In the battle of backups, two distracting storylines came out in newspapers circling the Kansas City Chiefs. First, Patrick Mahomes excelled on three wonderful passes, one of which should not have been possible. Second, the 30–6 victory over the Tennessee Titans established a narrative that the Chiefs backups were definitively better. While that narrative might be true, the final score is distracting from the true matter of last night: Chiefs backups whom made their case for the 53-man roster. The score was a quaint cover, individual plays showed more. The Chiefs preseason week four takeaways offered deep insight into the roster transactions this coming weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs Preseason Week Four Takeaways
Mahomes and Robinson have a Night
Mahomes was playing against the Titans reserves, and made them look as such. Multiple times the Chiefs rookie signal caller connected on deep passes to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. This included an incredible cross-body throw that should not have been possible. The technical mechanics and strength demanded for this type of throw are incredible, and boost Mahomes’ immaculate arm; he has the ability to make any throw.
However, there were also very poor decisions by Mahomes. Three separate times he should have been intercepted. While his arm and highlight reels are impressive, his play decision needs refining. Simply put: he is not ready to take on the NFL.
Reads over the middle, specifically safety disguises, have been a trouble spot for Mahomes throughout training camp and the preseason. His decision-making can be rushed, putting him into a single-target mentality. Hence, the tendency to throw passes without breaking down the entire field. Give Mahomes a year to progress in his ability to digest the entire field of play, and then talks of his takeover should resume.
The two-minute drive was a stark juxtaposition to the poor decision making throughout the other parts of the game. In five plays, Mahomes showed intangible leadership, carrying the Chiefs offense 64-yards for a touchdown in 1:10.
On Robinson’s side, his three long receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown are likely to lock his position on the Chiefs 53-man roster. His struggles throughout the beginning of the preseason should not be ignored, but for head coach Andy Reid, last night showed Robinson has the potential to be become an explosive target. And explosive plays are what the Chiefs need to win.
Stock Up and Down: Offense
Several players made their offensive stock rise and fall when considering their projection for making the Chiefs roster. As mentioned before, Robinson shot his wide receiver stock upward. Marcus Kemp and Jehu Chesson also rose their stock in unique ways.
Kemp caught five passes for 55 yards, but showed that the potential chemistry with Mahomes is enough to keep on the roster, or very least the practice squad. Kemp has been one of Mahomes’ favorite targets, and that connection bodes well for long term prospects.
Chesson, although he only caught one pass for 12 yards, shocked on special teams by returning a punt for a touchdown. The rookie from Michigan may need more time to become a proficient slot receiver, but his contribution to special teams have locked him on the roster.
Seantavius Jones is the wide receiver whose stock is not down based on his play, but on the play of others. Jones, after missing last week’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, only caught one pass for seven yards. His training camp efforts were impressive and noteworthy, but the question was sustainability. Unless Dave Toub has a spot for Jones on the special teams roster, then Jones will be the odd man out.
Gehrig Dieter dropped two passes in the matchup, one that hit him in the hands. Coaches hate opportunities being lost, and Dieter lost two crucial opportunities last night, and unfortunately his slot with the Chiefs. In the end, that leaves the projected receivers at Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, Chesson, Robinson, Tyreek Hill, and Kemp. (Kemp could be kept as a sixth receiver as Hill also works into the running back total. However, a slot on the practice squad is also likely for Kemp.)
In the running back slot was Devine Redding. Although he was likely not to make the Chiefs roster before the game, his 2.8 yards per rush average and red zone fumble hurt his stock facing the other 31 teams of the NFL.
At tight end was a battle between Ross Travis and Gavin Escobar. Escobar has been the more noteworthy of the two, although in bad ways. Escobar had a fantastic reception for a touchdown, juggling the ball around to haul in a pass over double coverage. However, just as impressive as that reception was, his blocking has been below average. When Escobar gets to the side or out of foot position with his defensive assignment, he completely losses control.
Travis caught one pass for ten yards, but ultimately has been lackluster. Escobar has shown more effort throughout the season, even if making mistakes. Hence, that effort even throughout the bad plays, is important to at least get name notoriety with the coaching staff.
Stock Up and Down: Defense
After the Chiefs traded for Buffalo Bills linebacker Reggie Ragland, there was relative concern around the status of Kevin Pierre-Louis. However, Pierre-Louis mitigated that concern last night by showing fantastic effort against the Titans. He also continued to be a leader on special teams. Pierre-Louis has evolved himself to become a leader despite his short tenure with the Chiefs.
Three defensive players saw their stock definitively rise. Steven Terrell, Justin March-Lillard, and Devante Bausby all flashed in their respective roles. Terrell led the Chiefs in tackles with six. His efforts included special teams efficiency and adequate safety play. Terrell has been around the NFL as an adequate backup before, and provides stable play in the middle of the field.
March-Lillard, while not recording a sack, was seen around the football several times. The debate would be whether his time around the ball is able to beat out Marcus Rush’s upside as a pass rusher. Rush recorded another sack last night. While he may not have the ball skills March-Lillard possesses, Rush’s proficiency to get to the quarterback may be enough to keep both on the team.
Bausby was a roster bubble player after he recorded several great coverage plays in training camp. His coverage skills are hit and miss, occasionally leaving wide receivers open to deeper field gains. However, he does have the ability to track slower receivers and has shown growth. His hand to ball skills led to two passes defended last night, and a deep corner slot on the Chiefs.
Watching for falling defensive stock is harder as assignments are only known by the coaching staff. However, the defensive tackle group was lacking. Ricky Ali’ifua saw only one quarterback pressure, and failed to get after the run. Maurice Swain also lacked thorough pressure, less one athletic pass defended.
The Chiefs depth in the middle of the defensive line has been underwhelming, and remains an area of concern. While the players they have would align with league average backups, management may seek to claim a higher upside player during Saturday’s roster cuts.
Eric Murray also needed a big game – which he did not have. Murray quietly shut down his receivers, but failed to generate opportunity for the Chiefs defense. The Chiefs depth in the secondary ought to be a player that explodes off the ball, even if a bit chaotically. Safeties can align over the top and cover for mistakes during the regular season.
In contrast to Bausby’s aggressive style, Murray simply covers. While his simplicity may be enough to keep him around as a key rotational piece, Bausby is molded more toward the style of corner the Chiefs desire.
As a unit, the Chiefs depth looks to be on better or average with the rest of the NFL. They have high upside players on offense who can hopefully evolve into something more. The next generation of Chiefs players is starting to take shape beyond Mahomes. Defensively, the Chiefs are average for their depth, and defensive starters will cover up the younger player’s mistakes in the regular season. However, do not be surprised if higher upside players are sought for during Saturday’s chaos.