Whose stock is trending up and down heading into the second half of the season?
It’s been a season of contradictions so far for the Kansas City Chiefs.
They have the best quarterback and offensive-minded head coach in the league, but the passing game has struggled. They have the youngest defense in the league, and they are dominating. They rebuilt their offensive line and have an absolute spark plug for a running back, yet they can’t run the ball. Their kicker has been perfect, but their returners have been lousy.
Yet here they are, 7-2, sitting at the top of the AFC at the bye week, having not played their best football yet. There appears to be “dry powder” available to put this team among the franchise’s all-time best squads. Modest improvement in the receivers and running game could put the offense back on track and lead to some spectacular wins in the second half of the season.
The bye week is all about self-scouting, so we thought it’d be a perfect time to reflect on some of the Chiefs who have been trending through the first eight games— and who might be a bigger part of the playoff run.
Bulls: the biggest risers through eight games
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Wide receiver Rashee Rice: Rookie wide receivers never flourish in Andy Reid’s system — especially second-round picks that were not as highly thought of as others in the class. But Rice has gone into the bye week as the Chiefs’ best wide receiver. He has 378 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 32 catches, 19 first downs and 263 yards after the catch, behind only Travis Kelce on the team (except for touchdowns, in which they are tied).
Cornerback Trent McDuffie: McDuffie leads the team with four forced fumbles and 39 solo tackles — along four pass breakups. He has been stellar in coverage. We hoped he’d take a step forward this year, but it looks like McDuffie is improving in leaps. He’s on track for a Pro Bowl/All-Pro season, and he has the play of the year (last week’s strip of Tyreek Hill) on his highlight reel. The entire secondary has been great, but McDuffie is emerging as a real star in the league.
Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu: Most Chiefs fans and pundits were excited about the big offseason addition, but his debut had to wait out a six-game suspension. Omenihu came roaring onto the field and has really been impactful in his three games, with 1.5 sacks and pass defended that resulted in an interception. His play style perfectly complements the rest of the Chiefs’ front and results in more success for others, including George Karlaftis.
Others trending in the right direction so far: Isiah Pacheco, Trey Smith, Bryan Cook, Leo Chenal, George Karlaftis, Drue Tranquill, Mike Danna, Justin Reid, L’Jarius Sneed, Mike Edwards, Willie Gay Jr., Noah Gray
Bears: the biggest fallers through eight games
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EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah: The Chiefs’ first-round pick and hometown kid has been pretty good in his rookie season. But with the way the rest of the team is playing, it’s getting more and more difficult to see where his impact and even his snaps will come from going forward. This may turn out to be a “redshirt” season for Anudike-Uzomah, which won’t be a bad thing if the Chiefs are still successfully getting after quarterbacks. He has a good chance of being a starter next season.
Wide receiver Skyy Moore: The receiver many of us thought would have the greatest opportunity to be a high-volume, reliable receiver has yet to be either. Moore has fewer yards than Noah Gray despite being on the field for the second-most snaps of all wide receivers. It’s clear that the Chiefs needed to narrow the receiver room to give more concentrated opportunities to a smaller group. After the Dolphins game, it seems that Moore might not be in that group going forward.
Offensive Guard Joe Thuney: One of the league’s best. That’s what Thuney has been for years and what we thought the entire Chiefs offensive line could be this season. But it seems that the left guard and the line as a whole have not quite been what we hoped. Sure, they are still very highly rated on pass blocking, partially due to the ability of Patrick Mahomes to sense and escape pressure. But the run blocking has been a bit of a mess, and Thuney has had a couple of rough moments of late, leading many to wonder if he’s started to decline. He’ll be one to watch in the second half to see if he is able to turn things around and return to the machine-like consistency we’re used to seeing.
Others trending in the wrong direction so far: Blake Bell, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jerick McKinnon, Justyn Ross, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Donovan Smith
Value (sleeper) pick (someone to watch in the second half of the season): Wide receiver Kadarius Toney
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Toney has been a sleeper for long enough that he might be hibernating. The guy that many reported was expected to be the Chiefs’ “No. 1 wide receiver” this season has yet to find his grip on the offense (and at times, the ball). After a disastrous first week back from injury, riddled with drops, Toney has seen his usage remain low all season. But he’s shown some fleeting signs of life, including a nice 18-yard reception against the Dolphins.
Could it be that the Chiefs are keeping him quiet on purpose? Given his injury history, it could make sense to save him for the postseason run. Perhaps they will begin to increase his snaps and targets over the coming weeks. He still has some unique physical traits that could help this offense, so it’s strange to watch them struggle while Toney isn’t being utilized.
Our own John Dixon said it best:
Meanwhile… Toney’s low use in 2023 remains a mystery. His production hasn’t been very impressive — 28 targets for 20 receptions, 127 yards and a touchdown — but it’s hard to argue that another wideout has produced so much with so little opportunity; Toney has been on the field for just 24% of the offensive snaps. (With 72% of the snaps, that would translate to 60 receptions and 381 yards, which would lead all Kansas City wideouts). How he is used down the stretch (and in the postseason) could be very interesting.