ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Plenty has been rightfully made of what the Kansas City Chiefs‘ offense will look like this season without Tyreek Hill in the fold. Then you consider how teams fooled the Chiefs last season, at least for a time, with Cover-2 looks. Then you look at the arms race in the AFC West and how everyone else loaded up this offseason.
Are the Chiefs — and specifically the Chiefs’ offense — primed to take a step back?
When I visited their camp last week, I didn’t expect Andy Reid or Patrick Mahomes to lay out how they plan to attack defenses this upcoming season. But looking back on our talks, I’m realizing how much they talked about the running game when I was more focused on the passing game.
“Yeah, I mean, I think it starts off with the offensive line,” Mahomes told me when I asked how the offense will evolve without Hill. “We have this offensive line coming back that I thought did a great job last year, and it’s gonna be even better. I think being able to run the football and then have, like you said, that size of receiver that can block but also catch the football, that still have speed. It might be a little different Kansas City Chiefs offense but I think we’ll still have a lot of success.”
The Chiefs chose the team’s long-term cap health over paying Hill this offseason, and they picked up 6-foot-4 Marquez Valdes-Scantling and 6-foot-1 JuJu Smith-Schuster. If teams decide to play the two-high safeties against the Chiefs this year, Mahomes says they’ll be ready.
Why? Again … the running game.
“We’ve got some running backs in that running back room that are going to be able to run the football along with that offensive line,” Mahomes says. “And then the receivers. Having these guys that are big, but also fast, are. … As well as the tight ends, I think it’ll be hard for teams to kind of prepare for what we’re going to do, because we’ll be able to run the ball and be able to pass the ball just as well.”
The Chiefs still have former first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire as Jerick McKinnon goes into his second year with the team. Kansas City scooped up Isiah Pacheco in the seventh round of this year’s draft and he’s already turned heads, as Ronald Jones may find himself on the outside looking in once we get to final roster cuts. K.C. also has arguably the best offensive line in football heading into Week 1.
Looking back to last year, the Chiefs averaged 4.54 yards per rush, which was seventh best in the league. Their 4.6 yards per first-down rush was sixth-best in the NFL. And they averaged 2.29 yards before contact per rush, leading all teams.
The Chiefs faced an eight-or-more-man box on just 14.2% of their rushes, last in the league and a sign of the respect opposing defenses had for Mahomes and the passing game. Conventional wisdom would indicate that percentage will go up with the absence of Hill, and the Chiefs seem prepared for that.
“Yeah, so Tyreek, listen,” Reid says, “I’m wishing him the best of luck, so I want to make sure people understand that. And he’s going to do a great job for the Dolphins. (General manager) Brett Veach brought in some people here, young and veteran guys, and so we’re excited about that and where the playbook kind of takes you within those guys. And then we’ve also incorporated some running back in the offense to go in with a layer and so that’s exciting too.
“But we’re excited about what we can do offensively and, you know, it’s a matter of doing it. That’s what people are going to be looking for.”
NFL camp news and notes
- The Denver Broncos officially belong to the Walton-Penner family, following the league’s vote of approval Tuesday. If there’s any talk of a contract extension for Russell Wilson, it can now commence. I’m told that because new ownership hadn’t gotten into the doors, there had been no talks of an extension quite yet. The Broncos plan to keep Wilson for years to come, and he’s under contract through the 2023 season.
- I’d expect the trade market for second-year Bears offensive tackle Teven Jenkins to heat up after Saturday’s exhibition against the Chiefs. Jenkins had 161 snaps in his rookie year last year, and he’s battled back from a back injury this preseason. If he can put some good tape out there this weekend, that may drive up the price for Chicago to ultimately deal him.
- As Joe Burrow continues to recover and rehab from his appendectomy late last month, the Bengals aren’t putting any timetable on his return. First of all, I get the sense he probably wouldn’t have even played in any of the exhibitions if he were healthy. I feel confidence from the team that he won’t miss any regular-season time. One very positive sign would be if he can get some work against the Rams in the joint practices before the Aug. 27 preseason game.
- Carolina’s QB1 job continues to be Baker Mayfield‘s to lose. The Panthers traded for Mayfield this summer hoping he’d come into camp and give the offense a boost, and that’s what he’s done (along with a few mistakes that they planned for considering his newness with the offense.) I can appreciate how head coach Matt Rhule has given each guy a fair shot for the starter role by splitting the first-team reps to start camp. Soon enough, though, he’ll have to make the decision on who gets the full-time role.
- There’s little desire in Carolina to deal Sam Darnold right now. First of all, there’s no market for Darnold. The team is prepared to carry his $18.86 million cap hit into the season. A capable, healthy quarterback is always an asset in this league, and Darnold can be insurance on a team with an eventual starter in Mayfield who recently battled injuries. And if a team comes calling for Darnold due to injuries on their own team, Carolina doesn’t have to just give him away.
- The decision to hold-in during training camp is one that had been weighing on Browns RB Kareem Hunt. He saw his backfield mate Nick Chubb get an extension last offseason, then D’Ernest Johnson get tendered, then Jerome Ford get drafted, then Demetric Felton get moved to a more hybrid role. He also realizes he’s 27 and needs as many shots at guaranteed money as possible. The Browns aren’t mad at him, but the type of extension he wants likely isn’t coming, and there’s little incentive for Cleveland to trade him right now. Hunt returned to team drills after sitting them out for two practices. The Browns could ultimately throw him some incentives, but I don’t get the sense anything will happen beyond that at this moment.
- A good battle to watch in Bills camp is the second cornerback position. Tre’Davious White is still testing his surgically repaired ACL, and the team is hopeful he’ll be ready by Week 1. If he’s not, it’ll be Dane Jackson and a rookie on the other side. Kaiir Elam was taken in the first round of the draft, but he’s struggled in some of Buffalo’s zone schemes. Early in camp he was letting those struggles get too much in his head. He’s evened out now, and when I saw him Wednesday he made two good plays in team drills. But the talk you’re hearing out of camp on sixth-round rookie Christian Benford isn’t just talk. He’s had a legitimate good camp for a rookie, and an especially good camp for a late-round pick.