The players who have it the hardest in NFL training camps are the guys on the roster bubble—the fringe guys who may not make the 53-man roster. Those guys are fighting for their livelihood, let alone a roster spot. For that reason, every rep gets magnified and is a glorious opportunity that cannot go to waste.
Players like that are littered all over the NFL, and it's no different with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Two lesser-known young players, in particular, must shine during preseason action to secure their place on the Chiefs' 53-man roster.
There might not be a player on the Chiefs' roster who has made more noise in training camp than Deneric Prince, an undrafted free agent running back out of Tulsa who stands 6-foot, 216 pounds and runs a 4.41 40-yard dash. That type of explosiveness was drastically lacking from the Chiefs' backfield until Isiah Pacheco, a seventh-round pick a year ago, got his chance to shine, and shine he did.
However, Pacheco has been held out of contact drills for all of training camp as he rehabs shoulder and hand injuries. Enter Deneric Prince.
Prince has flashed throughout camp, making his case as the “lone undrafted rookie worthy of a roster spot,” per Nate Taylor of The Athletic. It makes sense. Prince is the closest back the Chiefs have to Pacheco, who elevated the Chiefs' offense once he took the reins full-time late last season. Prince has also showcased his pass-catching ability in camp, something he didn't do much of at Tulsa (17 career receptions in four seasons).
With Pacheco sidelined, UDFA RB Deneric Prince has been the Chiefs starting RB the past 2 days.
He’s made a noted impact in the passing game 👀
— SleeperNFL (@SleeperNFL) July 30, 2023
It's possible Prince is more than just a depth piece for the Chiefs, but he needs to make the 53-man roster first. Prince will do just that if he carries his momentum from camp into preseason games.
If life were fair, Justyn Ross wouldn't even be in this position. He recorded 1,000 yards as a freshman at Clemson, accumulating more receiving yards than college teammate Tee Higgins despite being a younger player. He was in line to be the Tigers' next NFL star receiver. But then, injuries happened.
Ross missed the entire 2020 COVID-19-shortened season after undergoing injury on his spine. Then in 2021, he underwent surgery on his left foot to repair a stress fracture. Despite his eye-popping freshman campaign, Ross went undrafted in the 2022 NFL Draft. He did, however, latch on with the Chiefs, but was placed on injured reserve last season, essentially giving him a redshirt year.
Ross is back, though, and he's making plays for the Chiefs at training. In the aftermath of Kadarius Toney's knee injury, Ross has been bestowed an even better opportunity and is making the most of it, even taking snaps with the first-string offense. That development bodes well for Ross' chances of making the 53-man roster.
Ross is on the right track, but he still has work to do. Kansas City may not have a ton of star power in the receiver room, but still has plenty of quality options. Skyy Moore and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are locked in as starters. Toney will make the team. Rookie Rashee Rice will make the team. So that leaves Ross, Justin Watson and Richie James battling it out for what may be two spots left on the roster.
James was solid for the Giants last season. Watson is someone this team trusts. Ross can beat these guys out for a roster spot, but a big preseason would clinch it.