Whether head coach Andy Reid will admit it or not, the Kansas City Chiefs committed to a changing of the guard in Week 10 — seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco took over as the bell-cow running back of this offense.
KC has toyed with the idea of a three-pronged rotation for most of the season but with how little they run the football, it just hasn’t worked. Aside from a breakout run here or there, none of the ball carriers have been able to get into any sort of rhythm on the ground in 2022 and the Chiefs finally realized that their sporadic usage may have had something to do with that.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it was clearly Pacheco’s show with veteran Jerick McKinnon as his main spell-back in passing situations. Fading first-round draft pick Clyde Edwards Helaire was nowhere to be found aside from two passing targets and four total snaps on offense.
There was one minor issue with this plan, however, Pacheco also serves as the primary kick returner — a grueling role that you do not want for your starting RB. This week, the Chiefs attempted to remedy that situation by claiming a new return specialist, but their plans were foiled by another NFL franchise.
Chiefs Target RB/KR Eno Benjamin on Waivers
ESPN NFL insider Field Yates had the scoop on the morning of November 16. “New [Houston] Texans RB Eno Benjamin was sought after on waivers,” he tweeted, “the Chiefs, [New Orleans] Saints and [Seattle] Seahawks also put a claim in on him, per source.”
Benjamin was surprisingly released by the Arizona Cardinals on November 14 despite starting three games in 2022 when starter James Conner was sidelined. The 23-year-old also outpaced Conner in production with 0.5 more yards per carry.
More importantly for Chiefs fans, Benjamin was a kick return specialist with 15 returns over his 19-game career. Make no mistake, that’s why general manager Brett Veach targeted him off waivers and it should tell you that KC is planning on seeing this Pacheco opportunity through.
The Rutgers product led Eric Bieniemy’s rushing attack to its second-best total this season with 155 yards on the ground. Pacheco contributed 82 of those yards, which was a career-high despite an early fumble that had zero impact on the Chiefs’ confidence in him.
It would not be shocking whatsoever if Veach and the Chiefs continue to look for help in the return game.
Chiefs Options at Kick Returner
The Chiefs tried out rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore on kick returns in Week 10 and similar to his attempts on punt duties, that plan crashed and burned. During his lone try bringing the ball out of the endzone, Moore only made it to the 10-yard line.
Pacheco has had a good deal of success in the role should KC ever need a big one (21.8 yards per return), but if they intend to pass along the everyday duties, it’s possible Mecole Hardman or Kadarius Toney might become his successor. The Chiefs shied away from the former continuing on as a returner in 2022 because of plans to increase his offensive workload. The season has not exactly gone as Hardman or KC hoped, however.
After Toney’s emergence, one could argue that Hardman is free to take on more of a special teams role once again. The Chiefs could also see it the other way around and put the newcomer on kick returns since he’s already taken on duties fielding punts.
Kansas City also has a couple of options on the practice squad, like WR/KR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (five career returns, 20.0-yard average). Recently suspended rookie Jerrion Ealy was also a return specialist in college. The first-year playmaker rejoined the practice squad this week.
And then there’s running back Wayne Gallman, who logged one career kick return during his days with the New York Giants. The Chiefs do have some in-house options at the position and it will be interesting to see who gets the next opportunity should Pacheco surrender the job.
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub is set to speak to the media on Thursday.