On Thursday, the Kansas City Chiefs conducted their final training camp practice of 2022. On Saturday, they host the Washington Commanders at Arrowhead Stadium in the second of three preseason games. As training camp comes to an end, let’s take another look at how Kansas City players are trending.
George Karlaftis: His preseason debut featured all of the positive things we can expect from the team’s first-round defensive end. He won reps the way he wins: with power and determination — and showed growth in his hand-fighting skills. Now we should see him get more first-team reps against a better offensive line. If his skills continue to translate, maybe we can officially ratchet up our expectations for the rookie.
Isiah Pacheco: One rookie who doesn’t need expectations to go any higher is Kansas City’s new No. 2 running back. Pacheco has clearly gained favor among both coaches and fans. How big of a role can he earn in the Chiefs’ offense? With extended action against Washington, maybe Pacheco can get in the open field and show off his speed — giving fans something over which they can really go crazy.
Justin Watson: Everyone seems to agree that Watson has earned the No. 5 spot in the wide receiver group — and that he has a chance to contribute on both special teams and offense. He’s had a tremendous offseason — and was one of the stars of the first preseason game. Now — with Juju Smith-Schuster likely out of the Washington game and Mecole Hardman ailing — there will be even more snaps available for Watson to showcase his ability.
Others trending in the right direction: wide receiver Daurice Fountain, tight ends Jody Fortson and Noah Gray, cornerbacks Jaylen Watson and Rashad Fenton, safety Justin Reid and defensive end Frank Clark.
Darian Kinnard: Perhaps the draft-day comparisons to Trey Smith were unfair. If we’re being honest, it’s quite rare for a Day 3 rookie to step in and become a starter on the offensive line before a team breaks camp. It’s even rarer for it to happen with an offensive tackle — the position where Kinnard is currently running with the third team. Geron Christian appears to be the new swing tackle, so Kinnard will likely start this season as a backup. He should get plenty of snaps against the Commanders — hopefully with a little more success than he had last week with the backup offensive line.
Joshua Kaindoh: Through much of the offseason, we’ve wondered if Kaindoh might be part of the solution at defensive end. Why else would the Chiefs be so much less aggressive than we thought they should be? Perhaps in his sophomore campaign, Kaindoh’s raw physical tools would be more refined. But unfortunately, he didn’t distinguish himself either in St. Joseph or in the first preseason game. He should still have another chance or two, but the hope for Kaindoh to be a contributor might be waning. Watch to see if he’s able to turn it around this week.
Ronald Jones: The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back was signed with high expectations. Some thought that could at least be the featured back on early downs, with a chance to be a difference-maker. Some even thought he’d be pushing Clyde Edwards-Helaire to take the starting job. But in training camp, Jones found himself on the third team behind Edwards-Helaire, Pacheco and returning veteran Jerick McKinnon. Jones is now competing with Derrick Gore for the last running back spot — and even that’s assuming the team keeps four on the final roster. Even worse for Jones, Gore has been working as an emergency long snapper, showing that special-teams value might figure into the running back roster calculation. It’s possible that there’s nothing left that Jones can do to make this roster — but this weekend, he’ll give it at least one more try.
Others trending in the wrong direction: offensive tackle Roderick Johnson, running backs Derrick Gore and Tayon Fleet-Davis, wide receivers Josh Gordon and Cornell Powell, tight end Jordan Franks and linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr.
Value (sleeper) pick: Jerrion Ealy
The team’s skill-position battles seem to be wrapping up early; both the running back and wide receiver rooms seem to be pretty full with what appear to be roster locks. But this weekend, Ealy is a player who could still make a name for himself in either group; he has a unique skillset and tremendous special-teams ability. While he wasn’t a big camp standout, finding a way to make some plays against Washington could give Ealy a chance to sneak onto the back end of the roster — or be featured on the practice squad this season.