Highlighting Kansas City Chiefs' Best Preseason Performers so Far

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2014

Highlighting Kansas City Chiefs' Best Preseason Performers so Far

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Skill position players are standing out for the Kansas City Chiefs this preseason. Most notably, the team's tight ends are all making a very favorable impression. While the group as a whole seems strong, a highly touted second-year pro is really generating excitement.

    Elsewhere, versatile fourth-round pick De'Anthony Thomas is already offering hints that he'll make fans forget about Dexter McCluster. Thomas can be a major threat as both a runner and receiver in a scheme designed to suit his skills.

    At the wide receiver level, one unheralded youngster is managing to distinguish himself among the crowd. Here are the five Chiefs worth highlighting this preseason.

Travis Kelce, TE

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Travis Kelce has had an exceptional preseason so far. The 2013 third-round draft pick is bidding to make a major impact after appearing in just one game as a rookie.

    Kelce has looked dynamic following microfracture surgery during his debut campaign. In particular, the 6'5", 260-pounder has showcased a real talent for the big play.

    NFL.com writer Kevin Patra has detailed some of Kelce's best efforts through two preseason games:

    The Kansas City Chiefs tight end caught Aaron Murray's first ever NFL completion -- not his first attempt -- and darted past the Carolina Panthers' defense for a 43-yard score.

    The catch-and-run had a district similarity to the 69-yard snag-and-jaunt Kelce displayed last week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

    The tight end finished Sunday's 28-16 loss with four catches for 63 yards, giving him a two-week total of six catches for 136 yards on seven targets.

    Kelce is displaying the potential to be the matchup nightmare the Chiefs hoped they were getting when they drafted him last year. His size and speed combination can be an easy route to huge gains in a passing game that lacks many legitimate big-play targets.

    Patra grumbles that head coach Andy Reid is still leaning toward the steady and experienced Anthony Fasano as his primary starter at the position. However, that doesn't have to limit the chances of unleashing Kelce on defenses.

    KCChiefs.com reporter BJ Kissel broke down the offensive formations used during the 28-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. He noted that Reid deployed "12" personnel, one running back and two tight ends six times. Kissel also detailed the use of "22" personnel, two running backs and two tight ends on a further four snaps.

    Using multiple tight ends on 10 out of 35 offensive snaps may not seem like a lot, but it's evidence that Reid is willing to make use of his weapons at the position.

    That should mean more reps for the increasingly impressive Kelce. NFL.com NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt has been impressed with Kelce's efforts to refine his overall game this offseason: "This year, Kelce appears to have picked up where he left off, only now he's stronger and better, improving as a blocker. I watched him in three Chiefs practices this preseason, and in each one, he made tough catches, just as he did in the practices I watched last year."

    If Kelce can develop into a complete player at his position, he'll have a better chance of seeing the field more often. He certainly seems to be doing everything he can to make his case.

Frankie Hammond Jr., WR

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Another player who is enjoying a solid preseason campaign is wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. He's worked hard this offseason to make waves at a very loaded position.

    That work has resulted in increasing exposure to first-team football, per ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher:

    Wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. took a lot of the starter's snaps that otherwise would have gone to Dwayne Bowe, who didn't practice because of what the Chiefs called a sore quad muscle. If that's a sign the Chiefs are seriously considering Hammond for their roster, that's a good move. Hammond is fast and is still growing as a receiver. He had a big game in Carolina on Sunday night when he caught three passes for 57 yards and lost a 51-yard catch and run on a holding penalty.

    The Chiefs need all the help they can get at a position where Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery are the primary starters. Hammond's quickness can be a great asset in a system underpinned by multiple creative ways to free that quality in space.

