5 Players Turning Heads at Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp
The early stars of the Kansas City Chiefs training camp have been young skill position players on the offense. The group is headlined by versatile fourth-round pick De'Anthony Thomas.
The running back come wide receiver has been enthralling the crowds at Missouri Western State University. Head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson are also sure to have been impressed by Thomas' dual-threat skills.
Reid and Pederson will also be pleased to see the competition at wide receiver heating up. A trio of unheralded flankers, including an undrafted rookie, have all made positive impressions.
Here's a closer look at five players who have turned heads so far at camp.
Albert Wilson, WR
Rookie free agent Albert Wilson is doing all he can to prove he can be a factor in a wide-open rotation of receivers. The one-time Georgia State ace has been showcasing versatility, move skills and speed.
Those are all the things that can make Wilson useful in Reid's version of the West Coast offense. In his observations from Day 7 of camp, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher detailed how Wilson has been impressing onlookers:
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Albert Wilson is making a strong bid for a roster spot. Wilson received several snaps with the first team, a sign the Chiefs are encouraged about what they have in him. Wilson has been utilized both in the slot and as an outside receiver and is not only fast but has shown the ability to elude coverage.
The ability to flip-flop between different alignments is something Reid covets in his receivers. His scheme is built on creating mismatches by freeing speed at every level of a defense. That can involve quick slants as well as deep strikes.
Wilson is not the most physically imposing receiver at 5'9" and 200 pounds. But his acceleration and sharp cuts coming out of breaks are perfect for this offense.
Of course, any undrafted player faces a daunting task attempting to avoid final roster cuts. But when considering the paucity of depth behind starting wideouts Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe, Wilson's favorable camp performances bode well for his chances.
Frankie Hammond, WR
A knack for big plays, natural explosiveness and hard work are helping Frankie Hammond stand out so far at camp. He has been showing off the vertical speed the Chiefs passing game needs.
Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star recently detailed one of Hammond's best efforts from the early stages of camp:
But Hammond is a friendly sort, too, so when asked recently about his best play of training camp thus far — a long touchdown he scored Sunday by hauling in a deep pass from the slot, then cutting across the field and leaving a trail of defenders in his wake — he couldn’t help but get noticeably upbeat.
Hammond’s explosiveness on the play was evident, much as it has been all of training camp, were the 6-foot-1, 184-pounder has been turning heads.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said Hammond, an undrafted free agent out of Florida in 2013 who spent last season on the Chiefs’ practice squad, has worked his tail off to get to this point.
It's telling that another receiver utilizing explosive speed is making a positive impression on the coaches. That is the cornerstone of this offense.
The type of play Paylor recounted is a classic illustration of how Reid loves to attack defenses. He doesn't simply want solid possession work from his inside receivers.
Instead, Reid wants burners who can take passes on the run, escape initial contact and turn every throw into a big play. It's also important that the Chiefs find more vertical threats for their aerial offense.
Slants will always be the signature of this pass attack, but having players who can stretch and get behind coverage offers a dual advantage. Aside from the obvious big-play threat, the ability to go deep can also take a safety out of the box against dynamic leading rusher Jamaal Charles.
Any time Charles gets to run against seven-man fronts is a win for the Chiefs. Hammond must continue to showcase his potential for the long ball. If he does, Reid and Pederson are very likely going to keep him around.
Ryan Succop, K
Ryan Succop entered training camp knowing the Chiefs had recruited his potential replacement. The arrival of rookie free agent Cairo Santos has kicked off an intense competition.
So far at least, Succop has responded well. The battle has been close, very close. But it's the 2009 seventh-round pick who has crept into the lead, per Bob Gretz of bobgretz.com:
Through the first practices of training camp, the back and forth has been pretty even between the kickers. On Wednesday the incumbent may have moved a few steps ahead of the challenger. Succop was practically perfect all morning. With the whole team involved, Succop hit all five of his field goal attempts, while Santos made four. The one he missed hit the left upright.
In the end, Succop had a very good day, Santos wasn’t bad, but the veteran now holds the lead.
It seems that the presence of Santos has been pushing Succop toward peak efficiency. It's important the Chiefs have that from their kicker in 2014.
Special team excellence was a defining characteristic of the turnaround from 2-14 to 11-5 last season. It helped compensate for and assist an offense that was rarely among the more prolific units in the NFL.
