I love the Chiefs. I’m so happy to watch them go up against the Lions this Thursday. But I’m even more pumped to see how this season progresses. As an eternal optimist, here’s the 10 players I’m most pumped to see how they’ve grown since last season and how they’ll grow throughout this year:
10. LB Leo Chenal was put on this earth to bring the hurt. I know he’s buried on the depth chart. It’s one reason I expect to see all 4 LBs on the field together this year. Call it 3-4. Call it a 5-2. Call it a 5-man front. Call it desperation if there’s no CJ. If the Chiefs need some juice in the pass-rush, how about putting PFF’s top-graded pass-rushing LB from the 2022 draft class out there on the edge?
9. Trey Smith is not just a G; he’s an OG. He loves hitting people. He’s loves putting guys in the dirt. I love breakfast for every meal of the day, and I want Trey Smith serving me pancakes all year starting Thursday night.
8. WR Rashee Rice is built like a tank… but he moves like a gazelle. I don’t expect to see him out there a lot, but I do expect him to go in for some "packages" (Brett Veach’s term at his last press conference) whether as the primary target or as a decoy. And who knows what he might be doing by the end of the season? The playoffs? The Super Bowl? This will be fun.
7. LB Drue Tranquill was a steal in free agency. Last season those who played IDP in fantasy know that Drue was top-5 in various scoring formats. How is it possible nobody wants him? RBs have been complaining about their pay this year, but the league’s lack of interest in Tranquill this offseason shows how little value is placed on off-ball LBs. What they’re forgetting is that in a pass-happy league, Tranquill can play a joker-type role: pass-rusher? run-stuffer? coverage? If Willie Gay can’t do it, Tranquill might be the secret weapon called on to neutralize TEs and pass-catching RBs. He can do it all AND he can wear the green dot if anything happens to…
6. Hit Stick Nick Bolton. In his 2nd year, he was 2nd in the NFL with 180 total tackles, yet the Hit Stick was denied a Pro Bowl berth. Doesn’t matter. He’s just gonna make more plays until he’s so good you can’t ignore him. To all you media Pro Bowl voters on the coasts: This is not flyover country; this is Hit Stick country.
5. RB Isiah Pacheco played in the Super Bowl with a broken hand and a partially torn labrum... and crushed it. The 7th-round pick out of Rutgers rushed for over 1,000 yards last season including the playoffs, even though he was the starting running back for only 11 games. Extrapolate those numbers over 17 games and we’re looking at somewhere around 1,500 yards rushing over the course of the regular season if he can be/stay healthy. But it’s not just the numbers, it’s the energy, the violence, the angry running. Now, if he’s also learned how to run "smart," to run off his blockers instead of into their backs, then he could blow up for even more than 1,500 yards and lead the NFL in rushing this season.
4. DE/DT Charles "Bad Omen" Omenihu had an outstanding Pass-Rush Win Rate last year as a rotational piece for the vaunted 49ers D. The Chiefs were able to get him at a discount because of the impending 6-game domestic violence suspension the league has since hit him with. (I’m 1000% against domestic violence, but the details of the case make this punishment seem fairly absurd: the alleged victim didn’t want to press charges, didn’t want medical attention, and didn’t have any visible marks on her body.) Charles is bigger, faster, younger, and more efficient than Frank Clark AND he has inside/outside versatility. So Big O is going to set the edge on rushing downs and put a beat down on guards on passing downs. What are other teams going to do? Be afraid. Be very afraid.
3. DE George Karlaftis was the 2nd best rookie DE last year behind #2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, and he finished on a heater with 5.5 sacks in his last 7 regular season games. I don’t expect him to keep up that pace for an entire season, but 10 sacks this year is not out of the question even if there’s regression to the mean. And if there’s another step forward, 15 sacks is in his range of outcomes because someone needs to take snaps with both CJ and Omenihu missing time. The motor is there. The athleticism is there. The nasty is there. And the technique and the pass-rush plan are only going to get better. Could he be the steal of the draft? A dark horse DPOY candidate?
2*. CB3 Jaylen Watson/Joshua Williams/Nic Jones/Darius Rush: Yes I cheated because I don’t know who’s going to step up: Will the real CB3 please stand up? I repeat: will the real CB3 please stand up? …We’re going to have a problem here. Or are we? Last season Jaylen Watson made some incredible plays including the 99-yard interception return for a TD against the Chargers and the 1-handed INT to seal the Jaguars’ fate in the playoffs. And yet he wasn’t consistent enough to be the "starter" in the Chiefs nickel and dime defense. Joshua Williams was drafted 3 rounds earlier than Jaylen and had his chances last year in the middle of the season, but was also inconsistent. Can either of them take over? If not those two, what about Nic Jones who should be a special teams contributor early? Can he become more by season’s end? And if not, could uber-athletic (9.81 RAS) special project Darius Rush be the CB3 by year’s end? It wouldn’t be the first time DB Coach Dave Merritt molded an NFL CB out of a 6’2"-ish 195 lb.-ish athlete. The drama here is interesting, and I’m most excited to see one guy separate himself from the pack. But the miracle man of this season and my #1 for this list is…
1. WR Justyn Ross, the most complete receiver the Chiefs have had since I came back from overseas in 2014. A healthy Sammy could have been that guy, but health and Sammy didn’t mix. Tyreek had wheels, but he was a body catcher who could not be trusted to high point a ball (OT against the Bengals in the AFCCG anyone?). I never saw Tyreek make a back shoulder catch. I never saw him throw off a would-be tackler. Ross has the releases, the routes, the start-stop, the hands, the height, the strength, the catch radius, the YAC ability. The concerns about his lack of speed have not been seen on the field. There’s nothing that makes up an elite WR that he doesn’t have. And then you add the story of a kid who 1) made Alabama DBs look silly in the National Championship game as a true freshman, 2) was told by doctors he could never play football again, 3) had back surgery and came back to play through a broken foot, 4) goes undrafted, 5) puts together some offseason highlights before breaking his foot and losing a year on IR, and then 6) wins over his doubters and makes the roster of the defending Super Bowl champions. Watch out, Kurt Warner. That’s a movie script that writes itself.
Honorable Mentions: Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones. We know these 3 are great. Mahomes is the GOAT-in-waiting. What’s next? The behind the back pass? 6,000 and 60? A 20-0 season? Back-to-back MVP and SB MVP? Kelce is already on the Mount Rushmore of TEs. What happens if he has another 1,000-yard season, another 1st Team All-Pro selection, and another Super Bowl ring? He becomes the undisputed and indisputable GOAT (Sorry-not sorry, Patriots’ fans). I know plenty of people are upset about CJ’s holdout, and I get it. I still think he’s a great player, and I want to see him in Red and Gold wrecking o-linemen and QBs this year, and maybe get that DPOY he was denied last year.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing?