It has been a wild offseason for the Kansas City Chiefs. They lost Tyreek Hill, Jarran Reed, Anthony Hitchens, Darrel Williams, Charvarius Ward, Byron Pringle, Jerick McKinnon, Daniel Sorensen, Mike Hughes, Demarcus Robinson, Mike Remmers, Marcus Kemp, Ben Niemann, Dorian O’Daniel, Alex Okafor, Armani Watts, Chris Lammons, Austin Blythe, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Kyle Long. In free agency, the Chiefs were selective, adding Justin Reid, Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and a handful of other depth-type players.
Importantly, they also retained some key in-house free agents like Derrick Nnadi, Frank Clark, Orlando Brown, Jr., Blake Bell, Andrew Wylie, Michael Burton, closing up some potential needs prior to the draft.
Then, the NFL Draft brought 10 new additions plus a couple of promising undrafted free agents. Each appears to have a very specific role on this Chiefs team. Most fill specific holes in the roster, and the rest provide competition for some key spots going into 2022.
The rookies have now been through their mini-camp, and we have our first hints of who is turning heads before the veterans report for OTAs starting on May 25th. That information, along with what we observe to be the team’s priorities based on their offseason additions, gives some information about where guys are trending.
Patrick Mahomes: The Chiefs didn’t do much on offense, but what they did should make QB1 smile. By drafting Skyy Moore and signing Justyn Ross, they added a wide receiver that can do it all and another big target with huge potential. The Chiefs now have a complete stable of pass-catchers once again. Then they got another big nasty mauler that can play right tackle in fifth-rounder Darian Kinnard, potentially completing the offensive line makeover with another steal of a pick. Then they added a running back in Isiah Pacheco that is not only the fastest back in the draft but also arguably the best in pass protection. Finally, the rest of the draft was on defense, with some guys that look like they’ll make a play when the team needs it, hopefully taking some pressure off of Mahomes and the offense feeling like they have to score 40 every week.
George Karlaftis and Malik Herring: The story of rookie minicamp so far has been the early dominance shown by these two young pass rushers. Yes, contact is limited, and yes, they are facing rookie offensive linemen, many of which won’t make the team. But the more reports we get of these two beating their blockers and being disruptive, the more hope it gives that this year’s pass rush could be different— and better —than last year. Karlaftis has been talked about as a “safe” or a “high-floor” pick for the Chiefs in Round 1 this year. He’ll be expected to start early, but there’s a wide range of expectations on his actual production. He’s off to the right start, turning heads from Day 1 with his motor and variety of moves. Herring is somewhat of a forgotten man after missing last season with an injury, but he’s got a promising physical profile and skill set that make him an excellent fit for the defense. Watch both of these guys as the pads come on and the veterans show up, if they continue to produce, our worries about the pass rush might be proven as wrong as those of us who doubted Karlaftis in the draft process.
Others trending in the right direction after the draft: Taylor Stallworth, Skyy Moore, Justyn Ross, Melvin Ingram, Mike Rose
Lucas Niang: Our own Jared Sapp pointed this out after the draft, but it bears repeating. If the Chiefs were comfortable with Niang as a starter and OK with his health and durability, right tackle wouldn’t have been on the shopping list for the draft. But the Chiefs traded up to get Kinnard on Day 3. In his congratulatory phone call, general manager Brett Veach confirmed that right tackle was the last need they had on the list, and he was their guy. In rookie minicamp, the early returns from Kinnard look very positive, as he says and does all the right things. There will be some competition in training camp, but Kinnard is a real threat not only to Niang’s starting job, but maybe even his roster spot.
Deandre Baker: The Chiefs have absolutely loaded up on cornerbacks in this year’s draft class and with the trade for Lonnie Johnson after the draft. Trent McDuffie should start right away, Joshua Williams should compete for a job early, and Jaylen Watson can play as well. That’s at least four more corners with a chance to leapfrog Baker on the depth chart. With L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton likely locks for the roster, Deandre Baker may find himself squarely on the roster bubble. And, that’s before any potential James Bradberry signing.
Josh Gordon: After what looked like a failed experiment last season, the Chiefs signed Gordon to a futures deal to come back in 2022. He struggled in 2021 catching the ball and often appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, eventually leading to him being a game-day inactive. Perhaps Gordon just needed more time to get back into football shape after a long hiatus, or perhaps he needed to get another offseason of learning the playbook. But now he enters the offseason program with more competition for a roster spot. With Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Juju Smith-Schuster, Skyy Moore and Mecole Hardman atop the depth chart, there may only be two receiver jobs up for grabs. Those spots typically go to a younger player with the ability to play on special teams. Gordon will have to prove that he has more value than Daurice Fountain, Cornell Powell, Justin Watson, Corey Coleman and promising rookie Justyn Ross.
Others trending in the wrong direction after the draft: Zayne Anderson, Luq Barcoo, Rashad Fenton, Jermaine Carter
Value (Sleeper) picks
Joshua Kaindoh: George Karlaftis immediately comes in as the starter opposite of Frank Clark, pushing Mike Danna and Josh Kaindoh back down the depth chart. That’s OK for Danna, who should be a depth player, given his profile. But, Kaindoh has the physical ability to develop into a big part of this defense. It’s likely that Melvin Ingram will be back, which keeps the pressure off of Kaindoh to be an early contributor. It’s up to the kid to prove that he’s someone they want to work into the rotation in 2022.
Jody Fortson: Many thought that the Chiefs would address the tight end position in the draft, looking for the future replacement for Travis Kelce. Draft weekend and undrafted free agency came and went without another addition to the room. That leaves the door open for Fortson to prove that the glimpses we saw last season were real. He looks like a player that can be a matchup nightmare and a red-zone threat. But Fortson’s transition to tight end wouldn’t have been complete without his commitment to blocking that allowed him to earn the coaching staff’s trust. Watch to see if he can continue his ascent this preseason.