Chiefs training camp 2023: Early heroes from Week 1

There is already enough negative in the first week of camp. How about some positives?

Kansas City Chiefs Offseason Workout
Kansas City Chiefs Offseason Workout / Kyle Rivas/GettyImages

There have already been more than enough negative narratives during the first week of the Kansas City Chiefs training camp. Kadarius Toney’s knee injury (not even two minutes into the first day) going from a precautionary sit-out to potentially missing regular season games and Chris Jones’ contract situation going from a friendly chat to backing up the Brinks truck have generated enough drama to last a whole off-season.

Amidst all that, under-the-radar players have taken advantage of the situation and may not find themselves as such for much longer. The pads are not on yet, so take it with a grain of salt, but these players have been the heroes of the first week of camp. 

Deneric Prince, RB

Deneric Prince is an undrafted free agent running back out of the University of Tulsa and made the first big splash of training camp. Prince has been attacking every opportunity he has received running with the first teamers with a similar mindset to another formerly unheralded running back in Isiah Pacheco.

Catching the ball out of the backfield with startling consistency has been the prominent ability that has gotten Prince to jump out from the crowd, according to everyone seeing these practices in person.  

Confidence is not in short supply either with the rookie back. Answering a question from Cayden McFarland with KJRH Tulsa, Prince claims he is “an every down back” and “can do it all” as reasons why he sticks out in the running back room.

If Prince can continue his terrific performance when the pads go on, Chiefs Kingdom may find a ferocious three-headed monster combined with Pop and Jet McKinnon. 

Richie James, WR

The newly-acquired Richie James has been the primary beneficiary of Kadarius Toney’s absence with his play during the first week of camp. A relative unknown coming into camp, James has showcased his speed and elusiveness from Day One of being on the receiving of some Patrick Mahomes tosses. 

James, already a proud member of the All-Hair Team, is coming into his age 28 season off the heels of his best season in 2022. He had been primarily used as a kick and punt returner, so you already know Dave Toub has his eye on him.

The versatility James showed last year at wide receiver with 57 catches and four touchdowns is what Andy Reid and his offensive scheme will be looking to take advantage of. James has already been used in a slick trick play in camp, so it will be interesting to see what else Big Red can dial up for him.  

Nazeeh Johnson, CB

Nazeeh Johnson is another former late-round cornerback in his second season in Kansas City. Nasty Naz was lost in the shuffle in 2022, playing behind fellow draft mates Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams, and Jaylen Watson. He only appeared in 11 games and tallied eight tackles in those games, but it is looking like he is trying to get some more playing time. Johnson has been getting several reps with the first-team defense as the third corner over JWill and JWat and has more than held his own

Johnson’s growth in the special teams department has also gotten the attention of Dave Toub, saying that Johnson had developed into one of the best gunners in the league by the end of 2022. Johnson’s versatility on special teams is going to significantly boost his shot at making the 53 man roster. Still, it will be the development of his coverage and ball skills that will get him on the field with the starting defense. So far, he has been clawing himself into opportunities to do just that. 

Justyn Ross, WR

All aboard the Justyn Ross hype train! Although it feels like that train has been in the station since the Chiefs picked him up as an undrafted free agent in 2022, the steam is starting to pick up. Ross is another wide receiver that will see extra opportunities with KT’s absence, and this could be the last realistic shot he will have at making this team. So far, he has been doing the best with his chances. 

Ross’ talent has never been in question. He burst onto the scene as a freshman at Clemson with 1000 yards and nine touchdowns. His most significant moment came in that 2019 title game, where he ended up with six catches, 153 yards, and a touchdown on a defense featuring Pat Surtain Jr. and Trevon Diggs.

Ross had had to deal with significant injuries since then. He had a procedure to fix a fusion of his neck and spine, which cost him his junior year, and then had surgery on his foot that cost him his rookie season.

If Ross can stay on the field, then there is no telling how high he can rise in this Chiefs offense. When it is time to start with the contact, Chiefs Kingdom will see if the Ross Train will finally leave the station.