The Kansas City Chiefs stand at 5-2 and are now on their Bye Week, the Chiefs have been fairly up and down over the seven weeks. But the Chiefs are considered to be the best or second-best team in the conference and seem to be on the right track after finishing the hardest part of their schedule. Now is the time to reflect on the rookies’ impact through the early stretch of the season.
It is hard to give McDuffie much of a grade since we have not been able to see him play for more than a few quarters. Suffering a severe hamstring strain Week One on some slick turf in Arizona, McDuffie has been out the last six weeks. It was reported that he was back in practice and could have played against San Fransisco on Sunday, but the Chiefs elected to give him two extra weeks off with the Chiefs on a bye this week.
A frustrating start to the year for the man the Chiefs traded up to acquire at pick number 21 could give way to a strong second-half performance. The performances that McDuffie put on film during the preseason and in the snaps he played in week one were enough to move the needle into thinking he could be a difference-maker in the second half. The Chiefs’ defense has shown drastic improvement week by week, but McDuffie could be a piece that puts them over the top.
Unlike McDuffie, the Chiefs’ other first-round rookie has had no shortage of playing time, but he has still left some to be desired. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a rookie or call him a bust after just seven games, especially if they are attempting everything in their power to win football games and doing their job to the best of their ability.
That said, it is important to talk about what the results of these plays are, and how a player is doing, and right now Karlaftis is struggling. With just a half a sack, three pass deflections, and 14 total tackles he is playing hard, and seems to be comfortable with his assignments, but is still leaving much to be desired in the pass rush department.
My big knock on him out of Purdue is that he didn’t have a ton of explosion out of his stance, and lacked any real pass rush move, typically only winning with bull rushes. In college that will work, but not in the NFL. The lack of athletic ability combined with this lack of a go-to pass-rush move has made him a very lockable player. If the only move you can hit an NFL-caliber tackle with is a bull rush then you are on track for a very long day. Many analytics resources and scouting services have him leading rookies in pressure rates, but just running to the quarterback after the ball is released is in my eyes, no pressure.
The Chiefs have allegedly been looking to add to the defensive line position before the trade deadline next week. Karlaftis will need to step up if he wants to continue to play significant reps, and the Chiefs will need him to do so if they plan to make a deep run.
One word to describe the start of Skyy Moore’s NFL career is, perplexing. Moore excited fans and analysts alike with his route running, contested catch ability, and yard-after-catch potential. Through seven games Moore has caught only six passes for one hundred yards and no touchdowns. Most of this has been done due to his snap counts, and not having much of a chance to play.
It is pretty typical for Reid to work his rookies in slowly to learn the plays, and nuances of his playbook, but at times this year, it has felt like the Chiefs have needed a boost in the receiving core. Instead, the one unlikely place where the Chiefs have seen Moore play is as a punt returner, and the results have not been great. Moore has fumbled two punts, losing both of them, and one led to an eventual touchdown sparking the Indianapolis Colt’s upset win.
Moore returned a very minimal amount of kicks in college and did not at all in high school so using him as a returner for an NFL team is a puzzling decision. The Chiefs might need to make a change in that spot, and it would likely be beneficial for his development as a wide receiver to have him focus his energy on learning the routes, and offense. If the Chiefs could get a late-season surge from Moore, it could be what makes an already good offense great.
Cook has been a consistent special teams contributor so far through his rookie season, but he has also shown some flash when he has gotten on the field with the defense. He played 73% of all defensive snaps against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he came away with a season-high five tackles and displayed his ability to play strong safety, as well as play in the box and cover running backs and tight ends.
Cook missed the game against Buffalo with a concussion but was able to bounce back and play this past week in the win vs San Fransisco. Cook is an energy provider off the bench right now and has shown his nose for getting to the ball carrier with some big special teams hits. He is a guy that we should look forward to becoming more involved in the defensive rotation as the season progresses.
Perhaps the expectations for Leo Chenal coming out of Wisconsin were too great, but right now he looks like less of the superhero he did in college, and well, more like a rookie linebacker.
Coming in with the confidence, bravado, and of course, the film that Chenal put out in Wisconsin I had a hard time imagining Chenal would take long to get adjusted to the NFL. As naive as I am I should have expected there to be some early struggles, which there have been. Chenal has played no more than just 38% of snaps in a game, which was his season high vs Las Vegas. He has been a key special teams contributor early on, but this past week vs the 49ers he was given a chance to start as the strong-side linebacker. It is apparent from that film and from other games that he has a long way to go before he can be an every-down contributor.
He has the physical ability, and the athletic profile to dominate as SAM backer for a while, but right now he must continue to work on developing the mental side of the game. He needs to be able to read and react to plays as well as process what is happening so he can go make plays. He is playing a guessing game right now, and it is not working. Before he can take over as the player the Chiefs need him to be he needs to put in the time in the film room and make sure his processing skills are as sharp as his physical ability.
Through the first few weeks of the season, we didn’t see much from Williams, but in the last two weeks, he has jumped onto the scene in a big way. Against Buffalo, he gave up a touchdown, but he didn’t back down and made play after play in man coverage, showing off his giant frame and physical style of play. This past week against San Fransisco he made a key third downplay, and followed it up with a clutch interception on the goal line to rob the 49ers of points.
Williams might not have played much early on, but he has shown great flash, and the ability to be a reliable play-making corner in the NFL. It was exciting to see him make such an impact in the win vs the 49ers and hopefully, that game will give him the confidence boost to keep up his level of play moving forward.
Kinnard has only made the active roster once since being drafted, and he was only used on special teams. Kinnard had a chance to potentially start coming into the season given the Chiefs’ situation at right tackle, but he did not show enough in the preseason to be given much consideration to even make the dress list. He will have a long way to go in a depth-heavy room if he wants a chance to see the field in 2022.
No player has exceeded expectations more for the Chiefs than Jaylen Watson. From the seventh round to an every-down starter Watson has come onto the scene quickly as a starter for the Chiefs and even showed off his impact with a game-changing pick-six vs the Chargers in week two.
Since then he has been a starter in every game for the Chiefs and has been able to break up passes, wrap up on tackles, and make his case to start the rest of the way. Many including myself did not give him much of a chance to do anything more than special teams spots as a rookie, but he has exceeded expectations so far in his career.
The Isiah Pacheco hype train has been in full effect since the season started, and even though he has seen very few reps it is still warranted. Pacheco showed off his aggressive running style and speed out of cuts in the Chiefs’ wins vs Arizona and Tampa Bay.
It was even reported by Ian Rappaport that he would be the starter in week seven vs San Fransisco. This was not the case and Pacheco only took eight handoffs for 43 yards. The Chiefs have been implying for months that they want him to be a key contributor to the offense, but we have yet to see it.
Johnson has been a practice squad mainstay, but if injuries show up he may be given a chance to play special teams.