With Super Bowl aspirations for 2019, the Kansas City Chiefs began the preseason with an easy 38-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The front office and coaching staff will have some difficult decisions to make, with multiple position battles still up in the air. Here are three players to keep an eye on against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
3. DE Tanoh Kpassagnon
The 2017 second-rounder has yet to come anywhere close to his potential. He’s a 6-foot-7 and 289-pound athletic freak who is still incredibly raw. In 29 career games (one start), he has 17 tackles, two sacks, and three quarterback hits. Kpassagnon was a project when he was drafted, so it makes sense that he hasn’t figured things out yet.
But heading into year three, it’s time for him to show improvement. Word out of training camp is that he looks better, and had a sack against the Bengals. Playing in Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense as opposed to Bob Sutton’s 3-4 scheme should help immensely, as Kpassagnon should be able to rush out of a three-point stance with his his hand in the dirt, rather than a stand-up outside linebacker spot where he also has to worry about dropping into coverage.
2. DE Breeland Speaks
Speaks is in an almost identical situation to Kpassagnon. He played defensive tackle at Missouri, and the Chiefs attempted to turn the 6-foot-3, 285-pounder into an OLB. He finished with 1.5 sacks and eight quarterback hits as a rookie. Speaks also had a sack against Cincy, and will also benefit from the scheme change. But simply playing a new position isn’t going to guarantee Kpassagnon or Speaks a roster spot.
Kansas City replaced Dee Ford with Frank Clark, signed Alex Okafor, and traded for Emmanuel Ogbah. Speaks will need to string together more performances like last Saturday’s if he wants to have a rotational role on the Chiefs defense in 2019. Speaks could even see some time at defensive tackle, rotating with Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, and rookie Khalen Saunders.
1. WR Mecole Hardman
The Chiefs drafted Hardman as an insurance for the possibility of a Tyreek Hill suspension. The investigation into alleged child abuse was closed, with Hill not accused of anything. So now KC’s offense will have two burners for Pat Mahomes to have fun with.
Hardman is about as close a player to Hill as one can find, as they both stand 5-foot-10 and around 185 pounds. Hill’s high 4.2 40 times are a bit faster than Hardman’s 4.33, but the rookie is still speedier than the vast majority of NFL defensive backs, and he showed his potential in the first preseason by taking a jet sweep 18 yards for a touchdown, accelerating past the entire Cincinnati defense in the process.
Hardman wasn’t able to run a diverse route tree at Georgia, so that’s the skill that needs the most work currently. Even when he isn’t being targeted, it’s worth watching him closely to see where he’s lining up, what kinds of routes he’s running, and how much separation he is able to create. The Chiefs’ offense was the most dangerous in the NFL in 2018, and now they have added another weapon to Mahomes’ repertoire.