) pick
Mecole Hardman: Yes... he’s been a “sleeper” in this series more than any other player. Yes... for a couple of years, we’ve been hoping for that real breakout season. He’s had his ups and downs — even in the preseason. But the Chiefs are fully committed to his success; they’ll likely continue to feed him targets and designed plays. It’s on Hardman to produce. Maybe — just maybe — this time is his time.