Is Chiefs RB Jerick McKinnon poised for a playoff breakout?

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The Kansas City Chiefs are dealing with some injuries at the running back position heading into their wild-card round matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been ruled out with a shoulder injury, missing his third consecutive week. His backup, Darrel Williams is listed as questionable on the injury report with a toe injury. He’s looking more and more like a game-time decision after the team elevated Darwin Thompson from the practice squad, just a day after the former sixth-round draft pick re-signed with the team.

So who will the Chiefs rely on to be the lead running back should Williams not play or be limited by the toe injury? All signs point to RB Jerick McKinnon, who signed with Kansas City as a free agent this offseason. McKinnon spent the entire month of December on injured reserve, rehabbing a hamstring injury before returning to action in Week 17.

In Week 18 against the Denver Broncos, McKinnon managed eight touches for 50 yards and a receiving touchdown, the biggest offensive performance of his Chiefs career to date. He’d mostly played special teams to that point, but now McKinnon is looking like he could be a difference-maker in a time of need.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, McKinnon explained that he’s prepared for the opportunity, both mentally and physically.

“Ever since I got in the league, I’ve always prepared myself to be ready for the opportunity,” McKinnon said. “As you mentioned before, the injury was definitely a setback, but on the good side of things, I think my body actually needed it because I feel pretty good now. It’s kind of one of those bittersweet things where you definitely want to be out there helping the team and competing, but your body won’t allow you to do the most you can do is get your body right and just get prepared to come back.”

The entire situation is reminiscent of the 2019 NFL season. Damien Williams was working his way back from an injury and LeSean McCoy had taken more of a lead role for Kansas City. In Week 16 and 17, Damien began playing the majority of the snaps as McCoy also dealt with a minor injury. It led to a huge role for Damien and historic production in postseason play.

Could McKinnon be destined for the same thing?

Based on what McKinnon says, he should be able to slot in for Edwards-Helaire and Williams just fine. He feels the only difference is that he brings his own unique brand of energy that could help empower the offense.

“I think us as a room, we all collectively kind of have a lot of similarities,” McKinnon said. “The only thing I think I bring is I feed off the energy. I’m big on energy. Guys can feel that, guys can thrive off that and the other guys on offense bring it as well. Cheetah (Tyreek Hill), (Travis) Kelce, Pat (Patrick Mahomes), the whole O-Line, everybody so it’s going to be great to get out there.”

It’ll be tough to face the Steelers without Edwards-Helaire and potentially without Williams. At the same time, this is why the Chiefs prepare all of their players as if they can step in and be a starter at any given time. McKinnon should be ready to embrace any role that Kansas City needs him to play on Sunday.

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