As soon as the ink has dried on this note, the Kansas City Chiefs will be a different team. The decisions have been made and the initial 53-man roster is complete. Now the predictions will undoubtedly be dire and optimistic at the same time. This guy should be here, that guy should be here, etcetera, and etcetera.
Looking to the makeup of what could be the deepest Kansas City Chiefs team in the Andy Reid era. As a multi-decade fan, the 2023 season tells me we are going to witness a wild ride into January and February. There will be ups and downs, yes, but I believe, we will have an exciting five months within the Chiefs Kingdom. So how does this roster stack up for the Chiefs chances to repeat as Super Bowl Champions?
One thing I learned from the preseason is the offense could be one for the ages. You can see, at every position, the depth of this offense, especially the wide receiver room. From quarterback play to line play, this team will have the tools necessary to make a deep run in the postseason. Diagnosing the weaknesses is a challenge but the only real weak spot I currently see are the tackles.
Donovan Smith will have his hands full at left tackle and I think we’ll see Wanya Morris spelling him at some point during the regular season. Will Wanya’s play surpass Smith on the depth chart remains to be seen but I believe Offensive Coordinator Matt Nagy and Offensive Line Coach Andy Heck will be giving Morris a good look during the early part of the season if Patrick Mahomes is getting hit or sacked on a more frequent basis. Now I base my conservatism strictly on the injuries he occurred last season.
Right, Tackle Jawaan Taylor, on the other hand, looks like a bright spot for the line. With Taylor playing in his natural position, it will give Mahomes plenty of time to manufacture an escape plan if protection breaks down. He can scoot and kick out on any play, and I see Mahomes using that aspect of Taylor’s skill to his advantage.
The guard play will not suffer unless an untimely injury occurs. Between Joe Thuney and Trey Smith, the middle of the line will be tough for any defense especially when you include All-World center Creed Humphrey. If the tackle situation gets an early answer, I think we’re looking at another Super Bowl-winning offensive line.
Let’s look at the running backs. Isaiah Pacheco should be firing on all cylinders. His quick look in the Browns game answered a big question for me. How will he respond to getting hit? The couple of times he made contact were clear. He’s running through anything that gets in his way.
Head Coach Andy Reid and Matt Nagy will utilize their strengths to maximize rushing production. I believe Reid’s pass-heavy offense will yield some early smashmouth looks – just like they did in the second half of Super Bowl LVII. Of the 15 scripted plays to begin the game, it could be the ground dominance this team needs to make a clear statement to the rest of the league – we are good at that too!
Clyde Edwards-Helaire didn’t instill a lot of confidence this preseason. I think defenses have his number and he just doesn’t have the power and elusiveness to force his will when he gets hit. He tends to surrender too often at the line of attack, and he does see the holes when they shift.
The receiving room, while the fullest and deepest, has a couple of bright spots and a couple of question marks. Rashee Rice showed some brilliance and a case of the drops. I don’t think it’s a concern, just some NFL jitters. It’s clear at times, he’s trying too hard to outplay himself. I’ve seen this before with rookies and some vets over the years so let’s cut the kid some slack. Rice has sticky hands as we saw in training camp. Skyy Moore had this problem last season as well and he grew out of it by the time this team really needed it. Rice will likely waddle a bit in the same boat as Moore, but I suspect he’ll be just fine.
If Justyn Ross can stay healthy through the season, and play to his Clemson potential, the Chiefs may have a new number one for the long term. Richie James has been a pleasant surprise and he should excel in this offense as a slot receiver. As far vets are concerned, Kadarius Toney might not be a factor in the first few games as Reid will be gentle with his hand-picked number one. Marques Valdes-Scantling will be the deep threat and Moore will be the hybrid/slot receiver that could also line up outside.
Unfortunately, quarterbacks Shane Buechele and Chris Oladokun might to the practice squad if they clear waivers. Blaine Gabbert pretty much locked up number two against the Cleveland Browns. I don’t believe there were many surprises after the Browns game as far as this outcome is concerned. The fact that Andy Reid opted out of having that third emergency quarterback speaks to his confidence in the health and durability of both Patrick Mahomes and Blaine Gabbert.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones’ situation is a nightmare scenario for the Chiefs. Despite the doubts, I’m confident a deal will get done with one caveat, if Brett Veach feels he can bring in someone with a greater upside, which is difficult to do right now, then he may trade Jones.
But who could that be?
Let’s jump off the fence for a moment. If Jones is really that unhappy, Nick Bosa could be a target, and don’t think for one minute that Brett Veach hasn’t considered this possibility. The fact they added Neil Farrell from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for a sixth-rounder says that Veach has an idea this kid can develop into something down the line. He spent last year on injured reserve so having a fresh start may work in the Chiefs favor. One thing though, if Jones comes back or the Chiefs trade him away, Farrell has a chance to stick long-term.
With Jones out and Charles Omenihu suspended, the pass rush is dependent on second-year man George Karlaftis and rookie Felix Anudike-Uzomah. There is always the possibility that Veach resigns Carlos Dunlap, who wants to return to the Chiefs, but that would require more cap space. I feel there may be something brewing with this group that hasn’t been revealed yet. I’m not going to rush to judgment until a couple of games are under their belt if Jones continues his holdout.
Moving on to other questions.
Will this line be able to generate a push? After watching the competition from Saturday, the Chiefs may be in a better position than we think. There was significantly better play at the point of attack. I reiterate my praise for Danny Shelton, who was initially cut to make room for Ferrell, but he could be added to the practice squad. The key to KC’s interior defense must come from Derrek Nnadi. This is where Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo must dial up pressure from the outside and blitz lanes.
Speaking of linebackers, the front three are solid Nick Bolton as the mike will keep the linebackers on point. Willie Gay is Willie Gay, fast dependable, and a playmaker. He’ll take care of business. I’m excited to see Drue Tranquill play because of his ability to cover backs and tight ends. I think he will be a strong addition to the middle of the defense.
In the secondary, we saw Justin Reid make an extra point as the emergency kicker, but his play as a safety improved in the preseason. Safety is hardly a concern for Kansas City. The safeties are in good shape between Reid and Bryan Cook, Mike Edwards, and rookie Chamarri Connor as solid depth.
The bigger question mark for the secondary has been the availability of cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. With the knee swelling, the Chiefs have treated him with Kit gloves since the start of training camp. Will he play in week one? That’s up in the air, and why the Chiefs plucked former 2023 5th round draft pick, Darius Rush from the Indianapolis Colts. Still, this unit has depth beginning with Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson, and Joshua Williams are reliable, as well.
The skill players for special teams remain the same. The combination of kicker Harrison Butker and Tommy Townsend has become one of the best tandems in the NFL. Deep Snapper, James Winchester has been a model of consistency during his tenure in KC. The returners are in flux right now so I won’t even try to project who Dave Taub will choose to return punts and kicks, but Richie James is likely going to be the main return man.
All in all, the Kansas City Chiefs are in remarkably good shape despite the lingering questions. I’m not ready to pronounce anything negative for the start of the season and I caution all fans to watch what happens in the short term. We have a long season ahead of observation and evaluation that will change on a daily and weekly basis. Let’s enjoy the ride as we watch the Chiefs play out the 2023 season and hopefully, enjoy another deep post-season run.