Several teams had already begun their OTAs, but the Chiefs began the first of three groups of practices on Monday. It marks the first opportunity for all of the Chiefs’ players to get on the field and work together with only a few restrictions. There is still no live contact or pads permitted during OTAs, but the addition of 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills move the offseason program steadily forward as we approach the 2023 NFL season.
With great attendance during Phase 2 of the offseason program, fans can expect the majority of the Chiefs’ 90-man offseason roster to participate during OTAs. With that in mind, here are seven players that you should keep an eye on once the team hits the practice field:
WR Justyn Ross
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No player this offseason will be followed more closely by Chiefs fans than Justyn Ross. The 2022 undrafted free agent out of Clemson spent the entire 2022 NFL season on injured reserve after having surgery to further repair a prior foot injury. The story of his college and NFL career so far has been an immensely talented player dashed by injury. OTAs will really be the first look we’ve seen of him outside of brief glimpses of his training in Texas with Patrick Mahomes this offseason. He’ll have a ton of competition when it comes to making the 53-man roster, but should he stay healthy, he’ll have as good of a chance as anyone to make it.
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Andy Reid seems to indicate that Jawaan Taylor will remain at right tackle in Kansas City following the signing of Donovan Smith. Taylor, of course, has four seasons of starting experience at right tackle in Jacksonville. Things certainly might start off that way during OTAs, but I won’t be surprised to see the team experiment later in the offseason. Still, protecting Patrick Mahomes is a priority and there seems to be a fairly large departure from the norm with a player like Taylor. He’s undoubtedly the best athlete they’ve had at the tackle position since the days of Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, so it’ll be exciting to see that take shape in these early offseason workouts.
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Of the second-year players entering 2023, Cook might be the one due for the biggest role increase heading into the new season. With Juan Thornhill moving on to Cleveland this offseason, Cook could be in line for more starting snaps on the defense. The second-round pick out of Cincinnati appeared in 16 regular season games with one start for the Chiefs in 2022, recording 33 total tackles, two passes defended, one sack, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hits. He finished the season strong to, making an impact play in the team’s win over the Bengals in the AFC title game.
WR Rashee Rice
One of the biggest questions heading into OTAs is — Where will the rookie draft class will fit with their new team? Fans are eager to find out the answer about Rashee Rice, who the team traded up to select in Round 2. Expectations vary for the player. On one hand, people see opportunity with Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster playing elsewhere. On the other hand, people look to Skyy Moore’s rookie campaign and Andy Reid’s history with rookie receivers and they’re skeptical about his ability to make an impact. What will Rice’s role look like with his new team? We’re sure to learn more about that when he hits the practice field this week.
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Of all 14 undrafted free agents that the team signed this offseason, Prince might have the clearest path to making the team’s 53-man roster. He’s already received high praise from Andy Reid during rookie minicamp, boasting a skill set that seems to match what the team is looking for at the running back position. While we won’t be able to get the full picture until the pads come on, we’ll at least gain a better understanding of his ability as a pass-catcher during OTAs.
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Wharton has been a key piece in the interior defensive line rotation since 2020, appearing in 38 regular season games with two career starts. Last season, he suffered a torn ACL in Week 5 and spent the remainder of the season on injured reserve. How will the return from a knee injury impact Wharton? He was always a phenomenal athlete. This will be our first chance to see how far along he’s come in his return from injury.
TE Noah Gray
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Without a true fullback on the roster, there seems to be an expectation that Noah Gray could take on the role in 2023. He’s already taking snaps on the wings as a flanker, so moving him into the I-Formation as a fullback on certain plays wouldn’t necessarily be a big departure from what he’s already been asked to do. Does he have the blocking ability to displace defenders as a true run-blocking fullback, though? We probably won’t find that out until the pads come on at training camp, but we might learn a bit about what they have planned at the position.