The regular season (finally) kicks off this weekend, with the Kansas City Chiefs on the road against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon.
By all indications, this team is coming in as healthy (and as deep) as any squad in recent memory. General manager Brett Veach and head coach Andy Reid have assembled a 69-player roster (53 on the active roster plus 16 on the practice squad) that gives them options upon options.
On Sunday, we’ll finally see the plans of an entire offseason start to unfold. We’ll learn more about how they intend to change up the offense without wide receiver Tyreek Hill — and how they can redesign the defense around three rookie starters.
We’ll also learn more about some of the players we believe are heading in the right direction — or in some cases, the wrong direction. Here are a few of the Chiefs we think could be trending this week.
Skyy Moore: The Chiefs only kept only five receivers, including this year’s second-round pick. Expectations have been pretty low for Moore, who is likely in line for targets behind tight end Travis Kelce and fellow wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling — and maybe even Mecole Hardman. But the fact that the team felt comfortable with five receivers on the active roster speaks to the confidence they have in Moore. In limited preseason action, we saw Kansas City trying to get the ball to him in a number of ways — including end-arounds, toe-tapping catches on the sideline and deep targets. On Sunday, watch for Moore to ratchet up expectations with a handful of plays.
George Karlaftis: I’m still going to argue that we need to manage our expectations for the first-round rookie defensive tackle. But I’m also willing to admit that those expectations (like Moore’s) might have gone up a bit during the preseason. Furious George may never bend the edge or get double-digit sacks, but it does appear that his best traits translate to the NFL — and he appears to be learning quickly. Just from effort and power alone, it now looks like there is a path for him to have eight or nine sacks in 2022. That’s good — because more than any other Chiefs rookie, the team will be leaning on him to produce. Frank Clark is ill again, Carlos Dunlap has been fighting a nagging injury and the bottom-of-the-roster guys haven’t shown much so far. As a rookie, Karlaftis could lead defensive ends in both snaps and sacks.
Jody Fortson: It feels like the last two years have all led up to this moment. He’s been injured and recovered more than once. He’s earned a practice-squad job and was then called up. In 2022, he’s comfortably made Kansas City’s initial 53-man roster. When he was on the field in preseason games, the results were often spectacular — especially in the red zone. It appears that it might finally be time for Fortson to have a shot at significant snaps — and maybe even double-digit touchdowns.
Others trending in the right direction: wide receivers Justin Watson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, running backs Ronald Jones and Isiah Pacheco, cornerback Jaylen Watson, linebacker Leo Chenal and fullback Michael Burton.
Andrew Wylie: It’s clear that the weakest link on this Chiefs offensive line is at right tackle. Going into the offseason, we thought there would be a lot of competition at the position — but Wylie has appeared to have the job in hand since Day 1. Here’s the question: did he have the job by default? With Lucas Niang on the PUP (physically-unable-to-perform) list and fifth-round rookie Darian Kinnard failing to impress in camp, was anyone really pushing for Wylie’s starting job? With the AFC West’s improved pass rushing, both tackles will be tested in pass protection on a weekly basis — and in Week 1, J.J. Watt and Markus Golden will be trying to expose Wylie. We’ll see how he responds.
Joshua Williams: This isn’t a long-term indictment of Williams. In fact, he should be a factor in this secondary for years to come. But in the short term, he’s shown that he needs some development. During the preseason, he was in position to make a lot of big plays — but when the ball was in the air, he often came up short. Williams appears to have been passed up by fellow rookie Jaylen Watson, who has been a pleasant surprise so far. Starting this weekend, it’s possible that Williams will be a game-day inactive while he continues to grow for the future.
Others trending in the wrong direction: tackle Darian Kinnard and defensive ends Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap
Value (sleeper) pick: Bryan Cook
We’ve seen glimpses of what made the Chiefs so excited about their rookie safety; his size/speed combination (and hitting ability) were evident from the time the pads came on. But it was the interception against the Green Bay Packers that showed what he might be capable of doing. In defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system, Cook’s ability to close on the football (and make a play in coverage) could make him an exciting third safety. All Cook really needs to do is be a competent player — that is, one that opposing quarterbacks won’t target in defensive sub-packages. But it’s possible that he can be more than that: a dynamic, versatile playmaker who can rotate in to keep Kansas City’s defense unpredictable. Watch for all the ways that the Chiefs use Cook on Sunday. In coverage, run support and on blitzes, he might just be an impact player — one that few have yet noticed.