Football is back. The K.C. Chiefs took to the field for the first time in 189 days, taking on the San Francisco 49ers in their first preseason game of the new year. The game was insignificant, and the final score irrelevant.
Some players have a lot to prove over the course of the season, others have even less time than that to make an impression. And while we can’t jump to conclusions after one preseason outing, there are a still things we can take away from the game.
The offensive line
Hey, these guys looked alright! Orlando Brown, Joe Thuney, Trey Smith, Lucas Niang and Creed Humphrey all started up front as part of the revamped offensive line, and they looked as good you could hope for in a preseason game.
Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne had nice, clean pockets to throw from and neither was pressured once while the starting OL was out there. The offensive front also did a good job creating space for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, helping him pick up 10 yards on K.C.’s first offensive snap.
The three rookies in Humphrey, Smith and Niang (who opted out of the 2020 season) all looked solid and seemed comfortable up front.
Obviously, one quarter is a tiny sample size and two of San Francisco’s key defensive pieces Nick Bosa and Dee Ford did not play, but after the OL horror show in Super Bowl LV, it was a reassuring first impression.
Mike Hughes was the first-choice returner on special teams on Saturday, and he had an impressive showing in his first time wearing a Chiefs uniform. He had a solid 13-yard return on his first punt and followed that up later with a 40-yard kick return.
Hughes, primarily a cornerback, joined KC this offseason after spending three years with Minnesota. He featured on special teams in his first two seasons with the Vikings, with 14 punt returns for an average of 7.4 in 2019.
If the Chiefs are looking at different options in the kick return game, Hughes certainly put his hand up as a good candidate for the roll.
Tommy Townsend had an up-and-down season last year followed up by a terrible Super Bowl, so there is a little bit of pressure on him this preseason. While there doesn’t seem to be much of a battle for the Chiefs’ punting spot at this point, change can always come quickly in the kicking game in the NFL.
Fortunately, Townsend had a good day in San Francisco. He averaged 53.4 yards on seven punts with four kicks inside the 20, including a booming 66-yard bomb that bounced out of bounds at the one-yard line. There may not have been a ton of pressure on Townsend heading into this preseason, but he certainly did a good job in helping himself cementing his position for the upcoming season.
QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
Harrison Butker is a fantastic kicker. He has the second-best field goal percentage in NFL history and will undoubtedly be Kansas City’s kicker for the foreseeable future. But while he had a career high in field goal percentage last year (92.6%), we saw him struggle with extra points, and he missed another against the 49ers.
Butker missed six extra points last season and his extra point conversion rate of 88.9% was the lowest of his career so far. We saw him miss again on Saturday when his kick in the 4th quarter crashed into the left-hand upright. While there are no major concerns around Butker, his extra point accuracy it is something to keep an eye on going forward.
With the Chiefs looking for a WR2 to step up this season, Hardman has a lot to prove. After an impressive rookie season in 2019, he failed to carry that success into his sophomore season last year.
We didn’t see a lot of him against the 49ers, but his one involvement was a dropped catch on third and short that bounced out of his hands. Admittedly it was a tough pass to handle, but it is one that the Chiefs would be wanting him to hold on to once the season starts.
Interestingly, the Chiefs had six different players return punts and kick offs, but none of them were Hardman. Hardman has shown he can be dynamite on special teams and maybe the coaches just wanted to get a look at other guys, but it could also be an indicator that he will spend less time returning kicks this season, potentially in a similar way to how Tryeek Hill transitioned away from special teams and into a full-time wide receiver.
It is harsh to judge Hardman too harshly considering he was only targeted once and din’t appear on special teams, but the Chiefs will be looking for more from Hardman in the next two outings.
Saturday was the first time we got to see Jones line up on the edge after the Chiefs signaled this offseason that he will spend more time out there this year. Jones only played part of the first quarter, and we didn’t really get a chance to see him make an impact from the outside.
Jones did have one sack on Saturday, but intriguingly it came when he lined up on the inside – perhaps highlighting that that is where his true strength lies. The Chiefs have already said Jones will play on the edge and so there is no doubt that will continue, but it will be interesting to see where on the defensive line he is most productive.