Succop was a part of that success. However, he did miss six field-goal attempts for the fourth season running, although it was technically fives missed and one blocked, per statistics via NFL.com.
His most notable miss came in the season finale against the San Diego Chargers. Succop botched a 41-yarder that would have kept the Chargers out of the playoffs.
The numbers show that he needs the competition. He's been a solid kicker during five pro seasons but nothing more.
However, a team built to play and win close games needs a kicker it can rely on in clutch situations. In the early stages of camp, Santos has helped bring out the best in Succop.
Mark Harrison, WR
The Chiefs don't really have a big body at wide receiver. That's somewhat unusual in a West Coast-style system, a scheme that usually values size at the position.
However, among the litany of mighty mites on this roster, one player is beginning to stand tall. He is Mark Harrison, a 6'3", 230-pound wideout who has already posed matchup problems during camp.
Tod Palmer of The Kansas City Star has noted how the advantages of Harrison's size have been obvious:
Harrison has used that size and strength several times to outleap defensive backs along the sideline, and also has shown an ability to snare passes in traffic during the Chiefs’ padded practices.
Plucking passes out of the air ahead of close coverage is something bigger receivers can do. They can use their size to shield defenders away from the ball.
Of course, any receiver who can also jump above coverage to get the ball expands the playbook for an offensive signal-caller. What's been impressive about Harrison is that he hasn't just used his size to torment players he naturally dwarfs.
ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher detailed how Harrison recently physically overwhelmed beefy veteran Sean Smith:
Things remain tough for cornerback Sean Smith. A former starter, Smith is now running second team. Then reserve wide receiver Mark Harrison beat him to a jump-ball catch. After making the catch, Harrison taunted Smith by flipping the ball at him.
Taunting and petulance aside, it's impressive that Harrison has jumped above a 6'3", 218-pound cornerback and brought the ball down. He hasn't allowed himself to be muscled at the line or bumped off his route when it came time to contest the pass.
The Chiefs don't have another receiver with this ability. In any crowded battle niche skills are going to help a player stand out. Harrison has a great chance to make his particular attributes part of this offense.
De'Anthony Thomas, RB
When the Chiefs selected De'Anthony Thomas in the 2014 NFL draft they hoped they were getting a dual-threat weapon who would create matchup nightmares from various positions.
Judging by his early work during camp, that's exactly what the Chiefs got. Thomas has been equally impressive as both a runner and receiver.
Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star has detailed a few examples of Thomas' early brilliance:
Rookie running back De’Anthony Thomas kicked off 7-on-7 drills by making a nice catch on a pass thrown behind him.
Thomas showed off his quickness and toughness as a runner, as he repeatedly took handoffs, exploded through crevices in the defense and bounced back up after a few shots from bigger players. He also showed off his versatility as a receiver, as he hauled in a deep pass from Alex Smith in team drills. Thomas beat cornerback Justin Rogers on the play, then ran through a tackle by safety Malcolm Bronson.
The early indications are that Thomas is ticketed for a big role in this season's offense. Reid has always dedicated plenty of pages in his playbook to running backs who can also catch the ball.
It's too soon to christen Thomas a Jamaal Charles clone, but he does show traits of becoming a Darren Sproles-style weapon. The important thing will be the favorable matchups he creates for Reid and Pederson to exploit, along with the headaches he'll cause defensive coordinators.
As a receiver, Thomas will be impossible for linebackers to track. He'll be a major threat for screens, something Reid is a master at designing.
Thomas has also proved that he can pop up and catch passes in deep zones. That's something that will make him a great blitz-beater out of the backfield.
He can have just as much of an impact as a running back. His sudden burst and lightning speed on inside runs can be great assets in multiple-receiver spread sets designed to spread front-seven defenders across the field.
Thomas is sure to be a vital part of this season's schemes. He'll be the roving "Joker" few defenses successfully account for.
It's an important role and a lot of responsibility for a rookie. But the early signs are positive that Thomas can handle the pressure.
In fact, Chiefs fans and coaches should be encouraged an offense short of standout playmakers is getting so many exciting auditions from youngsters during camp.
A fully healthy defense will be strong again, but this offense has the potential to surprise a few people if one or two extra big-play threats emerge.