Kansas City Chiefs rookie review: Hardman, Thornhill make some mistakes vs. Lions
By Scott Loring
The Kansas City Chiefs walked away from Detroit with a win but the team’s rookies played like rookies in the team’s Week 4 victory.
The road contest in Week 4 at Detroit was the biggest challenge yet for the Kansas City Chiefs in this young season. In a parallel form, the rookies in K.C. red also faced respective setbacks against the Lions.
The storylines really only apply to the Chiefs’ top two picks this week, as Mecole Hardman and Juan Thornhill continue to serve in key roles on the offense and defense, respectively. Each has room to improve after their Week 4 game at Detroit.
The former Georgia Bulldog suffered some hiccups at Ford Field. Once again being used in a large number of plays involving pre-snap motion, Hardman did not receive the looks he garnered in previous weeks. The Chiefs’ second-round pick totaled just 2 catches on 5 targets and gained just 9 yards.
Hardman’s most noticeable contribution to the game was not a good one. Tied at 13 after the half, the Chiefs were preparing to attempt to take their first lead of the game with the second-half kickoff. They would have to wait. Hardman took the opening kickoff of the second half at the 1 and, after a quality return to the 30-yard-line, put the ball on the turf.
Detroit recovered and began the second half with the lead and the ball already in field goal range.
Entering the game with zero interceptions and zero passes defensed, Thornhill has flown under the radar as a solid contributor to the back end of the Chiefs’ secondary. In the first three weeks, Thornhill missed a combined three snaps. At Detroit, however, the Chiefs decided to pull Thornhill during two drives in favor of veteran Daniel Sorensen.
During Detroit’s second possession, toward the end of the first quarter, the Chiefs were already down 3-0 when Thornhill appeared to be out of position on two crucial plays. The first was a 33-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 on a completion over the middle to wide receiver Marvin Jones. That play took Detroit from the Chiefs’ 44-yard-line all the way down to the 11.
Three plays later, quarterback Matthew Stafford found rookie tight end TJ Hockenson in the end zone, and Thornhill again appeared locked up on the play. When the Lions began their next possession, Sorensen took centerfield and played five inconsequential plays before the Lions punted. Thornhill returned to the lineup after that.
Probably the most interesting sequence came in the third quarter, when Thornhill again gave way to the veteran for a drive, but this time no one is really sure exactly why. Upon review of the prior drive, Thornhill played cleanly, and yet took a bench again in favor of Sorensen with the Chiefs ahead by the score of 20-16. Sorensen was in close coverage on a go-ahead touchdown pass from Stafford to Kenny Golladay, and the Lions regained the lead.
Fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu was visibly upset after the play, and while he may have been upset at himself in coverage, we’re probably never going to know what ruffled the Honey Badger. It appeared Mathieu was in man coverage on Golladay, and was shading him to the outside, so he may have expected more help in the middle of the field from Sorensen.
Thornhill’s tackling leaves a little to be desired. He’s taking good angles in the run game, but against Baltimore and Detroit, his inexperience has shown a little bit. We’d like to see him get some pop into a running back this week instead of taking a ride for a few yards.
Lastly on Thornhill: Down by four with just two ticks on the clock, Detroit was at the Kansas City 44-yard-line with one final shot at the end zone. Stafford heaved up a prayer and Thornhill tracked it. With an all-too-easy opportunity to make his first NFL interception, the rookie instead batted the ball to the turf with both hands, ensuring a Kansas City victory. It may seem like small change, but in a game featuring six fumbles, it was a veteran decision by the young safety on the game’s final play. The play was Thornhill’s first pass defensed of his young career.
Saunders was inactive for the fourth consecutive week.
Fenton received zero snaps in his four weeks as the team’s fourth cornerback. He’s still on the roster now that Morris Claiborne is active, but he’ll immediately become CB5 against Indianapolis in Week 5.
Thompson made it on the field for three offensive snaps but received no touches. Without Damien Williams in the lineup, many thought we would see more from Thompson, but it’s pretty clear he’s been passed on the depth chart by Darrel Williams. It’s a true RBBC in Kansas City, and Thompson is biding his time at the bottom of the depth chart. He is a steady contributor to several special teams units.
The reserve center from the University of Illinois was inactive for the fourth consecutive week.