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Instabreakdown: Underrated Chiefs players flash in preseason opener

On Sunday’s game against the Saints, most of Kansas City’s highlights came from reserve players.

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Final Score: New Orleans Saints 26, Kansas City Chiefs 24

Offense (Ron Kopp Jr. )

We didn’t see much of Kansas City’s starting offense. The first-string offense only got six plays together — all on an opening drive that ended with a failed fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak. On third down, quarterback Patrick Mahomes got impatient in a clean pocket, where he could’ve waited for tight end Travis Kelce to come open along the sideline.

The second wave of offense gave us a few more highlights. Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert zoned in on wide receiver Richie James on the fourth drive of the game, hitting him on a downfield vertical for 43 yards — and then finding him on a corner route in the end zone. Each was out in front of James, who made a good impression by bringing them in. We already know what he can do as a slot receiver, so it’s nice to see him doing things downfield, too.

Rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice may have played more than any other receiver, finding time on the opening possession and playing all the way into the third quarter. While he had one drop, he also had two strong catches, absorbing contact right after (or right as) he secured the pass. He also popped off the screen on a quick pass where he gained 13 yards after the catch.

Wide receiver Justyn Ross also had a moment that stood out: coming out of a hitch route, he stiff-armed a cornerback into the ground on the way to a 14-yard gain. Later in that quarter, he ran a post route from the slot, finding a void between defenders to nab a touchdown reception. Both before and after the catch, his size will be an asset.

Rookie wide receiver Kekoa Crawford had one drive where he stood out. After an explosive completion on a slant, he broke loose on a deep pattern where the ball was just too far away. But he finished the drive by securing a touchdown reception on a scramble drill.

The third and fourth quarterbacks both had some highlights. Shane Buechele went full gunslinger on Crawford’s touchdown catch by side-arming around an offensive lineman. Then Chris Oladokun was impressive with a few big throws down the field — and then a big scramble where he stepped through pressure.

Offensive Player of the Game: Wide receiver Nikko Remigio

As the game went on, another wide receiver began going off: the undrafted rookie Nikko Remigio. He started by finding room on a crosser for a completion. Then he displayed his catch strength by going up in traffic for another reception. A few plays later, he hung onto a throw in a tight window that had been tipped upfield.

At 5 feet 9 and 183 pounds, Remigio plays bigger than his size — can also provide some open-field ability as a returner. On Sunday, he ended up leading the team in receptions and receiving yards.

Defense (Caleb James)

The starting defense did not get off to a hot start, opening the game by allowing a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that ended with a Derek Carr touchdown pass. The next drive did not fare much better: Jameis Winston took advantage of a short field to throw a 29-yard touchdown pass to A.T. Perry.

While there were very few positives for the first team, the second team showed some spark. Standouts included Leo Chenal, Drue Tranquill, Danny Shelton, Chammari Conner, Kahlef Hailassie, Ekow Boye-Doe, Deon Bush and Mike Edwards.

Chenal split time with the first and second teams. He was able to find the ball — and was used in some blitz looks early in the game. It appears he is seeing the game unfold — and is reacting — much more quickly.

Shelton and Tranquill stood out mostly in run defense. Shelton ate blocks and Tranquill found the ball. Both players also recorded sacks .

At some point, Tranquill should end up being a starter. But seeing him handle the responsibilities of multiple linebacker spots in a game setting — even with the second team — was encouraging.

Hailassie made an athletic interception toward the end of the first half — and when paired with solid coverage from Boye-Doe, turned in a sticky showing. Showing his ability to find the football, Edwards had an impressive pass breakup in the middle of the field. The Chiefs called Conner’s number on a blitz that resulted in a sack.

Later in the game, rookie edge rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah got more playing time — and was able to create a few pressures. After an injury kept him out of the offseason program, the team has been working him in slowly — but after a decent initial showing, it is likely his snap count will increase.

Defensive Player of the Game: Danny Shelton

The Chiefs are well known for taking chances on former first-round picks. Sometimes they don’t work out — but with Shelton, it feels different.

Battling weight issues and consistency for most of his career, Shelton was in shape and ready to go when he reported to training camp. While his hustle and effort resulted in a sack on Sunday, it was his ability to stuff the run and take on double teams that stood out the most.

Even when Chris Jones finally checks in, Kansas City will still be thin along the defensive interior. Shelton will have a chance to compete for more snaps — and in the regular season, the Chiefs will need as much help as possible. It’s just the first game of the preseason, but the big man’s impact is being felt.

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