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Chiefs Training Camp: Rookie RB Making Case for Carries in Crowded Backfield

Isaih Pacheco, a seventh-round pick, looks good enough to take away playing time from Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ronald Jones and Jerick McKinnon.

We’re nine stops into my training camp tour after dispatches from the Bills, Packers, Bears, Colts, Bengals, SteelersBrowns and Vikings. The Chiefs are up next:

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Every time I come here, it feels like there’s at least the threat of storms, and this year wasn’t any different. Lightning, but no rain through my run this morning. And then the skies opened, and practice was moved into the fieldhouse at Missouri Western. Here’s what I saw, and heard, in there …

1) Isaih Pacheco, a seventh-round pick out of Rutgers, looks like a real player—216 pounds, 4.3 speed, and traits that remind the staff here of former Chief Kareem Hunt (only he may have an extra gear that Hunt didn’t). He’s a product of what the personnel department saw as a surplus of Day 3 running backs in this year’s draft class, which was a result of the COVID season of 2020 taking work away from guys who may have entered the ’21 class. And Pacheco’s more than just a traits guys—he’s shown real vision, too. It’ll be interesting, then, to see how he fits into a crowded backfield with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ronald Jones and Jerick McKinnon.

Kansas City Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill (22) walks down the hill to the field prior to training camp at Missouri Western University.

Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill’s growth could make him and Justin Reid a dynamic duo in Kansas City’s secondary.

2) Fourth-year safety Juan Thornhill is finally healthy, and has looked like a much more versatile player at the position. The idea in signing Justin Reid from Houston was to have Reid fill the void left by Tyrann Mathieu. But Thornhill’s growth has the Chiefs thinking that he and Reid will be interchangeable, which allow for Steve Spagnuolo to get creative in using them. And second-round pick Bryan Cook has been a quick study, and should factor in the team’s three-safety looks.

3) Corner will be interesting. L’Jarius Sneed has developed into one of the league’s best nickels, with versatility to flip outside. First-round pick Trent McDuffie is repping exclusively with the first team. And the third corner spot is, well, pretty wide open. Rashad Fenton may still be the favorite for it, but he’s on PUP now, and long, rangy, fourth-round rookie Josh Williams, from Fayetteville State, is making a hard run at the job and has a chance to be a pretty significant player. Seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson has shown promise, too.

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4) Right tackle may be the biggest question on the roster. Andrew Wylie is trending toward being the Week 1 starter. Lucas Niang, on PUP, could be a factor when he gets healthy. And Mike Remmers is gone. The good news is the rest of the line, as it stands, is rock solid.

5) Patrick Mahomes absolutely has more ownership over the offense and, for that reason, I think the Chiefs are going to be OK as they turn things over a bit at receiver. Both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have brought what was advertised—the former being a physical intermediate target, and the latter a size/speed guy who should replace some of the juice the team lost with Tyreek Hill off to Miami. The obvious difference, from this year to years past, would be that this year’s group is a lot bigger (and not as fast) as its predecessors.

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