San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy isn’t the only seventh-round pick of the 2022 NFL Draft who will play a big part in the conference’s championship weekend.
Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco, who was drafted 11 picks ahead of Purdy with the No. 1 pick. 251, will be a key player for Kansas City in the AFC championship game against Cincinnati on Sunday.
Pachecho had 12 carries for 95 yards in a 27-20 win against Jacksonville in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. Will he be the unlikely hero against the Bengals? How did Pacheco fall into the hands of the Chiefs?
MORE: Bengals vs Chiefs odds, predictions and betting trends
The Sporting News examines the path that brought Pacheco to the brink of Kansas City stardom:
Isiah Pacheco at Rutgers
Pacheco was a three-star running back at Vineland South High School (Vineland, NJ) in the class of 2018, and he picked Rutgers out of five schools that offered him a scholarship.
Big Ten Network’s “The Journey” also profiled Pacheco’s off-the-court struggles in high school. Pacheco’s brother Travoise Cannon was murdered on January 11, 2016. Pacheco’s sister Celeste was murdered on September 20, 2017. Pacheco spoke about those experiences on BTN:
The 5-10, 216-pound running back didn’t have monstrous stats in college: He finished with 2,442 yards and 18 TDs in a four-year career. He still has developed a reputation as a great racing game because of that speed. He finished seventh all-time in rushing yards for the Scarlet Knights.
Big Ten fans were also enthusiastic about Pacheco in college, due to his speed. He had 17 games with at least 16 carries in college and had over 100 yards in seven of those games. He had a couple of 100-yard games against Michigan and another against Penn State.
Isiah Pacheco in the 2022 NFL Draft
Pacheco ran a 4.37-for-40 at the 2022 NFL Combine, which was tied for the fastest time among running backs with South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong. Despite that speed, Pacheco didn’t generate much interest in the draft and was perceived as a Day 3 pick throughout the process. A total of 23 running backs were drafted in 2022, and Pacheco was second-to-last in that group.
Sometimes it depends on the landing point. Pacheco went from a draft slip to a draft steal given his match with Kansas City. Pacheco made an immediate impact in fall camp and was profiled by The Athletic’s Nate Taylor on Sept. 5:
In his previous nine seasons in charge of the Chiefs, Andy Reid, a future Hall of Fame coach known for his offensive innovations, never had a player in the offensive skill position who was selected in the seventh round earning a place in the 53 starting men of the squad list. Pacheco became the first, and with relative ease.
MORE: 2023 Mock Draft Updated Ahead of Conference Championship Weekend
Isiah Pacheco stats
Pacheco became a household name in fantasy circles, but he was still in a backfield that included Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon. He scored a touchdown in Week 1 against the Cardinals and emerged as the leading running back for the Chiefs.
However, that caseload remained much the same as it was in his time at Rutgers. He had four games with 15 carries or more and averaged 86 yards per game in those games. Pacheco averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the regular season. He finished fourth among rookies in rushing yards in 2022 and Pacheco has the lowest volume among running backs with 170 carries.
Rookie running leader in 2022
Kenneth Walker III Seahawks 228 1,050 4.6 9 Tyler Allgeier Falcons 210 1,035 4.9 3 Dameon Pierce Texans 220 939 4.3 4 Isiah Pacheco Chiefs 170 830 4.9 5 Brian Robinson Commanders 205 797 3.9 2
Pacheco also didn’t emerge as a threat in the passing game until the second half of the season. He has had 13 receptions on 14 targets for 130 yards this season.
Isiah Pacheco in the playoffs
Pacheco had a season high 95 yards on 12 carries against Jacksonville in the AFC Divisional playoffs. Patrick Mahomes sprained his ankle on the game, but Pacheco stepped up during a 98-yard drive led by backup quarterback Chad Henne. Pacheco broke up a season-long 39-yard run that helped set up a touchdown.
Rutgers football. pic.twitter.com/AAvXdVvAkV
— Ben Stevens (@BenScottStevens) January 21, 2023
Isiah Pacheco in the AFC championship game
The Bengals have won their last three meetings against the Chiefs despite the fact that Kansas City is averaging 6.0 yards per carry in those games. In their four losses this season, the Bengals have allowed up an average of 127.2 yards per game. With Mahomes’ ankle injury, it makes sense for Pacheco and McKinnon to be involved and for the Chiefs to remain patient in the running game.
Knowing this, Pacheco could be in for 15-20 carries, and is always a threat to break up the home run on offense. He also had five rushing touchdowns inside the red zone in 2022.
Pacheco will play a part in Sunday’s result. The more carries he gets, the better the Chiefs will be.