We’re finally at the end of a long offseason — and there’s been difficult news in the final days leading up to the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 1 matchup against the Detroit Lions on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night. With as many as two of the Chiefs’ three best players missing for “Thursday Night Football,” the depth and development of this young roster will face an early test.
Here are just a few of the Kansas City players who are trending as we head into Banner Night.
Wide receiver Skyy Moore: There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about Moore this season: he appears to be poised for a second-year jump, he may get the lion’s share of the targets that went to JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2022 and he appears to have the trust of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. On top of that, he may be leaned upon more heavily if tight end Travis Kelce misses Thursday’s game. The Chiefs should get him involved early and often on slant and crossing routes. Moore could start moving the chains right away.
Offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor: Early on, the offseasons’s biggest story was the departure of offensive tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie — and the subsequent acquisition of their replacements: Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor. The team saved money by choosing these two over Wylie and Brown, but they may have also gotten more athletic. With their ability to work in outside zone and pass-protect, it appears that the Chiefs might actually have upgraded both positions; based on head coach Andy Reid’s preferences, these two are certainly a better fit for the offense. On Thursday, they’ll face a young Lions defense featuring a handful of pass rushers, but not one that should overwhelm Kansas City’s new outside duo. These guys will have a chance to make things easy on Mahomes — and to establish themselves as the bookends for one of the league’s best offensive lines.
Linebacker Drue Tranquill: It sure looks like the Chiefs got a huge bargain on the defensive side of the ball, upgrading their linebacker group with the former Los Angeles Chargers’ playmaker. Tranquill has been a quick study in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, working as the backup MIKE linebacker and taking a coverage role in subpackages. He’s an excellent blitzer (five sacks last season) and tackler (146 total in 2022) and is probably the best coverage linebacker the team has had in years. The Lions are likely to deploy rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs in space, so Tranquill will have a chance to show that he can be an effective countermeasure against Gibbs — the kind of player who has previously proved to be matchup problem for the Kansas City defense.
Others trending in the right direction: cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed, wide receivers Justin Ross and Richie James, tight end Noah Gray and safety Bryan Cook.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones: What else can be said about Jones’ contract situation? He’s missing the season’s first week — and his holdout doesn’t have an end in sight. Not only is he racking up a seven-figure losses from fines, a missed bonus, forfeited game checks and lowering his potential 2024 franchise tag number, he’s also hurting his chance to put together the type of season that could motivate the Chiefs (or another team) to pay him in the future. Even if he gets back on the field soon, there’s a chance things won’t be like they should have been this season.
Defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi: When the Chiefs traded to get Neil Farrell from the Raiders, many assumed it was related to Jones’ absence. But it also could have been simply another in a series of attempts to get more stout at nose tackle. First the team brought back Danny Shelton — who looked much improved in the preseason, but eventually landed on the practice squad. Then Kansas City drafted sixth-rounder Keondre Colburn in the 2023 draft — and kept him on the active roster before adding Farrell to the mix. It could be that Spagnuolo and his coaches want to have a deep rotation of big defensive tackles — or it could be that they are auditioning Nnadi’s replacement. Either way, it will be a position to watch against the Lions.
Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire: In some ways, the fourth-year back is already proving the doubters wrong. After a preseason where he appeared to be the team’s lead running back — but wasn’t particularly effective with just 2.7 yards per rushing attempt and 5.8 yards per reception — he made the Chiefs’ 53-man roster. Now Isiah Pacheco appears healthy enough to again take the reins as the primary back. Unless Edwards-Helaire is going to take away the third-down snaps that Jerick McKinnon thrives upon, it may be difficult for him to carve out a significant role in the regular season. There are two young backs on the practice squad just waiting for their chance to get the call if Edwards-Helaire isn’t effective — so starting this week, the pressure is on.
Others trending in the wrong direction this week: offensive tackles Wanya Morris and Lucas Niang — and wide receiver Justin Watson.
Value (sleeper) pick: EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah
In an ideal world, the Chiefs could give the former Kansas State pass rusher more development time before rushing him onto the field. Even if he showed flashes of pass-rushing ability (as he showed in the preseason), it seems like the team would normally prefer to have a veteran playing ahead of the rookie. But with Jones out — and Charles Omenihu suspended — Kansas City desperately needs someone who can keep Detroit quarterback Jared Goff from having enough time in the pocket to look like a competent NFL starter. Anudike-Uzomah will have the opportunity to prove he’s ahead of schedule by facing Lions’ tackles Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell. That will be a tall task in his first NFL game — but if he does well, it will say a lot about his future.