From Tyreek Hill to Patrick Mahomes to a looming running back battle, there’s no shortage of things to watch at 8 p.m. Friday when the Chiefs play host to the San Francisco 49ers at Arrowhead Stadium in their first preseason game. It will be televised on KCTV (Ch. 5) and the NFL Network. The radio broadcast is on KCFX (101.1 FM).
1. The gunslinging rookie, Patrick Mahomes
Come on. You really didn’t think the Chiefs could draft a quarterback in the first round for the first time in 34 years and he wouldn’t be listed first, did you? Mahomes has been impressive in camp, making at least one eye-opening throw per practice and has been fun to watch. Nothing is more entertaining than when the pocket breaks down and Mahomes starts scrambling around and playing backyard football. He’s had some rough moments, as well — he forces balls sometimes and several of his camp picks would have been pick-6s in real games — but everyone in the organization, from the highest level on down, is happy with his progress. That’s a great sign for the future. Mahomes is supposed to play the third quarter, so that’s a reason to keep watching.
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2. Alex to Tyreek
While Mahomes has had a nice camp, incumbent starter Alex Smith has also been great. He’s been decisive, alert and, most importantly, pushing the ball downfield consistently. I know, I know. You’ve heard that before. But it’s real, and Smith might be testing the deep ball more than he ever has in camp. Most of those deep throws have been going Tyreek Hill’s way, and with good reason — the second-year pro has been the star of camp. He gives even the best corners fits with his speed — he’s gotten the Chiefs’ relentlessly-confident Marcus Peters a handful of times — and has caught many passes of the short and intermediate variety as well. Don’t hesitate to take Hill in your fantasy drafts, but never reach for anyone in an Andy Reid offense. It’s just too equal-opportunity in the red zone for fantasy purposes.
3. Kareem Hunt vs. Spencer Ware
Speaking of fantasy football, this will be an interesting battle to track. Ware is the established starter, and he should be. He’s tough, he runs hard, he can catch and he can block. But Hunt has been outstanding as a receiving threat out of the backfield in camp, and he could easily see some time in that role come the regular season. He’s also a tough, patient runner with good vision. If he can pick up the blocking part of it, he could eat into Ware’s carries during the season as Reid shifts to a more committee approach. Don’t forget C.J. Spiller and Charcandrick West, either. One or both will surely play some if they make the team out of camp due to their receiving ability and speed.
4. Some receivers need to emerge
Aside from Hill, the Chiefs have a bunch of young receivers who need to prove they can stretch the field. If Hill were to get hurt, it’s unclear who would give them that downfield threat, which would allow teams to flood the short to intermediate zones and make life difficult for the Chiefs’ offense. Keep an eye on youngster Seantavius Jones, who has fine play speed and ball tracking ability. Demarcus Robinson was strong in organized training activities but has had a quieter camp; keep an eye on him to see if he comes to life when the lights come on. Other youngsters to watch include Gehrig Dieter and Marcus Kemp, who appear to be favorite of Mahomes on the third team.
5. There’s a great battle at inside linebacker
The Chiefs have a ton of inside linebackers behind starter Derrick Johnson, including Ramik Wilson, Justin March-Lillard, Josh Mauga, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Ukeme Eligwe and Terrence Smith. All these guys can separate themselves with strong preseason efforts. Eligwe has caught the eye of the coaching staff with his physical traits, while Mauga, March-Lillard, Wilson and Smith have all played meaningful regular-season snaps in the last few years. The Chiefs dealt Pro Bowl special teams player D.J. Alexander to the Seahawks for Pierre-Louis, so obviously they see him as a potential defensive contributor. There’s a lot of capable bodies here, but that’s a nice problem to have.