With first-round pick Trent McDuffie now on the injured reserve list as the result of a hamstring injury he suffered in the Kansas City Chiefs' Week 1 win over the Arizona Cardinals, the focus now shifts to how Steve Spagnuolo's secondary will respond.
In the past, McDuffie's void would have possibly been filled with returning veterans. This year, however, fellow rookie Jaylen Watson was the one to relieve McDuffie once he left the game against Arizona. While he did allow a touchdown, he also recorded a pass broken up and was generally effective against the Cardinals' offense.
A string of early tests is approaching for Watson, however, and it starts against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night.
The Chargers, despite not having five-time Pro Bowl wideout Keenan Allen for the contest, still boast a talented duo in Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer. In his three most recent outings against Kansas City, Williams has hauled in 16 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns. Palmer, despite having just three catches for five yards in Week 1, is a big-bodied threat who is a legit threat to make contested catches. The Chiefs will still be challenged, even without Allen on the field. McDuffie being out for this game sets up for a "wash" of sorts.
Watson, a seventh-round pick from Washington State, was the 243rd overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Those types of players oftentimes struggle to make the ends of depth charts or even the beginnings of practice squads, let alone do what Watson did this summer. The 23-year-old not only broke camp with the team and made the Chiefs' initial 53-man roster, but he logged over 50% of the club's defensive snaps in his very first game as a professional. The Chiefs clearly trust him, and they're going to have to trust him until McDuffie's four-game window of inactivity is over (assuming he's ready to return after that).
A one-game sample size, even following a strong rookie minicamp, training camp and preseason, isn't enough to declare that Watson is up for the challenge. He could come out and shut down his assignment on Thursday evening, but he could just as easily get picked on and struggle all night long. No one is sure yet exactly what he's made of just yet, but his trial-by-fire experience in Week 2 and in the coming weeks will likely show the Chiefs — and Watson himself — what that answer is. In the wise words of head coach Andy Reid from Tuesday:
“That pick doesn’t matter now, right?”
Nick Cothrel of Charger Report joined me on Thursday's Roughing the Kicker podcast to talk all things related to the Chiefs' Week 2 showdown against the Chargers. For additional commentary featuring our full preview and picks for the game, check out the full episode below.
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