As training camp draws to a close and the Chiefs approach their second of three preseason games, the depth chart battle rages on. Who will climb the chart and give themselves an opportunity to be a productive member of the Chiefs 2021 team? Friday’s game may give us a glimpse into the mind of Andy Reid and the rest of the Chiefs coaching staff. Here are 4 players to watch in the upcoming game against the Cardinals.
The undrafted rookie safety has made a name for himself at training camp this year. It will be interesting to see who Key plays within Friday’s game. It looked like he had full control of the #2 safety spot, behind Daniel Sorensen and Tyrann Mathieu, appearing to have bumped Juan Thornhill out of his spot as Thornhill was running primarily with the 3rdstring defense in practice this week.
Key wouldn’t be the first undrafted defensive back to get serious playing time in the Chiefs secondary; Charvarius Ward went undrafted but made his way onto the field as the Chiefs Nickel corner his rookie season. Thornhill has never seemed to fully recover from his knee injury suffered at the end of his rookie year, and maybe it was only a matter of time before someone usurped him on the field. Key just needs to make sure he can keep the Cardinals receivers in front of him so he doesn’t get burnt deep like he did against the ‘Niners. Friday’s game could be a make or break on him keeping his #2 spot on the depth chart and ultimately for his career.
Jones dropped 15 pounds this offseason mainly by cutting back on his red meat consumption, showing up to camp much slimmer than in previous years in preparation for his shift from defensive tackle to defensive end this year. Jones will be interesting to watch mainly to see how Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo utilizes him. How many snaps will he get a D end and how many snaps will come with him lined up at D tackle? Jones recorded a sack in last week’s game coming off the edge, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep up the production from his new spot on the line. Another thing to watch with Jones is how effective he is in stopping the run from the edge. He has always been a pass rusher first and a run stuffer second, but as long as he is effective in slowing down the Cardinals’ run game on Friday, the position move looks promising.
Another player who made a name for himself at training camp, Smith looks promising as a potential opening day starter for the Chiefs at right guard. If he continues with his solid play and ends up landing the starting job, this would potentially give the Chiefs 3 rookie starters on the revamped offensive line for the first game of the regular season. The rookies all seem promising, however, Smith was the most unlikely to land a starting role coming into camp.
With injuries to Kyle Long and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif however, Smith has seen his stock greatly increase and was thrust into the starting role. Smith was projected to go high in the 2021 NFL draft, but due to a health scare from a blood clot in his lung saw himself drop all the way to the Chiefs with their last pick in the sixth round. With a chip on his shoulder from being passed up by nearly everyone in the league, Smith plays with a meanness in his game that is reminiscent of last year’s starting guard Kelechi Osemele. If Smith can channel his anger into his play, he could be off to a promising start to his career.
Another training camp standout, Jody Fortson is battling for a spot in an already crowded tight end room for the Chiefs. Fortson appears to be behind backup tight ends Blake Bell and draft pick Noah Gray, but has been pushing hard for a spot on the team this season. He has made a name for himself in training camp with his circus-like catches seemingly every other day.
Where he struggles however is the other key to making it as a tight end in this league, blocking. Fortson, who was a wide receiver in college has to improve his blocking if he wants a spot on this team. He is already off to a strong start this preseason, hauling in a touchdown catch in the first game against the San Francisco 49ers. How he could set himself apart from the other tight ends is if he could be used as a tight end/wide receiver hybrid. Fortson has shown exceptional ball skills in camp, and his size presents a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. If Fortson can stay hot in Game 2 of the preseason, he could force this coaching staff’s hand and find himself with a roster spot come game 1 of the regular season.