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5 things to watch in Chiefs’ preseason finale against the Browns

One last exhibition game before the real deal.

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NFL: Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs will unveil their championship banner in less than two weeks, before the NFL’s season-opening game against the Detroit Lions. That leaves us with only one more dress rehearsal to go. On Saturday, the Chiefs will welcome the Cleveland Browns to Arrowhead Stadium for a Noon kickoff.

Head coach Andy Reid hinted that the starters may play some, but he wasn’t clear on which starters he was referring to. Last year, the starting offensive line and select players did get some run in the preseason finale — but quarterback Patrick Mahomes did not. However, Mahomes did lead two touchdown drives in the third exhibition game of 2021.

Either way, this game isn’t about the starters. This is one more shot for all the reserve players to show what they can do before the 90-man roster is cut down to 53 on Tuesday, August 29th.

Here are five things to watch on Saturday:

1. Battle at backup quarterback

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There is a legitimate battle for the right to immediately back up Patrick Mahomes at the quarterback position. Reid confirmed that with us this week.

It’s not just because Buechele is on fire this preseason; the third-year quarterback has completed 21 of 28 passes with 260 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 112.2. It’s because veteran Blaine Gabbert has shown off his first-round talent too. He is 11 of 16 passing, with 179 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating over the two games is 145.6.

As I mentioned in the open, Mahomes may not even take a snap — and the team may do that for more than just his rest: the team may want to see both Buechele and Gabbert get snaps with the surrounding starters. If something happens to the superstar, this team needs to know who to turn to next.

2. One last push on the defensive line

Seattle Seahawks v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Heading into his ninth season, defensive tackle Danny Shelton made it very clear this week that he was not settling for a spot on the practice squad this season.

This is the kind of game where players can leave the team with no other choice. Last year, it was running back Ronald Jones who ran hard enough to earn a 53-man roster spot in the preseason finale. Shelton has been flashing that way this whole preseason, but it could be bumped into an extra gear on Saturday.

I believe Shelton has done enough to make an NFL roster this year. If he forces Kansas City’s hand on Sunday, it may be at the sacrifice of another defensive lineman.

Rookie B.J. Thompson is a fifth-round pick who should have a low enough profile to make it back to the Chiefs’ practice squad — but he will also have an opportunity to flash and avoid being cut on Saturday.

3. Can the fourth running back cement himself?

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Behind the primary trio of running backs, it has progressively gotten less clear whether rookie Deneric Prince or fourth-year back La’Mical Perine will be the fourth in line — or whether that fourth back will even be on the active roster.

Over 11 carries this preseason, Perine has averaged 5.8 yards per carry. On 10 carries, Prince has averaged 3.4. The difference in comfort with the ball in their hands has been evident, with Perine looking much more efficient in his movements. He has also looked cleaner in pass protection in a very small sample size.

Has Perine’s performance been enough to make the team, though? Prince brings the ability to return kicks that the team may still value having around, even though he seemingly lost that starting duty to wide receiver Richie James last week. He also is a rookie, who just may need a little more time before he can best harness his talents in a live game.

4. Bottom of the cornerback depth chart

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

With cornerback Nic Jones dealing with fractured fingers, the cornerback room immediately following Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson has a huge opportunity Saturday.

When you factor in the top of the room dealing with the lingering injury of L’Jarius Sneed, the team will really be focused on retaining the cornerbacks they feel the best about if they’re called up from the practice squad early in the season.

In my opinion, undrafted rookie Kahlef Hailassie has looked the most ready to play right away, but Ekow Boye-Doe has seemingly been more talked up by the coaching staff. The problem is his weight: 177 pounds at his Pro Day, something the coaching staff has commented on.

The sleepers to watch are the ones who aren’t rookies: Lamar Jackson looks the part of an outside cornerback in the Chiefs’ system, but second-year cornerback Duron Lowe also has a good balance of physicality and athleticism. He was just signed last week and could make a late push on Saturday.

5. A last look at offensive tackle depth

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

With rookie offensive tackle Wanya Morris looking further away from earning playing time than some believed, retaining more experienced players like Lucas Niang or Prince Tega Wanogho may become even more important.

Yet, there are only so many spots on this roster, and other positions on offense are filled to the brim. With the versatility of a player like Joe Thuney, who can slide out to tackle in a pinch, there’s a chance the team chooses between one of Niang or Wanogho.

Wanogho may be able to slide through waivers untouched, but he was an intriguing draft prospect out of Auburn by some outlets, even if he was selected in the sixth round. The Chiefs’ development of him at left tackle may be noticed.

Niang was once a starter on this team and could still be valuable in the team’s eye. If he shows that and more Saturday, it could also give the Chiefs an avenue to trade him to a tackle-needy team.

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