1. Justin Watson could be an actual contributor
Whether the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout makes the Chiefs' initial 53-man roster is no longer in doubt. You can carve his name in stone; he will be on the team when Kansas City plays the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1. Here’s the question: how large of a role will he play?
If I were Mecole Hardman, I would be starting to look over my shoulder. Hardman’s greatest asset is his speed. While Watson (4.42 seconds) is a tenth of a second slower than Hardman (4.33 seconds) in the 40-yard dash, at 6 feet 3 and 215 pounds, he is also four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.
In this offseason, Watson has proven to have an edge over Hardman in his ability to make tough catches in traffic — and in running crisp and precise routes. By the end of the season, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Watson has leapfrogged Hardman to become Kansas City’s No. 4 wide receiver.
When the Chiefs faced third-and-6 or greater on back-to-back drives against the Commanders, quarterback Patrick Mahomes targeted Watson. Both times, the fourth-year receiver rose to the occasion and made the completion.
So far this preseason, Watson has caught seven out of nine targets for 98 yards and a touchdown. He is making the most out of every opportunity he gets — and most importantly, No. 15 trusts him.
2. Jody Fortson could be the final piece in the offense
The Kansas City tight end really likes playing against the Commanders. In two career games against Washington (one preseason, one regular season), Fortson has five receptions for 46 yards and three touchdowns.
Fortson’s story has been that of an underdog who has had to claw and fight for every scrap of NFL success he has achieved. Prior to tearing his Achilles in 2021’s Week 6 game (against Washington), Fortson was showing glimpses of a guy who could be a legitimate offensive weapon.
But whenever someone is returning from an injury like Fortson’s, you always wonder if they will come back as the same player. This worry has been compounded by the nagging quad injury that he has been dealing with throughout training camp. On Saturday, however, those fears were put to rest when Fortson burst onto the preseason scene with a pair of touchdown receptions.
At 6 feet 6 and 230 pounds, Fortson is a mismatch for almost any defender on the field. For quite a while, the Chiefs have been looking for a legitimate No. 2 tight end. In Fortson, it looks like they have found him.
Fortson could have 8-10 touchdown receptions this season. If you were to tell me that the over/under on Fortson’s touchdown catches was seven, I’d hammer the over all day long.
3. The Chiefs can throw to a lot of big targets in the red zone
Kansas City suddenly has a lot of size at the top of its roster.
With the addition of Watson and Fortson (along with 6-foot-4 Marquez Valdes-Scantling) to a roster than already included 6-foot-5 All-World tight end Travis Kelce, the Chiefs now have some big-bodied players who are capable of catching 50/50 balls in tight spaces. This doesn’t even include new wideout Juju Smith-Schuster, who isn’t abnormally tall (6 feet 1), but is a strong player who performs exceedingly well at the catch point.
In the red zone, there just isn’t a lot of space with which to work; receivers must either make a play on the boundary or go up between defenders and come down with the ball. It now feels like Kansas City’s pass-catchers have a bit of junkyard dog in them — that after a period of extreme success, they are (at last) hungry again.
And when you mix hungry with size, you get a bunch of bullies who are coming for your lunch money.
4. Nick Bolton looks better than ever
With 112 tackles last season, Bolton led the Chiefs. So far this preseason, he looks even better. It appears that being promoted to starting MIKE linebacker has caused his confidence to grow.
Entering his sophomore season, it’s apparent that he has spent a lot of time in the film room. On Saturday, his split-second reaction time was likely as good as we’ve seen from a Kansas City linebacker since Derrick Johnson was in his prime; before the ball was snapped, Bolton seemed to know exactly what the Commanders’ offense was going to do.
Bolton has always excelled in run defense — but coming into the league, there were serious questions about whether he could hang with NFL receivers out of the team’s base 4-3 look. This season, Bolton has buried those concerns in a grave.
If Bolton continues to improve, the middle of the Chiefs' defense might be as stout as any in the league.
5. George Karlaftis is the real deal
I don’t care that his first preseason sack came against the Chicago Bears‘ second-team offense. And I really don’t care that his second sack came against quarterback Carson Wentz — who is notorious for holding onto the ball for too long.
It’s just hard to get an NFL sack. When your rookie defensive end gets them, you don’t split hairs
Karlaftis can only beat the man who is put in front of him. He has no control over if they are good at their job or not. His job is to make them look silly — and through two preseason games, he is doing just that.
On Saturday, Karlaftis fought through a double team (and a hold) — utilizing a nice spin move that he may have learned from veteran teammate Frank Clark — to sack Wentz.
Here is the thing: Karlaftis is neither the most explosive or quickest athlete on the team. But he is open to learning, has heavy hands — and a motor that will not quit. When we think of those three things, there is one former Chiefs player who comes to mind: Tamba Hali.
Like Hali, Karlaftis is going to get a lot of sacks by relentlessly outworking the competition. While he has a long way to go to prove that he is the next Hali, Karlaftis is off to a great start.
If he can continue on this trajectory, we may be looking at a possible Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Right now, Vegas has Karlaftis’ odds to win the award at +2000. Based on what we’ve seen so far, that may not be a bad bet.