RB Jerick McKinnon has done it all for the Chiefs this season

by Ricardo Gutierrez - McKinnon's versatility has made him one of the Chiefs' most valuable offensive weapons.

RB Jerick McKinnon has done it all for the Chiefs this season Jan 6, 2023 Adam TeicherESPN Staff Writer Close Covered Chiefs for 20 seasons for Kansas City Star Joined ESPN in 2013 KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jerick McKinnon hardly seemed like a strong candidate to enter the NFL record book this season, not with the Kansas City Chiefs returning Clyde Edwards-Helaire as their featured running back and adding two additional players at the position, veteran Ronald Jones and rookie Isiah Pacheco . But McKinnon tied an NFL record for running backs in Sunday’s win over the Denver Broncos by catching a touchdown pass for the fifth straight game. He also joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk and Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers as the only backs to catch eight touchdowns in a season in the last 30 years. “If I would tell you I saw it coming, no,’’ said McKinnon, who is third on the Chiefs in catches with 54 and second in touchdowns with nine. “But this is what you put the work in the offseason for, so when your opportunity comes you’re ready for it. “The preparation and everything is paying off.’’ Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon has caught a touchdown pass in five straight games. Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports McKinnon has been involved as a pass-catcher and pass-blocker as much as a runner since arriving in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. He has played for coaches who valued running backs as receivers, including offensive coordinator Norv Turner with the Vikings, Kyle Shanahan with the San Francisco 49ers and Andy Reid with the Chiefs, and often flourished in the role. “When you’re used in a certain role you get comfortable and you develop in that role,’’ he said. “It’s a credit to the coaches I’ve had.’’ McKinnon sat out the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the 49ers because of a knee injury, but has otherwise contributed heavily as a receiver in his seven NFL seasons. But this season he has personal bests for catches, yards (512) and touchdowns. “He’s a very, very good football player that happens to play the running back position,’’ Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “That’s been Jerick’s story his whole entire career. “Jerick is doing everything that we expected him to do, and that’s just who he is. He’s the ultimate professional, [and] he does a great job of working it on the field, but the thing I don’t think he probably gets enough credit for is just his leadership that he provides [and] being an example of what it takes to be a professional to all the young players in our room.” McKinnon joined the Chiefs last season and re-signed for this year shortly before the start of training camp. He looked to be an afterthought as the Chiefs’ depth chart at his position already looked fully loaded. But Edwards-Helaire lost much of his playing time at midseason and then injured an ankle , forcing him out of the lineup completely over the last several games. McKinnon worked his way into significant playing time. He had seven touchdown catches in his first six NFL seasons before breaking out this season. His two-touchdown game against the Broncos was typical for McKinnon. He caught a 6-yarder from Mahomes after Denver defenders lost him as he crossed the formation behind the line of scrimmage, and he scored from 3 yards when linebacker Alex Singleton was late getting to him in coverage. “He just finds a way to get in the end zone,’’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “A lot of those things he’s not the first read, he’s not the second read. “He’s able to just be in the right spot at the right time whenever I need to hit a checkdown, I can get it to him and then he makes the most of it by getting into the end zone. … I think that’s the biggest thing is he does his job to the best of his ability, if that’s protecting, if that’s running the route, whatever that is, running the football. And those are the guys that you need to go out there and win football games, and you just want other guys to keep doing that because he does it to the best of his ability every single time.” McKinnon didn’t come to the NFL as a polished receiver. He was an option quarterback in college at Georgia Southern, but he said that was of use to him when he became a running back for the Vikings. “As far as understanding defenses and things of that nature, playing quarterback in college definitely helped me coming into the league,’’ he said. “Defenses are definitely more complex in the league than college, and coverages as well. But just game-planning in that role and knowing what everybody is doing and knowing defenses and things like that definitely helped me.’’ He also had to learn to pass block. But he has become so good at it that the Chiefs trust McKinnon more than any of their other backs. He’s usually the one in the game on obvious passing downs. “It first started when I was coming out [for the draft] at the Senior Bowl,’’ McKinnon said. “I really didn’t know what pass protection [was]. I’m not going to lie to you, I had never done it. I had never traditionally played running back. So after taking some L's in the Senior Bowl one-on-ones and getting into the league and being a rookie and going through one-on-ones and trying to understand pass-protection calls and going through that whole learning curve and physically messing up and getting yelled at and stuff like that ... “That’s one thing that can keep you around for a long time. You’ve got a lot of great backs and everybody can run the ball. Pass pro[tection] is definitely something that’s difficult. ... It’s definitely something I work at day in and day out.’’ The Chiefs close out the regular season on Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders , who have already been eliminated from playoff contention, but the surging Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals loom large in the AFC playoff picture. Kansas City will continue to rely on McKinnon’s versatility as they make another Super Bowl run. “It’s not like he’s looking for the glory or the praise,” Mahomes said. “He just comes to work every single day with a smile on his face and he brings the energy. You ask anybody in the locker room, [and] he’s probably one of, if not the favorite guy in the locker room. Everybody loves him, and that’s the type of guy he is, and it’s good to see that it’s paying off, all the hard work that he’s doing. And hopefully he can keep scoring touchdowns.”