PITTSBURGH -- About a week ago, Andy Reid suggested he was going to go with a running back-by-committee approach this year. At that moment, optimism about Damien Williams picking up where he left off at the end of last year was dashed.
But that was when Williams was dealing with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for a week's worth of training camp. On Saturday, he suited up and played with the Chiefs' starting unit in their second preseason game at the Steelers ... for five plays. Other than getting a ball thrown over his head by Patrick Mahomes on a third down, he didn't do much of anything.
The rushing tandem plan seemed to be in full swing on the Chiefs' second series of the night when veteran Carlos Hyde got his chance with the starting lineup, but he had the ball punched out by Terrell Edmunds on his third carry. Hyde didn't seem too concerned, walking back to his bench and sitting down as if it wasn't his fault the Chiefs' drive ended. Probably because it's a meaningless preseason game. But it's a reminder of his nine regular-season fumbles over the past three seasons.
And then Hyde played nine plays over two more series with the backups. No more committee.
Reid acknowledged after the game that "we could" rotate running backs by series, but that wasn't what he was going for in their 17-7 loss to the Steelers.
"I put Damien on a schedule like the guys had (last week), so (he) only got a series," he said. "I kept a lot of it short."
If actions speak louder than words, the schedule Reid referred to involving the starters getting just one series in their first preseason game lays out his view that Williams is indeed his starter. This was Williams' first preseason game, so he got first preseason game starter's reps. If it were his second preseason game, presumably he'd see more playing time.
And if actions speak louder than words, the Chiefs won't have too difficult a decision to make about who their second back is behind Williams. Hyde moved like a gas guzzler while rookie Darwin Thompson sped around like a Tesla.
Seeing snaps with the second unit in the second quarter, Thompson helped carry the Chiefs to their only scoring drive of the night. Outside runs for 14 and 11 yards showed off his impressive speed to turn the corner on edge runs, but it was little things like creating yards after contact behind the line of scrimmage for a 2-yard gain, and protecting quarterback Chad Henne multiple times like a boss, including on his 17-yard touchdown dart to Mecole Hardman, that should not only earn him a roster spot but some modest playing time to begin the season.
Thompson didn't play at all in the second half with end-of-roster guys scuffling to make the final roster, another sign the Chiefs coaching staff like what they have in him.
"He's playing hard, aggressive football," Reid said of Thompson. "I don't think he had quite as many touches as last time, but when he had opportunities I thought he did a good job. He's seeing things. He's patient enough to where he can bounce (outside). His vision's good."
Rumors and roster projections hint at Hyde not being a lock to make the Chiefs. The team would even save a shade over $1 million of cap space if they let Hyde go. It would leave Williams as the starter, Thompson as his understudy and second-year back Darrel Williams as the big back. In that scenario there would be little doubt that Williams would get the kind of touches Fantasy managers envisioned when Reid previously referred to him as a "full-time starter."
We should be comfortable with the projection that Williams will still lead the way for the Chiefs. He even passes the eyeball test, looking thicker than he did last season. It would be silly to expect him to be as effective as he was in his final five games last season when he averaged 114.4 total yards and a touchdown. But any back getting the lion's share of work in this offense figures to help earn Fantasy wins. That's why he's stable as a third-round pick.
Thompson is also in play as a long-term bench stash or handcuff to Williams. He isn't tall, but he's not small like typical speedy backs, and his ability to pass protect will help him find playing time. He deserves attention around pick 100 overall in any draft.
What can Hyde do that these guys can't? Aside from offer valuable experience and play hard-nosed, old-school football, not a whole lot. And it might cost him his chance to play in this amazing offense.
To operate at its best, Reid's unit needs a pass-catcher in the backfield to find mismatches through the air and take advantage of six-man fronts on the ground. Williams did exactly that last season. If he can stay healthy, he'll get the chance.
And if he can't, Thompson fits in nicely. It's not like Reid hasn't used unproven backs who fit in before. Williams was largely unproven last year. Kareem Hunt was unproven before he became a No. 1 Fantasy rusher. It can all happen again.
Let's just hope it happens one running back at a time.
So which Fantasy Football breakouts should you target in your draft? And which rookie running back is a must-have RB2? Visit SportsLine now to get cheat sheets from the model that called Tevin Coleman's breakout season, and find out.