MOVIES

Chiefs Film Review: running back Isiah Pacheco is hungry — and it shows

Taken in the seventh round, new Kansas City Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco was the 251st player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.

By definition, he’s a long shot.

Seventh-rounders aren’t even guaranteed to make the 53-man roster. Just ask Kansas City’s 2021 fifth-round pick Cornell Powell, who spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad.

Still, when you hear Pacheco speak, you want to believe in him—mostly because you get a sense of what this opportunity means to him.

Nothing in Pacheco’s life has come easily. When he was a junior in high school, his older brother Tavaris was stabbed to death. A year later, her sister Celeste — a single mother of three — was murdered in her home by the father of one of her children.

Two days after his sister’s death, Pacheco led his high school football team to a 42-6 victory, in a game where he rushed for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Pacheco leaned into football as an outlet to get him through the dark hours,

“I just go home, do a couple push-ups to relieve a little of the anger,” Pacheco said. “When I get on the (football) field, I’m just a whole different person. I want to be here for my players, I’m a leader, I want to make things happen.”

It was his late brother Tavaris who got Pacheco into playing football.

“He encouraged me to play football as a kid and he never got the opportunity to see me play here. Having an opportunity to play ball, it helps me a lot not worrying about the tragedies that happened. It makes me want to go harder.”

“I play football for them,” he said. “My family had a lot of ups and downs. When my brother first passed and then my sister passed a year later, it really hurt my mom deep inside. I’m the youngest one out of all my brothers and sisters and I kind of bring that smile to my mom’s face when I’m out here on this field just grinding away, taking care of my school work and showing what I have to do to get to that next level.”

Background

In his senior season at Rutgers, Pacheco averaged a meager 3.9 yards per carry — primarily because of the offensive line’s poor play. In 2021 Football Outsiders ranked the Scarlet Knights 103rd in line yards per carry at 2.43.

This means that on his own, Pacheco averaged an extra 1.5 yards per attempt.

At the NFL Combine, Pacheco ran a 4.37 40-yard dash and did 27 reps on the bench press. His vertical jump from him left a little to be desired at 33 inches — as did his agility numbers: a 7.09-second 3-cone drill and a 4.27 shuttle.

Even with these deficiencies, his speed and strength were good enough to earn him a respectable relative athletic score of 8.81.

Where Pacheco fits in with the Chiefs

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Rutgers at Indiana

Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Early on, Pacheco isn’t a player who is going to get it right every single time. He is still a work in progress — and is prone to making mental errors. But he also learns from these errors, putting his corrections into immediate action.

This rep against Wisconsin is a good example. Fellow Chiefs rookie Leo Chenal obliterates Pacheco after he is slow to rotate over and does not get his feet set. The Wisconsin linebacker throws him into next week.

But a couple of plays later, you see Pacheco’s course correction. He gets into his stance early and keeps his feet moving.

A lot of times, young running backs in pass protection look like passive participants — waiting for the defender to come to them and then sort of just hanging on for dear life.

But here, Pacheco takes the fight to the defender, initiating the contact and keeping the pocket clean.

On this designed rollout, Pacheco takes pass protection a step further. The right tackle gives the edge rusher a bump — but before he has a chance to reengage with the defender, Pacheco gets his mitts on them, driving the much larger defender to the sideline.

Pacheco’s strength doesn’t just show up in the weight room. He has functional strength on the football field as well.

On this snap, we see the urgency in the way Pacheco plays the game. He slips past Aiden Hutchinson’s attempted arm tackle, showing good contact balance by playing through the attempted tackle at the line. Once he is in the open field, his athleticism takes over.

This run is designed to go through the A-gap, but the center fails to engage No. 57. For a brief moment, this play looks dead in the water — but Pacheco’s vision allows him to bounce into the B gap (to the guard’s left) for a nice gain.

On this play, Pacheco shows good hands. He catches the ball away from his frame, preventing it from getting into his body. Once he has the ball secured, he gets upfield in a hurry. At the end of the play, he shows good grit by diving for the first down marker.

Once he gets into the open field, Pacheco has an impressive second gear. Here, he plants his foot and breaks outside — and the defenders just can’t keep up with him. He takes a good line to the sideline for a nice gain.

Here is another poorly-blocked play. The defender is in the backfield almost as soon as the ball is snapped, but Pacheco is able to make something out of nothing. While he is generally not a very agile player, here he shows a good wiggle in a tight space, allowing him to navigate through the mess to find a sliver of daylight — turning what should have been a loss into a modest gain.

As I mentioned earlier, Pacheco does sometimes have mental lapses. Here — in an important short-yardage situation during a road game — he fumbles the direct snap. The error nearly causes a turnover — and kills an important drive in the opposing team’s territory. If Pacheco wants to be more than a blocking back or a special-teams player in the NFL, he will need to clean up these mistakes.

Pacheco hits every hole going a thousand miles an hour. He doesn’t show a lot of patience — but if you give him clear lanes, he will explode through them for big gains. There is no quit in him — and he runs as hard in the fourth quarter as he does in the first. He is the type of running back who needs a good offensive line for him to be successful.

You know… a line like the one he’ll be running behind in Kansas City.

The bottom line

Pacheco is currently third or fourth on the depth chart behind Clyde Edwards Helaire, Ronald Jones and perhaps Derrick Gore. He is by no means a lock to make the team — let alone have meaningful snaps during the season. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that the Chiefs like to find running back production in unlikely places.

If Pacheco even had moderately competent offensive line play during his college career, I think he would have gone much higher in the draft. At his initial press conference, he said he brings plenty to the table.

“You know, [I’m] definitely a guy that can compete on all three downs,” he declared. “Pass protection, being able to catch the ball, being able to run the ball on first and second down — whenever we need to gain the short yardage.

“And being able to compete on special teams — more specifically, coming in the door, giving 120 percent, competing and [being] willing to take another grown man’s job.”

The raw talent is there. The will to succeed is there.

They say hungry dogs run faster — and 4.37 seconds is pretty dang fast.

I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Pacheco could come in and take another grown man’s job.

Kayode Damilola

Blogger, Social Media Enthusiast & Freelancer

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