There are shaping up to be some very interesting Kansas City Chiefs training camp battles in 2022 after a wild offseason that revamped several positions.
One wide-open unit might be running back, as general manager Brett Veach brought in free agent Ronald Jones II along with three rookie ball carriers to compete with projected starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire and returnees Jerick McKinnon and Derrick Gore.
In terms of the first-year prospects, seventh-round draft pick Isiah Pacheco has gotten most of the attention so far but another versatile name to watch is Jerrion Ealy. The former Ole Miss product enters the NFL as an undrafted free agent but he has a unique skill set that separates him from other running backs.
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Kick Return Job Is Open for Business
While discussing Ealy’s chances of making the 2022 roster, Arrowhead Pride writer Talon Graff highlighted the rookie’s special teams prowess as his greatest strength.
“As fun as Ealy is to watch as a piece of the offense,” Graff detailed, “his playmaking ability as a kick returner could be his ace in the hole. If he can carry over his success as a special teamer to the NFL, he could eventually land on the 53-man roster.”
It appears that the Chiefs are searching for a new kick returner in 2022 based on a few of their additions and camp invites. That would make sense, given that last year’s primary kick returner Byron Pringle is no longer on the roster.
Of course, Mecole Hardman is always a threat in this area of the game but the former Pro Bowl returner has taken more snaps catching punts than kicks in recent seasons. Mike Hughes, another option on kicks and punts in 2021, has also signed elsewhere this spring.
Having said all that, Ealy’s 864 kick return yards (25.4 average) over three seasons could make him an asset for ST coordinator Dave Toub. A dual-threat out of the backfield, the former Ole Miss Rebel also offers potential as a third-down back with 986 scrimmage yards in 2021 (including 32 receptions for 218 yards).
His major hang-up is his size at 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, but Graff referred to Ealy as a “fighter” who “doesn’t go down easily.”
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Ealy’s Major Competition
Barring a trade, the assumption is that Edwards-Helaire and Jones will make the 53-man roster and compete for the early-season starting duties. That leaves one or two spots on the roster — most likely — and five really solid contenders.
From a return man perspective, Pacheco is probably the number one threat to Ealy at the position. Of course, there are receivers that could also win the job but staying inside the running back room for the moment, the Rutgers product did return 18 kicks in 2018 before becoming a starting RB. He logged an average of 19.3 yards per return.
In terms of offensive skill set, McKinnon, Gore and fellow UDFA Tayon Fleet-Davis stand in Ealy’s way. All three have shown promise out of the backfield as receiving threats throughout their respective careers, while Jones and Pacheco are better known as big-play runners.
McKinnon is a near carbon copy, physically speaking, so Ealy may have to beat out the veteran in camp to earn a permanent spot on the roster as a rookie. If not, the practice squad could be his destiny, but he’d have to clear waivers first.
Graff concluded that it will be an “uphill battle” for Ealy, as is the case with most undrafted prospects. He explained: “The Chiefs have voids that Ealy could fill, and the advantage for him is that he could fill multiple at the same time. He could be in a tough competition with fellow rookie running back Isiah Pacheco, who also provides versatility.”