While Patrick Mahomes stole the show with his dazzling five-touchdown day, the Chiefs running back group looked quicker and more explosive than last season.
The 2021 version of the Kansas City Chiefs failed to find any consistency at the running back position until late in the season. The issues were mainly due to a lack of explosion and quickness in the backfield, which when combined with the offense sputtering through the first half of the season caused heavy scrutiny for the unit.
2020 first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire took the most criticism of all of the backs, underperforming through the first half of the season before suffering injuries late. Solid postseason games against the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals were not enough to get him out of the hot seat and many speculated whether he would be replaced this offseason.
Helaire made it publicly known that it was a preseason gallbladder surgery that caused him to lose weight as well as power which is important to his style of running. He shared this information after the season, but many fans were still ready to move on. It appeared like many’s wishes could become reality when the team signed Ronald Jones in March. Jones had a productive tenure in Tampa Bay but did not leave the Buccaneers on good terms.
For months fans and media members alike speculated who would win the starting running back job, but come opening day against the Cardinals it was Jones who found himself barely hanging on the roster by a thread, inactive for the game, and 4th on the depth chart. It was Helaire who started the game and looked much closer to the 2020 version of himself.
Last season Helaire didn’t look right running the ball, seeming indecisive and losing the quick burst and tackle-breaking ability that he showcased the prior season as a rookie. Quick reads this week lead to positive gains and we caught glimpses of the Chiefs using him in ways that they had not in the past two seasons, primarily in the passing game.
Finishing the day with 74 total yards and two touchdowns he averaged nearly 7.4 yards per touch in the run and passing a game. This seems to be a good sign for how things should be trending forward, and it was nice to see that he was only given ten total touches on the day. Injuries have caused him issues so far in his career, so the fresher Andy Reid can keep him the better he will be.
The talk of training camp was rookie Isiah Pacheco, who had a hype train surrounding him like we have not seen for a seventh-round pick in a long time. In his career debut, he did not disappoint, putting up 62 yards on 12 carries, averaging 5.2 a play. We were also fortunate enough to see small glimpses of the game-breaking speed that he possesses.
After not playing all preseason Jerick McKinnon made his return to Kansas City and showed he could still provide production even at 30 years old.
McKinnon was the hero of the playoffs last season, and the looks he showed in the biggest games of the season might have been a preview of what we could see this year. With 49 all-purpose yards on seven touches, McKinnon showed he doesn’t need a high volume to be a big-time contributor to the Chiefs.
While most of Pacheco’s plays came in garbage time, he showed that despite being a seventh-round draft pick he absolutely belongs on the roster and has things that he can bring to the group that neither Helaire nor McKinnon possesses. At some point this season the Chiefs will start running him to the outside, which is where he thrived while attending Rutgers, and where the Chiefs could unlock another level of their offense.
The outcome of week one should leave the Chiefs feeling optimistic as a whole, but seeing strong running back play that we didn’t see much of a year ago should leave them feeling static. It’s the Patrick Mahomes show till someone says otherwise, but the mixing and matching of scenes and players will make this a diverse and hard unit to stop moving forward.
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