With Organized Team Activities (OTAs) fast approaching, there is a ton of excitement surrounding the new players that the Kansas City Chiefs brought in during free agency and the draft. At the same time, there are plenty of veteran holdovers on the roster looking to make significant contributions to the team’s successes in 2022.
Some of those veterans have dealt with injuries or otherwise haven’t had the opportunity to play their best football with the team. There’s reason to believe that each of the following five players will have a shot at a breakout during their upcoming season in Kansas City.
WR Mecole Hardman
Hardman has previously responded to criticism over his production by pointing out that he’s playing alongside the best tight end and wide receiver in football. Well, with Tyreek Hill gone, there is going to be a big opportunity for Hardman to step up.
There is certainly reason to believe that he is capable of having a breakout year too. Late in the season, Hardman started hitting his stride with Andy Reid figuring out how to best utilize him. Of receivers with more than 35 targets in 2021, Hardman had the second-most yards after the catch per reception with 12.6 per Pro Football Focus.
If he can become the team’s primary deep threat in addition to his role as the team’s yards after the catch weapon, that would certainly help his chances.
LB Willie Gay Jr.
Gay Jr. dealt with a concussion early on in training camp in 2021, but when he finally saw the field he looked like one of the best defensive players on the team. In the final preseason game of the season, Gay suffered a toe injury that sidelined him late in training camp.
He was placed on injured reserve for the early portion of the 2021 NFL season. He only played in 12 games and it took him two games to get his defensive snap count up. Despite missing time, he finished the season with the ninth-most tackles on the team (49).
He also led the linebacker group in interceptions (2) and passes defended (4). Should Gay stay healthy and on the field during training camp, he’s primed for a tremendous year in 2022.
CB Rashad Fenton
Fenton has been the first player off the bench at the cornerback position for Kansas City since he joined the team in 2019, but that could change in 2022. Charvarius Ward leaving in free agency created a vacuum at the position, which the team has sought to rectify with draft picks (Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson) and a trade acquisition (Lonnie Johnson).
Chiefs fans shouldn’t count Fenton out from winning a starting job, though. He was the team’s leader in Adjusted Net Yards Allowed per Coverage Snap during 2021. He was also the only corner on the team to not allow a touchdown with over 400 coverage snaps.
Fenton is dealing with a shoulder injury that could keep him out of OTAs, but the team currently expects him to be ready for training camp.
DE Mike Danna
The Chiefs need an edge rusher to break out this season in the worst way and why not Mike Danna? He’s improved in each of two seasons so far, with a steady increase in snaps and opportunities. Danna was one of six Chiefs players with four sacks last season.
His 22 total pressures in 2021 were good for the fourth-most behind a three-way tie between Melvin Ingram, Jarran Reed and Tershawn Wharton for third-most. He played the second-most snaps of any Chiefs edge rusher in 2021, with 534 snaps on the year. That’s 200 more snaps than he had as a rookie in 2020.
DT Khalen Saunders
Saunders has been hit with the injury bug early in his NFL career. In 2020, he spent most of the year inactive due to a dislocated elbow. In 2021, Saunders appeared in seven games, recording eight total tackles and five quarterback pressures in a rotational role.
He suffered a knee injury in Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans, which eventually landed him on injured reserve. Talent has never been the issue with Saunders, it’s just been a matter of health and opportunity. This year he could have an opportunity to claim a bigger role on defense, perhaps in the spot vacated by Jarran Reed.