Your Kansas City Chiefs into the their bye week on a high note after a convincing 44-23 win over the San Francisco 49ers. At the trade deadline, we saw a couple of unexpected-but-should-have-been-expected moves that added a wide receiver and subtracted a struggling cornerback.
So now, the team moves into the second half of its season — which begins with a matchup against an old nemesis: running back Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans. This has historically been the type of matchup the Chiefs don’t love. But in this game, it’s clear which team is better. Head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes will just have to lean on more rookies than ever to help Kansas City remain on a roll.
Here are a few of the Chiefs who might be trending as we head into this AFC showdown.
The rookie cornerbacks: The Chiefs turned a lot of heads this offseason by drafting three corners and a safety. Jaylen Watson was the surprise of the group, seeing very early action and performing pretty well. While Joshua Williams has taken his lumps, he’s come out the better for it. He’s got the physical profile to be a solid answer against bigger receivers. Now first-round pick Trent McDuffie returns from injured reserve to headline a group that is younger than we expected. The team’s decision to trade away Rashad Fenton shows a ton of confidence in the three rookies — and perhaps a desire to get rookie Nazeeh Johnson more involved. The Titans will present an interesting test. While their passing game isn’t elite, they play a physical brand of football that will require these guys to crash down and tackle well. The Chiefs might also want to blitz — especially if rookie Malik Willis starts as the Titans’ quarterback, which could leave these three rookies without a lot of safety help. Still... they’ve earned the opportunity to shine.
Kadarius Toney: When a former first-round pick struggles to catch on with his team, a change of scenery could be just the thing to help get their career off the ground. Kansas City general manager Brett Veach is just the man to grant that change, demonstrating a huge amount of interest in the former New York Giants wideout by trading two draft picks for his services — including a third-round compensatory pick. That’s not the kind of investment one makes in a player who doesn’t have upside. Toney is reportedly healthy — and will get the chance to show he’s part of the future of this offense. His opportunities might even start on Sunday. If Toney is active, he could be in line to receive a punt or a short pass from Mahomes. Once the ball is in his hands, look out.
Isiah Pacheco: In Week 7, the seventh-round rookie got the start. While that made headlines, it didn’t change the production very much. Pacheco continues to run hard and seems to have a knack for getting extra yardage. He hasn’t yet been part of the passing game — but if he can be a consistent threat running the ball, he could help balance Kansas City’s offense against Tennessee, sustaining drives so the defense can remain fresh. Pacheco has been getting better at setting up blocks and has shown signs of improved vision. It wouldn’t be surprising to see his role increase once again. We might even see his first career touchdown.
Others trending in the right direction: wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Juju Smith-Schuster, offensive tackle Lucas Niang, safety Juan Thornhill, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, defensive tackle Khalen Saunders and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
Derrick Nnadi: This is a player we haven’t talked about all season. Since he is a nose tackle — not as likely as other defenders to make a splashy play — part of that is to be expected. But after putting up three sacks in 2021, he has not yet recorded a pressure, a quarterback hit or a sack. Unfortunately, Nnadi has also sometimes struggled against the run — which is his primary role. The Titans will test every level of Kansas City’s run defense, so it’s critical that defensive linemen work together to clog up lanes. This will allow free linebackers and safeties to chop Henry down before he gets going.
Ronald Jones: The Chiefs’ running-back-by-committee has included all members of the group except for Jones, who hasn’t yet dressed for a game. The results have been inconsistent — but at their best, Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire have been formidable on the ground and through the air. Jerick McKinnon has been the wily veteran who sees snaps in pass protection and the occasional third-and-15-screen play. But what does that leave for Jones? It’s clear that he’s been asking the same question, posting on Twitter that he wants a release. Knowing that running backs frequently get injured, the team has not obliged; Kansas City would rather keep its depth. But unless something changes, don’t look for Jones to be active any time soon.
Andrew Wylie: The Chiefs will be facing a tough Titans pass rush that will stress the entire offensive line. So far, Wylie has been the weakest link — and against Tennessee, he’ll be facing players like Jeffery Simmons and Bud Dupree. It’s a critical time for Wylie. For the first time this season, he has real competition coming for his job. Lucas Niang has been designated for return from the Reserve/PUP list, allowing him to begin practicing with the team. He could be on track to regain his starting job over the coming weeks. Can Wylie hold him off with a stronger-than-expected performance against the Titans?
Others trending in the wrong direction: linebacker Leo Chenal, safety Justin Reid, wide receiver Justin Watson.
Value (sleeper) pick
Skyy Moore: The rookie wide receiver makes another appearance here — and it’s probably not his last. We’re all waiting for him to become a bigger part of the offense; it could happen any week now. Assuming he’s more comfortable with the playbook and is — as the expression goes — “no longer a rookie” as we head into the back half of the season, it could be Skyy Time. His ability to get in and out of routes — along with his yards-after-catch potential — should be enough to start peeling off a few plays each week. Perhaps taking punt returns off his plate could allow him to focus more on what he was brought to Kansas City to do. Watch to see if he can make Moore plays on Sunday. It could be the start of his ascension.