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Revisiting 5 of this season’s 10 biggest Chiefs questions

Taking another look at the biggest questions that were facing Kansas City before the season began.

Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

In a series of articles published over the summer, I covered the 10 biggest questions facing the Kansas City Chiefs in 2023. During the bye week — which happens to be just past the season’s halfway point — let’s revisit five of them. Next week, we’ll readdress my other five preseason questions.

What is the Chiefs’ contingency plan at offensive tackle?

On June 26, Kansas City’s plans weren’t entirely clear.

Do the Chiefs have Wanya Morris fully train at left tackle this offseason, preparing him for the scenario where he needs to play there this year or next year? Morris did play left tackle at Tennessee — albeit not at a high level. Do the Chiefs want him to be a long-term left tackle, or will they potentially slide Jawaan Taylor over in 2024?

While I think it’s fair to say the Chiefs improved at tackle this offseason, there’s also more uncertainty at offensive tackle in the short and long term. The Chiefs will have plenty of contingency plans built in at tackle if needed, but I’m fascinated to see how it plays out going into training camp and over the course of the season.

The season began with Donovan Smith on the left and Taylor on the right. Early on, Taylor was repeatedly penalized — so much so that the Chiefs took him off the field on several occasions. At that time, reserve tackle Prince Tega Wanogho stepped in for him — but since then, he’s been put on injured reserve with a torn quadriceps. Both Taylor and Smith have been healthy all year — but when Smith had to briefly exit the Week 8 Denver Broncos game, Morris stepped in.

Will Deneric Prince or Clyde Edwards-Helaire crack the running back rotation?

In early July, an undrafted free-agent running back looked like the man for the job.

If they’re looking for more juice at the running back position, Prince feels like a great option. Special teams coach Dave Toub compared Prince to former Chiefs running back Knile Davis, which was an excellent comparison. Davis was also a bigger running back with dynamic open-field speed, and Prince has both of those traits. Prince also has a significantly larger frame than Edwards-Helaire, which would help spell the need for McKinnon in pass protection.

I was excited for Prince — but after the preseason, I understood why Kansas City didn’t keep him on the active roster. Edwards-Helaire has taken the mantle as the third running back — albeit not very successfully. He currently has a rushing success rate of just 36.4%. Among 68 NFL running backs with at least 25 carries, that ranks 63rd. (In comparison, Isiah Pacheco’s success rate of 58.3 % ranks 20th). While Edwards-Helaire did end up winning the job, it’d make sense for the Chiefs to add running back depth before the playoffs.

How far along are George Karlaftis and Felix Anudike-Uzomah as pass rushers?

In July, I was concerned about Karlaftis’ ceiling.

I was extremely high on Karlaftis coming into [the 2022] draft, but even I’d admit I wonder what heights he can reach as a player. I do believe there’s plenty of growth in his game. As he learns to blend inside counters and pull moves into his game, the already strong foundation of his burst and power will pop more.

Still, can Karlaftis blend enough speed and flexibility in his game to round out his profile as a pass rusher? Or, will he be stuck as a quality defensive end, but one who can’t succeed against any matchup he faces?

Karlaftis has exceeded every one of my expectations. What he’s doing right now is insane. He has 44 pressures, which is tied for fifth among all edge rushers. Among players with a minimum of 50 pass-rushing snaps, Pro Football Focus ranks Karalaftis 12th in its pass-rushing productivity metric — and he ranks third among edge rushers in batted passes. Karlaftis has proven to be an excellent complement to defensive tackle Chris Jones. In his second season, I’m now wondering if he could become an All-Pro player.

During the summer, Anudike-Uzomah was more of a question mark.

There’s a fair amount of pressure on him to produce quickly. The Chiefs decided to let [Frank] Clark — their best speed rusher — walk to open up that role for Anudike-Uzomah. I was incredibly high on him coming out due to his balance, flexibility and potential to add weight to his frame — but the Chiefs are going to need his speed and burst to show right away.

I thought Anudike-Uzomah started his season impressively, but the speed and strength of the game are currently overwhelming him. His snaps have been declining steadily — and in the last four games, he’s had fewer than 20% of the defensive snaps.

So while it’s been a tough ride for 2023’s first-round pick, I’m not worried. The 21-year-old rookie needs time to develop muscle mass and gain experience. Luckily, Jones, Karlaftis, Mike Danna and Charles Omenihu have all been fantastic, so it hasn’t been an issue that Anudike-Uzomah isn’t yet ready. With another full offseason to develop, I’m still feeling good about his selection.

Do the Chiefs need to add another defensive tackle?

In July, It was clear to me the team needed another interior defensive lineman.

I’m mostly worried about depth — especially if Jones goes down. To this point, he’s been remarkably healthy for his position, missing just eight games over seven seasons. And he was an Iron Man last season, playing a whopping 80% of available snaps. Before 2022, he had averaged 65%.

But Jones has just turned 29, which could lead to a greater chance of injury. If he misses time, the Chiefs might bring Danny Shelton up from the practice squad. Tershawn Wharton, Keondre Coburn, Derrick Nnadi and Shelton would arguably form the league’s worst group of defensive tackles. Without Jones, it would be almost impossible for Kansas City to stop the run or get pressure on passing plays. The team can’t afford for him to miss time.

The Chiefs traded for defensive tackle Neil Farrell just before the season. But Farrell has hardly been on the field, playing only 28 snaps in the two games he’s been active. Kansas City has also moved on from both Coburn and Shelton, making a thin position group even thinner. The Chiefs are currently 31st in expected points added and 26th in success rate against the run. They could use reinforcements in the middle of their defense. In 2022, the team signed defensive tackle Brandon Williams as insurance for the postseason — and another move like that would make sense.

Can Joshua Williams or Jaylen Watson expand their roles?

In the dog days of summer, the team’s choice for its third cornerback seemed to be less about their individual skill than it was about the team’s needs.

If the Chiefs want their defense to continue to be based on zone coverages, giving Watson more work will still make sense. But if Kansas City decides to depend more on man coverages, Williams should get more snaps.

This means that just like last season, much of this will be matchup-dependent; the Chiefs will tend to use the best player to defend against a particular offense. I’ll be curious to see how Williams and Watson’s snaps shake out.

Over the season, Williams and Watson have respectively played 31% and 36% of the defensive snaps.

But a game-by-game comparison of their snaps tells a different story: except for missing Week 4 with an injury, Watson’s use has remained pretty steady since early in the season — but Williams’ use has steadily declined.

Against a specific opponent, the team could always decide to go with Williams — but right now, it looks like Watson is Kansas City’s first choice as its third cornerback.

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