2. Aaron Donald
Position: DT | Team: Rams | Age: 32
A future Hall of Fame lock thanks to his ridiculous production, averaging 11+ sacks and 25+ QB hits per year over nine seasons, Donald was a bit quieter in an injury-shortened 2022, but there’s no teaching his imposing interior force.
1. Travis Kelce
Position: TE | Team: Chiefs | Age: 33
Ageless and uncoverable, his annual reliability as Patrick Mahomes’ No. 1 target is probably taken for granted. Looking for an eighth straight 1,100-yard receiving season, he’s been MVP-caliber for the NFL’s best offense.
Good to Great
2022 stats: 17 games | 170 att | 830 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 13 rec | 130 rec yds | 0 rec TDs | 2 fumbles lost
Last year’s training camp darling took time to find his footing. But when he did, Pacheco blasted off. In the final 12 games, including three in the postseason, he rushed for 830 yards and five TDs on 163 attempts. The bruising runner became what Andy Reid termed the club’s “Energizer Bunny.” Expect him to get more run in Year 2. Yes, Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are back, and rookie Deneric Prince has received some camp pop, but Pacheco should get most of the early-down and red-zone duties. If he improves in pass protection in Year 2, he should also siphon off some of McKinnon’s reps.
Pacheco brings a bully element to the Chiefs’ finesse offense. While K.C. will always be a pass-first club with Patrick Mahomes under center, Pacheco can provide a changeup and take advantage of light boxes.
Kansas City Chiefs: Not adding a proven wide receiver
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s production was key to the Chiefs 2022 Super Bowl season, and the lack of a veteran replacement has made some fans nervous. The team is counting on the oft-injured Kadarius Toney, second-year Skyy Moore, and rookie Rashee Rice to fill the void, though Patrick Mahomes certainly makes his receivers better.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Why they’re No. 1: They’re the Chiefs.
If any team is as close to a lock to make the postseason as possible on an annual basis in the modern NFL, it’s the Chiefs. Andy Reid’s team has won the AFC West seven consecutive times, including victories in each of Patrick Mahomes’ five seasons as the starting quarterback. Mahomes hasn’t played a single playoff game on the road, as the Chiefs have played 10 games at Arrowhead and three neutral-site Super Bowls.
It’s plausible to imagine Kansas City having serious competition for the top seed this season. The Bengals were on track to be the 1-seed before the Damar Hamlin game was abandoned and canceled in early January. The Bills would have finished as the 1-seed if they had topped the Bengals that week, given that they held the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chiefs. Expecting a team to be the No. 1 seed, year after year, is an impossibly high bar.
It’s even reasonable to consider a scenario in which the Chiefs would have serious competition for the AFC West. The Chargers will get back stars Joey Bosa, Rashawn Slater and J.C. Jackson and added top-tier offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. The Broncos had a great defense before they gassed out late last season, and if Sean Payton is to be believed, they were dealing with dismal coaching. Kansas City wasn’t even the favorite to win the AFC West for stretches last season before it eventually took home yet another division title.
An in-season trade acquisition during the Chiefs’ latest Super Bowl run, Toney appeared in just 12 games during his one-and-a-half seasons with the Giants to open his career, missing extended time with leg injuries. He suffered a torn meniscus early in Chiefs camp and has since undergone surgery. Coach Andy Reid said “there’s a chance” the speedster will be available for Week 1 against the Lions. Young reserves Rashee Rice and Skyy Moore could hold prominent fill-in roles in the meantime.
Around the NFL
In July, Mixon and the Bengals agreed to restructure the four-year contract extension he signed in 2020. According to Roster Management System, his new cash value of $5.8 million is nearly a $3 million decrease from his cash value in 2022.
Mixon, in his first comments of training camp, said “the bigger picture” led to him agreeing to the reworked deal.
“I see the task at hand and what we’re trying to build and in order to keep other players here and pieces here, sometimes you have to sacrifice,” Mixon told the team’s website in an article published Wednesday. “I felt like this year was the year to sacrifice on the Super Bowl team we can potentially be.”
7. Eric Bieniemy, OC, Washington Commanders
There is no shortage of people who believe that given the success Eric Bieniemy enjoyed over the past five seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs that he would be a head coach by now.
But for whatever reason, that opportunity didn’t come. So perhaps in an effort to show that he could succeed without the assistance of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, Bieniemy made a lateral move in the offseason, agreeing to take the same job with the Commanders he had with the Chiefs.
Per ESPN’s John Keim, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera said that Bieniemy’s no-nonsense approach has already had a positive impact on the team.
“They understand that he’s not just yelling at me to yell at me and try and make an example of me or show everybody he’s stronger than me or smarter than me,” Rivera said. “It’s because that’s how he emphasizes things. That’s his way of making a point of something, saying this is very important. We need to pay attention to this. We need to understand that this is how we need to do these things.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
WR Justyn Ross got popped by S Justin Reid after a catch from Mahomes during 7s. Looked a little shaken up, definitely a welcome-back-to-contact moment. 2021 was a while ago.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) July 28, 2023
“Beautiful,” said Ross. “I couldn’t wait.”
A couple of weeks into camp, Ross stated he feels good after a year of watching the Chiefs from the sideline and in meeting rooms. Corrective foot surgery cost him all of last year’s training camp, preseason and regular season — but he learned the offense from head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes while taking mental reps.
Those mental reps in 2022 are paying early dividends in 2023’s actual reps.
“He’s doing good — it was a redshirt year that he probably didn’t want to have, right?” said Reid. “He’s done a nice job. He had a good offseason — and then he’s worked his tail off here. He just needs to keep doing that. It’s how you answer the bell every day and push through it. He’s got the right mindset to do that.”
“I love football,” he told reporters after Monday’s training camp practice, “and [you] can’t play football without pads. So it’s just another part of the game.”
Rice said it was “pretty cool” to see Chiefs fans lining up for hours to get the best views of the team’s practices at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph. Rice said that Chiefs Kingdom’s reputation is well known.
“I know Arrowhead, they have a huge fan base,” he acknowledged. “So just to get a little glimpse of it right now kind of gives me a little head start to prepare for the games.”
But training camp has also given Rice the confidence to answer when quarterback Patrick Mahomes calls his number.
“When I caught my first touchdown from Pat,” he recalled, “I was kind of like, ‘Yeah I can do this.’”
The second-round draft pick also considers his quarterback to be a “great coach” and “great brother off the field.”
A tweet to make you think
Justyn Ross’ ascension to the #Chiefs’ top rotation of WRs is awesome. I was skeptical it could happen— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 2, 2023
But this team tried to force a very-washed Josh Gordon into the offense to get a big-bodied playmaker on the outside
They’ve wanted someone like Ross in the offense since 2021