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Jerick McKinnon Speaks on Chiefs’ Running Back Committee

McKinnon says everyone in the backfield prepares for each game as if they're starting.

Expectations for the Kansas City Chiefs' running back room have been all over the place dating back to the beginning of the offseason.

When Ronald Jones was first signed as a free agent following a semi-productive stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, questions about a possible split with then-incumbent starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire arose. Once general manager Brett Veach went out and drafted Rutgers running back Isiah Pacheco in the seventh round and re-signed Jerick McKinnon to another one-year deal, though, the state of the entire group was in flux. Pacheco's standout performances in training camp and Jones's struggles reshaped those expectations once again. 

Nine games into the 2022 campaign, things have been a mixed bag in the backfield. Kansas City ranks 22nd in rushing yards and 20th in rush DVOA — clearly below average — and some weekly stat lines have been downright difficult to look at. Sunday's Week 10 outing against the Jacksonville Jaguars, however, saw a near-perfect blend of success through the air and on the ground for Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy's offense. On Monday, McKinnon spoke about the diversity of the Chiefs' attack. 

“It’s been a lot of fun," McKinnon said. "You know when you got a lot of guys who contribute, and you’ve got a lot of guys who step in and become new contributors it’s hard for defensive coordinators to plan for that. Especially when you have success you know that’s a credibility to the coaches, Coach Reid, (Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy) EB, the whole coaching staff and then you know Pat (Mahomes) dishing the ball out to different guys and different guys making plays and having success and making it easy on juggling and when you play collectively like that as a unit and you come away with positives, it makes it hard for people to stop.”

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Finishing well behind Pacheco but quite far ahead of Edwards-Helaire in snaps on Sunday, McKinnon toted the ball just once for two yards but matched his season-high with six receptions for a 2022-best 56 yards. He also made one of the best blitz pickups of the Chiefs' season thus far. The veteran's ability to thrive as a pass blocker who can also leak out into the flat and be a lethal pass-catching option has endeared him to Mahomes and the Chiefs' coaching staff. Of all three Chiefs running backs currently in the rotation, McKinnon's spot has remained the most consistent throughout the season.

On the other hand, Pacheco and Edwards-Helaire are trending in seemingly opposite directions. The former set new career highs in carries (16) and yards (82) on Sunday, whereas the latter was on the field for all of a career-low four snaps. Kansas City declared Pacheco its starter before Week 7 against the San Francisco 49ers, and that decision is beginning to look more and more like the correct call.  When asked about the team's by-committee approach, McKinnon said that everyone prepares as if they're going to be the starter that week. 

"Well, like you said, obviously it’s different when you’re by committee and then a starter, but I’m going on year nine and you got to approach every game as if you’re a starter," McKinnon said. "That’s just got to be your mindset. And that’s what makes it easier (when) being in the committee. Obviously, it’s shared amongst the backs that are in the room, but each and every one of us have to have that mindset that we’re preparing as the starter because – as you’re seeing this year – everybody’s had their strides and you never really know whose game it’s going to be."

While the direction of the running back room appears to be a bit clearer following a game that saw Pacheco separate from the rest of the pack and McKinnon continue to product in his respective role, questions remain. Is Edwards-Helaire, a former first-round pick, truly the odd man out now? Is Jones, who had more rushing yards in 2020 than any running back currently on the team has in a single season, actually going to be a healthy scratch every week? Those questions are up to Reid and company to answer but if you ask McKinnon, he thinks things are developing just fine.

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