Today’s the day! After what feels like a brutally long offseason we have finally arrived at training camp. Training camp means the preseason’s almost here, and the preseason means the regular season’s almost here. You can actually go see the Kansas City Chiefs wear football uniforms and perform football-like activities.
So as camp begins, let’s highlight three things we should pay extra attention to.
1. The Offensive Line
I already talked about the offensive line a couple of weeks ago, but they remain the top area of interest on the team. The left tackle and left guard positions are locked down with excellent players in Orlando Brown and Joe Thuney, but the other 3 spots are very interesting.
All 3 spots got revamped this offseason with new veterans replacing the 2020 starters, but that’s not what we care about. We care about the rookies, with one for each of those spots on the line, all of them with tremendous upside.
Creed Humphrey at center was the Chiefs’ 2nd pick in the draft, and has tremendous upside. He not only has an elite athletic profile, but his understanding of the game is apparently elite as well.
Trey Smith at guard was a 6th round pick who was selected after multiple long snappers, which is usually a bad sign for a player’s prospects as a pro. But Smith is the exception, as he was actually a top prospect at guard heading into the draft. He dropped due to health concerns, specifically blood clots. But if he is able to play (and he says he is) then he has a real chance of being a good player (in fact there was talk during minicamps that he was very impressive).
Lucas Niang at Tackle was actually a 3rd round pick in 2020, but decided to opt out of the season due to Covid. This is a player that a lot of people have high hopes for.
These guys could be one of the biggest determinants of how good the Chiefs are the next several years. If they all develop into good players, the Chiefs will have their entire offensive line set for the foreseeable future. But if they don’t, this will be a position we’ll be struggling with instead.
2. We know Hill and Kelce is good, but who else will step up?
Most phrase this as “who will be the second wide receiver?”, but I’m more open-minded. Hill and Kelce will get their usual 2,500 yards combined, but that leaves 2,000-2,500 yards to go around to other guys. And with Watkins gone, there’s no clear leader to take those yards.
The conventional suspect would be the second receiver, and that looks to be Mecole Hardman. Hardman has been decent, if unspectacular, during his first two seasons in the league. He had over 500 yards each year, and there are murmurs that the team expects him to take a step this year and really solidify himself as a go-to guy. I’m skeptical (a general rule in the NFL is most guys don’t develop), but he’s certainly got the athleticism to do it, so he’s a guy to watch.
But there are other options as well. We all know Andy Reid isn’t shy about being creative on offense, and he did just spend a 1st round pick on a running back in 2020. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a decent year in 2020, getting 1,100 combined yards in 13 games before getting injured. With a full offseason he could establish himself as a serious pass catching threat.
Besides those two, don’t overlook rookie Noah Grey. He has a very similar athletic profile to Travis Kelce, although quite a bit smaller. This may make him a bit weak in the blocking department, but he’s an awesome receiver. He’s also a bit of a Taysom Hill type, who also played a bit of fullback in college. That gives him more opportunities to get on the field, and that means more opportunity for yards.
The linebacker position has been a constant struggle for the Chiefs ever since Derrick Johnson left, but they have now invested 2nd round picks in the position 2 years in a row. In 2020, they drafted Willie Gay, and this year they drafted Nick Bolton.
The conventional wisdom is that the Chiefs defense is difficult to learn, so don’t expect to see much out of Bolton this year. But Gay is now in his 2nd year and is expected to take a step and be a real contributor to the defense. He is far more athletic than any of the other linebackers the Chiefs have, so seeing Gay on the field more would be a huge boon to that side of the ball.