    Hammond already looks as though he's done enough to merit consideration in a rotation that also features Junior Hemingway and A.J. Jenkins. He doesn't have the big body the 225-pound Hemingway can bring to a slot role, but the 6'1", 184-pounder can act as a supplemental deep threat for an offense in need of more vertical-strike capability.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    De'Anthony Thomas has steadily been wowing fans, pundits and coaches with his ability to produce a game-defining play in multiple roles. The fourth-rounder has shown nifty feet and quick-cutting skills as a ball-carrier. But it's his work in the return game and as a receiver that should have the Chiefs really excited.

    His skills as a returner were evident when he took a punt 80 yards in the preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. The shifty moves and field-stretching speed won't have gone unnoticed by opponents who are gearing up to face one of the league's best special teams units this season.

    Thomas' flair for impact in football's third phase is important. The team lost two quality returners during free agency in the form of Quintin Demps and McCluster. Thomas looks as though he'll ensure the Chiefs can still count on big plays in that department.

    But his potential as a receiver is even more intriguing. The Kansas City coaching staff has spent a lot of time refining Thomas' skills as a pass-catcher, per Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star.

    It's significant that Paylor's report references the attention being paid by spread game analyst Brad Childress. That hints at some of the types of sets Thomas is likely to be deployed in this season.

    It sounds a lot like the rookie is ticketed for a similar role to the one McCluster thrived in a year ago. He caught 53 passes in 2013, which was good for third on the team.

    Thomas can be a similar outlet in underneath areas as well as the flats. Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson know how to put a fleet-footed playmaker in positions to rack up yards after the catch.

    The more he learns the nuances of playing receiver, the greater the threat Thomas will pose to defenses this season.

Demetrius Harris, TE

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Kelce isn't the only tight end who has been turning heads this preseason. Basketball conversion project Demetrius Harris has been displaying the kind of athleticism that could give the Chiefs another intriguing option in the passing game.

    ESPN.com writer Adam Teicher noted how much Harris has improved from last season in terms of adjusting to the demands of football: "Harris came to the Chiefs last season as a rookie who played basketball but not football in college. His athletic ability was obvious, but the physical part of the game was difficult for him. Not anymore. I would be surprised if he didn't play some and catch passes this year."

    Teicher hasn't been the only one to take note of the strides that Harris has been making. Randy Covitz of The Kansas City Star has been impressed with how Harris is learning the nuances of the position and also highlighted his excellent blocking on kick returns.

    It would be a major bonus if Harris could not only boost an already strong special teams unit but also chip in as a receiver. He has the move skills to be a roving, "Joker-style" weapon in this offense.

    Being able to move Harris around formations could be one more way for Reid and Pederson to scheme big plays in a passing attack that is short of elite playmakers.

Cyrus Gray, RB

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Cyrus Gray would have been my first pick to be booted off the roster at running back. However, the one-time Texas A&M star should be commended for some strong rushing performances during preseason action.

    He rushed 10 times for 44 yards against the Panthers, after amassing 59 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries against the Bengals.

    Gray has been the team's primary ball-carrier in both games. His solid efforts are very timely. Jamaal Charles obviously leads the way in this backfield rotation, but the Chiefs also boast an able deputy in Knile Davis.

    In addition, the team made room for fourth-round pick Thomas and undrafted free agent Charcandrick West. That seemed to spell the end for Gray, a player with just nine carries for 24 yards last season.

    However, his efficiency during preseason has many, including ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher, believing Gray could still be on the final roster: "This is probably an overreaction to Charles' bruised foot, but I've added Gray since my last projection. He's a dependable runner and will help on special teams even if he doesn't get into the game on offense."

    Even if he is relying on injuries to others, Gray hasn't hurt his chances of sticking around. He's had some work against first-team defenses and some against reserves. He's looked good against both.

    Obviously, this list focuses on the offense. That's partly by chance but also due to a healthy amount of design.

    The offense is where the focus should be this season. The unit showed a lot of potential toward the end of Reid's first campaign. With the defense likely to be strong when healthy, the offense must build on that potential.

    If it does, a return to the playoffs is likely.

    All statistics and rankings via NFL.com.