In the Chiefs’ preseason opener against the 49ers, there are four position battles to watch.
This evening, the Kansas City Chiefs face the San Francisco 49ers in the first preseason game of the 2021 NFL season.
A total of 90 players are competing for a place on the Chiefs’ 53-man regular-season roster. Some of them will make it, but most will not. Here’s a look at four of the position battles we’ll be watching during Week 1 of the preseason:
The Chiefs will want to replace the productivity that was lost when Sammy Watkins signed a free agent contract. It may take a village to achieve that objective in the end. Mecole Hardman, of course, is the player everyone expects to step up. Will he be able to keep it up throughout the preseason? He was impressed at times during training camp, but will he be able to keep it up during the regular season?
Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Marcus Kemp, Antonio Callaway, and Gehrig Dieter were among the other receivers that saw a significant number of first-team reps throughout training camp.
With a bone bruise on his knee, Callaway is unlikely to participate. Daurice Fountain may get a chance to play with the first-team offense as a result of this. In any case, pay attention to how the repetitions go. There may be two open slots on the 53-man roster if the Chiefs carry six receivers.
Outside of L’Jarius Sneed and Charvarius Ward, Kansas City’s cornerback depth chart is still up in the air. Mike Hughes, Deandre Baker, and Rashad Fenton have all seen action with the first-team defense throughout training camp. Their preseason results will most likely determine their position in the standings. When the Chiefs move to their nickel sub-package, the victor will get to play outside opposite Ward.
Keep a watch on second-year CB BoPete Keyes, who recently dislocated a finger during training camp practice, in addition to the probable starters. He’d been impressing in training camp and is vying for a spot on the depth chart, but his latest injury makes it uncertain if he’ll play. Dicaprio Bootle, a UDFA cornerback, is another guy to keep an eye on. Because of his versatility to play both outside and nickel corners, he may be a useful player.
Willie Gay Jr., the Chiefs’ second-year linebacker, is unlikely to play on Saturday. Since Day 7 of practice, he’s been out of training camp due to a concussion.
He’s going through the league’s concussion protocol, and he got some individual work in on the last day of practice last week. He informed some of the audience that he wouldn’t be fully recovered until Monday.
Keep an eye on how the linebacker reps shake out without Gay Jr. on the field. For Kansas City, he was the SAM and BUCK linebacker, but who would step in for him? Is it going to be Darius Harris, the third-year linebacker?
Keep an eye on rookie linebacker Nick Bolton. Will he receive more reps than Ben Niemann? When Niemann was injured during training camp, Bolton took over as the starting WILL linebacker. Dorian O’Daniel, a great special teams player who hasn’t been able to get on the field on defense, is another guy to keep an eye on.
This is arguably the most interesting of Kansas City’s backup position fights this season.
The LSU pair of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams will certainly take the top two positions. Behind them, Darwin Thompson, a third-year player, is pitted against Jerick McKinnon, an NFL veteran.
Because Thompson was not on the field when training camp began, McKinnon seemed to be the early favorite. The former sixth-round draft selection was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list to begin training camp. He’s been practicing since then, and he’s been doing everything correctly.
Thompson’s most important chance to date came in Week 17 of last season against the Los Angeles Chargers. If he wants to make the 53-man roster, he has to improve on that performance. McKinnon’s main focus will be on staying healthy, something he struggled to accomplish with the San Francisco 49ers in 2018 and 2019.