This can be pressure to make the roster, get a starting role, be an impact player or live up to the capital (either in draft picks or money) that has been expended.
Let’s rank the Kansas City players who will have the most pressure on them in 2023.
5. EDGE George Karlaftis
Following a strong rookie campaign in which he collected six sacks, expectations for the former first-round pick are growing. The team released veteran Frank Clark and allowed Carlos Dunlap to walk to free agency, vacating more than 1,200 of last season’s snaps. While veteran free agent Charles Omenihu will cover some of those, it’s likely that a decent portion of the new player’s reps will be inside alongside Chris Jones or Derek Nnadi.
But unless Kansas City brings in another veteran pass rusher, Karlaftis will play on the outside a lot. Other than first-round rookie Felix Anudike-Uzomah (who will also grab some of the missing snaps) he’s the closest thing the Chiefs have to a pure edge rusher. Karlaftis will be especially important at setting the edge in the running game — something at which Clark excelled.
4. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney
After coming to Kansas City in a mid-season trade with the New York Giants, Toney easily exceeded our expectations last season. It can be hard for a new player to come into an NFL offense and make an instant impact — but it’s impossible when he’s not on the field. Just as he did during a season-plus in New York, Toney struggled with injuries. Just the same, with a full offseason in the Chiefs’ offense (and training program), expectations for Toney in 2023 are high. While Kansas City has invested only minimal draft capital in him, he still carries the weight of being a former top-20 draft pick.
Without Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Chiefs need to replace more than 100 catches they made last season. Toney has proven to be dynamic when he’s on the field, but what role does he fill? Will he become a true route-runner who can play as a pure receiver? Or will he be just another gadget player for whom touches are manufactured?
3. Safety Bryan Cook
After being selected in the second round of the 2022 draft, Cook began the season primarily as a special-teams player. As the season progressed, he played with the defense more often — and made some impact plays. Now that Kansas City has decided to move on from Juan Thornhill, there’s room for Cook to play a larger role — which is exactly what we should expect from a second-year, second-round pick: being a consistent starter. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo typically relies heavily on two and three-safety looks. In 2023, Cook could be a major part of the success (or failure) of the defensive unit.
There’s also pressure behind him. Veteran Mike Edwards came over from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fellow 2022 rookie Nazeeh Johnson seems to have cemented a roster spot for a special-teams role — and fourth-round rookie Chamarri Conner will also be competing for snaps.
2. Wide receiver Skyy Moore
After a very quiet rookie season, the Chiefs have shown lots of confidence in Moore by walking away from several wide receivers during this offseason; they apparently believe he can contribute this year. Kansas City traded back from 50 to take Moore at 54th overall — and after seeing the success of George Pickens (taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers at 52), comparisons have already started.
Part of the pressure on Moore is related to his offensive role. He has admitted to struggling with the playbook during his rookie season — which pretty much limited him to gadget plays. Can he play on the outside? Right now, Marquez Valdez-Scantling and rookie Rashee Rice are the only players who profile as traditional outside receivers. Toney’s health questions also play into this. If he continues to miss time with injuries, that increases the pressure on Moore to turn in a strong season.
1. Tackle Jawaan Taylor
This offseason, Kansas City’s tackle situation has been a bit perplexing. Choosing to move on from Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie seemed to be a bold statement. Then came the top-of-the-market deal for Taylor and the selection of third-rounder Wanya Morris. The plan then seemed to be for Taylor to play left tackle at a modest contract for the position — while Morris (or Lucas Niang or Prince Tega Wanogho) played right tackle. That perception, however, lasted only until the Chiefs signed veteran Donovan Smith and declared him to be the starting left tackle.
Knowing Smith’s recent struggles, Kansas City cannot afford for Taylor to be below average. If he can be solid, the strength of the interior offensive line (and an occasional chip block) can help overcome any shortcomings at left tackle. But given what he is being paid, it could get ugly very quickly if Taylor comes out playing flat.