For the second year in a row, the Kansas City Chiefs’ veteran running back Jerick Mckinnon is surging at exactly the right time.
Now — to be precise — the 30-year-old’s 2021 emergence began in the playoffs, when he was the team’s healthiest and best back through their three games. In 2022, the late-season push is happening before the postseason gets underway.
McKinnon’s latest score came on a 9-yard check-down and spin move against the Seattle Seahawks.
“They kind of put themselves in a bad situation,” said McKinnon after the game. “We had a double formation over there, it was two-on-two. When I looked, I knew it was going to be man [coverage], the linebacker was tapped inside so I was like, ‘Well, I already have him out-leveraged.’ Pat [Mahomes] hit me on the quick flat for an easy touchdown.”
McKinnon may be describing the scoring play as “easy” — but in the eyes of the quarterback, it was something else entirely.
“The one this last week where I throw the ball in the flat... we have that touchdown check-down mentality, but we throw it to a guy like that who can battle his way and get in the end zone, that special ability,” said Mahomes. “And so, for him, he’s playing good football at the right time of the year.”
That’s quite the understatement. In four December games, McKinnon has averaged 88.5 yards from scrimmage per game and has six total touchdowns. He should be in the mix for AFC offensive player of the month — a wild thought, considering he is a rotational player.
“[It’s] opportunity meeting preparation,” said McKinnon. “The opportunities the last couple of weeks have ramped up from the beginning of the season, and I prepared myself for this: running with the opportunities I do get and making the most out of them. Just continuing to build more and more confidence — and the confidence that the coaching staff has in me with the play-calling. Trying to keep it going.”
Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy noted the comfort McKinnon’s presence provides to Mahomes on got-to-have-it downs, especially when the opposing coverage blankets his would-be targets.
“Jerick has been very valuable,” said Bieniemy. “It’s always good, especially for Pat, when he’s looking downfield to make that big play — and then if nothing is there, he has an opportunity to dump it off to Jerick. Jerick’s doing a great job — not only as a receiver — he’s doing a great job in pass protection, picking up the necessary blitz when they’re coming.”
It is fair to consider McKinnon among the team’s most talented pass protectors.
“He’s just super smart; I think that’s the biggest thing,” said Mahomes of McKinnon. “Even the unscouted look, he’s great at picking up that guy or passing off the guy to the right lineman and doing all that different type of stuff that just takes years of experience. And so, having a guy like that can step in, [we] know he’s seen so much, so he knows every single rule of the protection and can go in there and make the block when it counts. It’s a big-time thing to have on the team.”
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, head coach Andy Reid reminded reporters that this type of play should have been expected from the nine-year veteran.
“He kind of did this same thing last year,” said Reid. “He’s a seasoned veteran. He knows — and he’s had good people that could get in and play and spot him and so on — but I would tell you this from a professional standpoint: he’s phenomenal. His study habits — and then for your question, taking care of his body. He is meticulous about how he goes about that, and it’s a great example to these young guys.”
The mentorship McKinnon has provided to young backs such as Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ronald Jones and rookie starter Isiah Pacheco has gone far from unnoticed throughout the building.
“He’s willing to share,” began Reid. “He’s not threatened by the other guys. He’s going to do what he does. But he’s willing to share those things, and they see him in the meetings, if he needs to use the foam roller you know he’s going to get down in (running backs coach) Greg [Lewis’] office and work whatever he needs, his hamstring or whatever. His eating habits, they see that, and he’s willing to talk about it. He likes to talk.”
The media members in the room listening to Reid laughed, but there has to be hidden value in the comfort McKinnon provides the young backs in his amiable demeanor. Football is a business — but it can be fun, too.
“He provides outstanding leadership in that room to those guys,” added Bieniemy, “and he’s just like having a coach — an additional coach — on the field.”
Together with Pacheco, the Chiefs seemed to have finally found the one-two punch they had been seeking for a long time.
“I think they got a good rhythm going with those two guys right now,” added Lewis. “And when everybody else is available, and we get opportunities to get other guys in there, I think it will be a seamless transition with guys as we go.”
McKinnon is currently signed to the Chiefs on a one-year deal, though the team has to be entertaining a future for him in 2023 and beyond. Considering he called signing with the Chiefs an “easy choice” back in training camp, there should be mutual interest.
Still, how much it possibly costs Kansas City remains to be seen. Even though he is 30, a productive postseason following this final regular-season surge could make him expensive.
But that’s a conversation for the offseason. For now, he’s simply a key piece as the Chiefs try to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in four seasons.