It was a warm one at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday as the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-string offense and defense once again looked dominant in a 24-14 victory over the Washington Commanders. But unlike the team’s 19-14 loss to the Chicago Bears a week ago, the team’s reserve players also made enough plays to secure a preseason victory — for whatever that’s worth.
There were plenty of standouts on both sides of the ball. While some players were fighting for roster spots, others were showing that they are not only locks to make the squad, but could also could be difference-makers in the regular season.
Here are a few that caught our eye on Saturday.
Note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.
Jody Fortson: Who else would you expect to lead this list? #FortsonSZN is in full effect, as he scored both of the first-team touchdowns. In recent years, his back-shoulder-throw and contested-catch abilities are something that have been sorely missing from this Chiefs’ offense. To the extent that he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a huge difference-maker.
George Karlaftis: Two professional games — and two sacks for the promising rookie pass rusher. Is there anyone who still has concerns about whether Karlaftis’ skill set will translate to the NFL? He still doesn’t have the dominant one-one-one speed-rushing ability that teams traditionally value. But he’s doing what he does best — and it’s working. If he’s able to keep fighting and work his way to a sack in every game in the regular season, he’ll be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Oh... and he improved his sack celebration, too.
Khalen Saunders: Locked in a battle for his job, Saunders is responding with a strong preseason. On Saturday, had a sack and another quarterback hit to go along with an impressive tackle for loss a week ago. For guys who are on the roster bubble, making splash plays each week is a pretty good way to get noticed.
Jaylen Watson: Watson might the one player who benefited the most from the team’s youth movement — and might be the biggest reason that the Chiefs felt comfortable about moving on from Lonnie Johnson. He continued proving himself with another strong overall performance. Sticky in coverage and physical as a tackler, Watson was a standout in extended action. His pass breakup in the end zone — and a tackle after disengaging from a blocker — were two of Saturday’s better defensive plays.
Justin Watson: The other Watson also continued to stand out. He once again led the team in receiving yards. His 39-yard gain on a third-and-10 (as a free blitzer closed in on Patrick Mahomes) made it clear that he’s not only locked up a roster spot, but also built a rapport with his quarterback.
Chris Lammons: Many 53-man roster predictions have featured Lammons as a special teams standout — but until Saturday, he hadn’t really stood out on defense. His second-half pass breakup prevented a huge play and forced a punt — and then he collected the team’s first interception of the preseason. Expect to hear fans and media members say his name more often.
Patrick Mahomes: In two preseason games, the superstar quarterback has been nearly flawless. The newly-inducted member of the Texas Tech Ring of Honor has been spreading the ball around (eight receivers on Saturday, six a week ago) and scoring touchdowns on each drive. With Mahomes playing like the MVP version of himself, the new-look offense is humming. It’s going to be a good season.
Dicaprio Bootle: The second-year defensive back was trailing Cam Sims in coverage, leading to an easy touchdown. We can’t judge him based on just one play — but through two weeks of preseason play, it does seem like he’s been less than impressive.
Geron Christian: Through two weeks, most of the offensive line’s backups have struggled, so it may be unfair to single Christian out. But when he was beaten handily on a speed rush against the Commanders, the play stood out. He’s likely remains the leader in the team’s search for a swing offensive tackle — but it might be that as roster cuts continue across the league, that search will continue.
Zayne Anderson: It’s been a quiet offseason process for 2021’s UDFA safety, who probably expected to have a more defined role this season. Anderson had to watch as the Chiefs invested heavily in the secondary — and so far, he doesn’t seem to have been able to rise above the competition. Against Washington, I noticed Anderson miss an open-field tackle that led to a big play. He might once again be hoping for a practice-squad job.
The running game: The Chiefs’ ground attack hasn’t gotten off to a strong start. Against Washington, it averaged less than two yards per carry — and the longest non-quarterback run was just six yards. Over the last couple of seasons, teams have been daring the Chiefs to run. We’re all hopeful that this season, the team will be able to capitalize on those opportunities. But for all of the excitement about what Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon and Isiah Pacheco could do, the results just haven’t been there.