KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Between participating in both the Hula Bowl and East-West Shrine Game following his final season at Rutgers, preparing for the NFL draft and then heading to Kansas City for offseason workouts with the Chiefs, Isiah Pacheco wasn’t able to take any kind of extended break before his rookie season.
“There was not a chill spot for me to just relax,” Pacheco said. “It was all football, football, football.”
Pacheco is taking some down time after the Chiefs’ extended season, which ended in February with a Super Bowl LVII win over the Philadelphia Eagles. But he also isn’t completely ignoring the work he put in last year that not only got him drafted by the Chiefs in the seventh round but also allowed him to emerge as a surprise star.
Pacheco’s teammates selected him as the Chiefs’ rookie of the year after leading the team with 830 rushing yards. He ran for 197 more in the three postseason games and scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
In particular, Pacheco wants to become a more patient runner in terms of allowing his blocking to develop, which means studying a lot of video this offseason. He also wants to become more reliable as a receiver, which means catching a lot of passes.
“Being able to extend the things I’m able to do, that comes with work in the offseason,’’ Pacheco said. “For me, I still feel like there’s more to improve …I’m satisfied with the [Super Bowl] win on my first [appearance], but I’m unsatisfied because I know that there’s more that could’ve been done out there.
“One of the [biggest] things I improved on, [is] eliminating the distractions. I could have a thousand things going on, a lot of people hitting my phone up. I just kind of sit it on silent, sit it to the side. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work.”
It’s been a steep climb for Pacheco as a seventh-round draft pick. The Chiefs were hopeful but not certain that he could develop into a productive player.
Pacheco’s expectations were higher. He grabbed a notebook after being drafted and jotted down some things he wanted to accomplish, not necessarily all as a rookie. On that list: make the team, lead the team in rushing, help the Chiefs win a Super Bowl.
“It happened so fast and for me, not expecting it but dreaming of it, putting [in] the work to get here,” he said. “I’m not surprised that the hard work got me here. I’m just surprised it happened so fast.
“It means the absolute world to me. Especially when you write down in your notes what your goals are and then you come back to them. For me, I’m going to come back to them, grab that pen and check them off.”
Pacheco took over from Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the starting running back in the middle of the season. He was more productive than Edwards-Helaire, outgaining him by more than a half-yard per carry (4.9 yards for Pacheco to 4.3 yards for Edwards-Helaire).
Pacheco didn’t always make the most of every play, particularly early in the season. He would occasionally miss an obvious hole in his hurry to make something out of a play, and he didn’t become the starter until the Chiefs were comfortable he had improved in that area.
“It’s just the patience of different things and how to understand that, how to set up blocks and understand where the blocking scheme is supposed to be going and then utilizing his skill set from there,” said former running backs coach Greg Lewis, who recently moved on to the staff of the Baltimore Ravens.
“Early on, obviously you come into something new — that’s with any job — you don’t know everything about it and you try to build off that and try to understand it and now he’s grasping everything and now you’re able to see his skill set take advantage of opportunities when he does get those.”
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes on occasion pointed to the hole where Pacheco should have run after handing him the ball.
“Obviously, he was extremely talented and had all the tools and wanted to work, and I think that was a big thing,” Mahomes said. “As he learned patience and was able to hit the hole and still get those extra yards, you saw the run game take off.”
Unlike last season, the Chiefs will have some big expectations for Pacheco when they begin training camp. He will be the starter on a defending Super Bowl championship team, not a late-round draft pick trying to make the roster.
But he already exceeded their expectations for him once.
“As a seventh-round pick, I always had something to prove, for the doubters,” Pacheco said. “If you dream big, you could go get it, go grab it. That’s something I always had in mind of being on this stage, on this level. It feels unreal, but it’s real and it’s here and so I have to embrace it.”