One player in particular drew high praise from Andy Reid’s assistant head coach, second-year defensive back Nazeeh Johnson. So much so that Arrowhead Pride writer Jared Sapp labeled the former seventh rounder as a “near roster lock” after hearing Toub’s vote of confidence.
“Toward the end of the year, Nazeeh Johnson — as a [punt coverage] gunner — he was playing better than anybody in the league, so I’m excited about him,” Toub noted unprovoked. “He’ll probably [be] your number one gunner going into next year.”
Johnson was a core special teamer down the stretch in 2022, appearing in the final 11 games (including the postseason), with another three outings earlier in the campaign. He did not log a single snap on defense but registered 96 on special teams during the regular season, with another 45 snaps during the playoffs.
Chiefs ST Coordinator Dave Toub Opens Up Returner Competition, Highlights RB Deneric Prince
It was an informative press conference from Toub, who was quick to discuss the new kick return battle as well.
“Oh yeah, I do anticipate [new returners],” Toub replied after a question about RB Isiah Pacheco and WR Kadarius Toney taking on larger roles in the offense in 2023.
Continuing: “Some guys that are doing really well right now… [Deneric] Prince is looking good as a running back… [wide receiver] Richie James is a guy that has got experience. He did it in NFL games — that’s huge, as we know — and he’s definitely in the mix. [WR John] Ross, the other one, No. 85. He’s another guy that’s got great speed, had injury problems at Cincinnati but if he can stay healthy, he’s definitely in the mix. [Ross is] probably one of our fastest players back there.”
“And then you still got [WR] Skyy [Moore], and you got [WR] Ihmir [Smith-Marsette],” Toub added, concluding that “we have a bunch of guys that are possible guys that can [return] for us.”
On Prince, Toub compared him to former Chiefs returner Knile Davis.
“[Prince] didn’t do it in college but he’s shown traits right now that — he reminds me so much of Knile it’s kind of scary,” Toub joked, “and Knile was pretty good for us as he went on.”
It appears the priority UDFA running back could have the early leg up in the kick returner battle a year after Pacheco excelled in the exact same role.
Chiefs’ Dave Toub Expects Draft Picks Chamarri Conner & Nic Jones to Have Immediate Impact on Special Teams
Outside of the return game, Toub also highlighted some players that could make an immediate impact on alternative units and/or ST roles. Some of the newcomers he listed were draft picks Chamarri Conner (DB) and Nic Jones (CB), as well as UDFA linebackers Isaiah Moore and Cam Jones — if they were to make the roster.
Moore has already impressed media members on the defensive side of the ball too, so he could be an undrafted rookie to watch this summer.
Toub added that he expects second-year special teamers like LB Jack Cochrane and the aforementioned Johnson to take the next step inside his system in 2023. CB Joshua Williams, LB Leo Chenal, S Bryan Cook, CB Jaylen Watson and DE George Karlaftis also fit that description — logging valuable snaps on various ST units a season ago.
Alternatively, WR Justin Watson and DB Deon Bush profile as integral veterans entering year two under Toub.