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Pre-Camp Breakdown: Sorting Through the Chiefs Running Backs

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— WRITTEN BY MATT McMULLEN, CHIEFS.COM REPORTER —

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Chiefs.com) – The Kansas City Chiefs are set to kick off training camp in less than a month, and with the annual trek to St. Joseph nearly here, we’re going to spend the next few weeks examining every position group on the roster heading into camp.

We began with the quarterbacks, and we’ll continue at running back, where the Chiefs currently employ seven players.

Let’s take a look at each, beginning with last year’s primary contributors in Isiah Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. After those two, the rest of the guys are listed alphabetically.

Isiah Pacheco

Pacheco was the Chiefs’ leading rusher last season with 935 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in 14 games. He also hauled in 44 receptions for 144 yards, finding the end zone twice through the air. Pacheco posted three 100-yard rushing games on the season, including a 130-yard performance against the Bengals in Week 17 that helped lock up the AFC West title.

The 25-year-old Pacheco was then a major factor in the Chiefs’ run to another Super Bowl championship, rushing for at least 65 yards in each of Kansas City’s four postseason games.

A former seventh-round pick, Pacheco has emerged from those humble beginnings to rack up a grand total of 1,765 rushing yards in 31 games over the last two seasons. He enters 2024 as the Chiefs’ lead tailback as the Rutgers’ playmaker takes aim at his first-career 1,000-yard season.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

The Chiefs re-signed Edwards-Helaire on April 8 following a campaign in which the former first-round pick appeared in a career-most 15 games. Edwards-Helaire logged 87 total touches for 411 yards and two touchdowns last season, including a performance against the Patriots in Week 15 that included 101 yards from scrimmage (37 rushing, 64 receiving) and a touchdown.

Now entering his fifth year with the Chiefs, Edwards-Helaire has recorded 1,845 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 48 games (32 starts) during his time as a professional. He also has 89 receptions for 765 yards and seven scores during that time.

Emani Bailey

An undrafted free agent signee earlier this spring, the 5-foot-7, 202-pound Bailey led the Horned Frogs in rushing last season with 1,209 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards-per-carry. In fact, Bailey was one of only nine Power Five players to average 100+ rushing yards-per-game, and one of just three to record 70+ forced missed tackles.

He was also a viable weapon through the air, tallying 25 receptions (without a drop) for 184 yards and a score. In total, the 22-year-old Bailey averaged 20.7 offensive touches-per-game last season.

It all added up to a breakout campaign for Bailey, who spent the first two seasons of his career at Louisiana before transferring to TCU in 2022. Here’s more on Bailey from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler:

“He easily strings moves together to create yardage in space and is dangerous when he works in concert with his blockers. His game reminds me of Eric Gray — another former Big 12 back, who was selected in the fifth round in the 2023 NFL Draft.”

Keaontay Ingram

A “Reserve/Future” signee back on February 14, Ingram was a sixth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2022. The six-foot-tall, 215-pound Ingram appeared in 20 games (1 start) for the Cardinals over the last two seasons, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown. His top statistical performance came in his lone career start, when he rushed for 40 yards on 10 carries against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6 of last season. The Cardinals released Ingram on November 28.

Ingram signed with the Chiefs’ practice squad only a few days after he was released, and while he was active for Kansas City’s Week 17 matchup against Cincinnati, he did not log an appearance.

Prior to being drafted, Ingram led USC in rushing with 911 yards (averaging 5.8 yards-per-carry) during his senior campaign. He was a three-year contributor at the University of Texas before transferring to USC ahead of the 2021 season.

Deneric Prince

Prince spent all of last season with the Chiefs, spending time on both the practice squad and the active roster. He ultimately appeared in two games, logging 15 snaps (all on special teams) between Week 14 and Week 15.

The No. 18 ranked running back in the 2023 draft class according to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, Prince was a projected fifth or sixth-round pick after a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine last year. In fact, Prince logged a 4.41-second 40-yard dash (fourth among all running backs) and a 10-foot-five-inch broad jump (fifth among all running backs).

Carson Steele

An undrafted free agent signee this offseason, Steele racked up 1,556 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns in 2022 as part of an all-conference campaign at Ball State that included 96 forced missed tackles. He then transferred to UCLA last season, where he led the Bruins in rushing yards (847).

Steele – who can bench 450 pounds and squat 675 pounds – was also a member of Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks List” due to his athletic traits.

Here’s a snippet on Steele from Dane Brugler of The Athletic’s draft guide:

“Steele runs with vision and urgency and has pass-catching value.”

Louis Rees-Zammit

A star rugby player in Europe, Rees-Zammit made the jump to the NFL in late March by signing with Kansas City. The move came on the heels of the International Player Pathway Program workout earlier that month, which provided the 23-year-old Rees-Zammit with an opportunity to show NFL scouts what he could do. His workout included a 4.44-second 40-yard dash, which would have ranked fifth among tailbacks at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine.

Here’s a bit more on Rees-Zammit from Forbes’ Vitas Carosella:

“The 22-year old has been a professional rugby player since age 18. He was a mainstay on the wing with his club side Gloucester in England and for the Welsh national team after making his international debut in 2020. He has already competed in multiple 6 Nations, last year’s Rugby World Cup and was selected for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa in 2021. At age 20, he was the youngest player to make the Lions since 1959.

Louis Rees Zammit is known for his electric pace, having once clocked 24.2 miles per hour in a rugby game…Rees Zammit’s speed has made him a try scoring machine, with 14 tries in 31 matches for his country, including four at last year’s Rugby World Cup.”

Rees-Zammit has quickly made an impression during his first few months with the Chiefs as well, notably on special teams as a return man and even as a kicker. Here’s more from Assistant Head Coach / Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub, who spoke about Rees-Zammit during offseason practices in late May:

“Louis has done above and beyond what I expected. [As a kicker], he can kick field goals and kick off. He could be a kickoff guy for us. He’s every bit as good as [safety] Justin [Reid] is at moving the football on kickoffs,” Toub said. “He’s also working really hard at the returner job. I have him in there as a starter right now so he gets as many reps as he can…He wants to be great, and he’s a great athlete. He just has such a long way to go football-wise mentally. [His teammates] have been playing since fourth grade, and he hasn’t played football until now. There’s a long way to go with that part of it, but he’s on the accelerated program, and he’s doing well.”

The Bottom Line

The Chiefs kept three running backs for Week 1 last year in Isiah Pacheco, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon. It’s reasonable to assume that Pacheco and Edwards-Helaire own the top two spots on the depth chart heading into training camp, but with McKinnon no longer on the roster, there’s at least one spot remaining between Emani Bailey, Keaontay Ingram, Deneric Prince, Carson Steele and Louis Rees-Zammit.

It’s possible the Chiefs could keep as many as four running backs, too. Kansas City kept four running backs for Week 1 in 2022 (plus a fullback), so if multiple players outside of Pacheco and Edwards-Helaire emerge in training camp, it’s realistic that Kansas City could make the roster math work.

The primary role for that third or even fourth spot will likely include third-down responsibilities, which was a job that McKinnon handled tremendously well during his time in Kansas City. That role includes pass-blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield, so those two areas – plus the ability to contribute on special teams – will be under the microscope for the other five running backs on the current roster.

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