Chiefs snap counts: Mecole Hardman gains playing time, Juan Thornhill loses it

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - DECEMBER 27: Mecole Hardman #17 of the Kansas City Chiefs carries the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the third quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on December 27, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - DECEMBER 27: Mecole Hardman #17 of the Kansas City Chiefs carries the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the third quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on December 27, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Let’s take a closer look at what the snap counts from Chiefs vs. Falcons can tell us.

The Kansas City Chiefs withstood a tough defensive showing from a surprising Atlanta Falcons team on Sunday to earn their 14th win in 15 tries with one more game left on the schedule. It was a chance to clinch the top seed in the AFC and the Chiefs did just that. In the process, however, the team also found itself dealing with lots of injuries and players who could use the rest that a first-round bye will provide for them.

With the game in the rearview mirror, let’s look at the snap counts for the week to see what we can glean about the Chiefs going forward.

Mecole Hardman

For the last several weeks, Mecole Hardman hasn’t played anything more than one third of the Chiefs offensive snaps. On Sunday, he played exactly as many as Demarcus Robinson (41) which meant both receivers played 61 percent of the snaps on offense.

Even before Sammy Watkins returned in the last third of the season, Hardman saw his playing time plummet in Week 11 after the Chiefs came out of the bye. Before the bye, in Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers, Hardman played 68 percent of the snaps on offense. Since then, he’s played as little as little as 22 percent and as much as 33 percent over the last five games. On Sunday, Hardman was brought back into the lion’s share of the team’s offensive plans.

Watkins left the game too late to have this sort of impact on Hardman’s playing time (Watkins himself played 76 percent), so it will be interesting to see if the Chiefs are trying to make Hardman more of an offensive focus.

Four tight ends!

The Chiefs played four tight ends on offense Sunday. Four.

Here’s the pecking order on the Chiefs depth chart: Travis Kelce had 56 snaps in his record breaking performance. From there, Nick Keizer had 13 plays—or 19 percent of all offensive snaps. Deon Yelder only played six, but made that memorable catch down the stretch and even juked a defender for extra yards. Finally, Ricky Seals-Jones played 4 offensive snaps and another 5 on special teams.

Again, this was not special teams reps mixed in with the offense. Four different TEs got playing time on offense on Sunday, which is just a wild number, especially given that Kelce played his typical reps—in fact he played a higher percentage than last week (84 to 80 percent).

Seals-Jones made his first appearance since Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills and earned himself another game check, but both backup tight ends in Yelder and Keizer seem quite healthy.  What does all of this mean? Who knows?

Deandre Baker

On Saturday, the Chiefs promoted Baker from the practice squad back to the active roster. On Sunday, they left him inactive.

Just one week after the young cornerback made his season debut with the Chiefs, even after languishing on the practice squad for weeks since he’d initially signed, it looked as if he might continue to earn playing time. Instead, the Chiefs shut him down after giving him a handful of special teams reps the week before.

Was Baker really that out of shape coming into the signing? Is he really that far behind in the playbook? The linebackers are playing the likes of Darius Harris and Omari Cobb. The secondary is in much better condition, of course, but Baker started 15 games last season in the league’s biggest market as a rookie and was the first cornerback taken overall after being named an All-American at Georgia against the top competition in college football.

Basically, some trumped up charges to extort a young kid out of money are going to cost him a full year at the professional level. At least the Chiefs are giving him game checks by keeping him on the roster, but you hate to see him miss out on showing what he can do on the field.

Juan Thornhill

Almost one year to the day after his ACL injury that ended his 2019 season and stellar rookie campaign, it’s clear that Juan Thornhill still is not back to full strength—or at least playing up to expectations. Perhaps more time from the injury is needed. It could also be that he’s not quite the same player he was. Either way, Thornhill played his second lowest snaps on Sunday with only 28 percent of the playing time on defense.

One year after making the All-Rookie team, Thornhill has endured a frustrating rookie season in which he was healthy enough to start and even play nearly 100 percent of snaps in the first third of the year. From there, however, the defensive staff began to rely less and less on him and now, shortly before the postseason is set to begin, the Chiefs are rarely playing him as their third safety.

Personnel groups will change and perhaps even a couple weeks of rest with the end of the season and the first-round bye can change things, but there’s no denying that expectations for Thornhill in 2020 weren’t counting on the risk factor of such an injury. Most of us should have remembered that such a devastating injury requires significant work and rehab to return and even then it’s not a guarantee.

Darius Harris

Willie Gay, Jr. finally got his playing time that we’ve all been craving in the heart of the defense with 49 snaps, but even he was outplayed by Darius Harris who had 54 snaps and was entrusted as defensive communicator in the heart of it all. The Chiefs beat the Falcons on the strength of their defensive performance and they did with Harris in the middle of so much of it.

On Sunday, the Chiefs were down Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson and then even Ben Niemann, but Matt House had his guys coached up and ready to play and the Chiefs were able to handle the Falcons because of it. It was a good day for Harris, Gay and Omari Cobb.

Next. Handing out player grades for Chiefs-Falcons. dark