Coming off of an embarrassing 2-14 record in 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs had nowhere to go but up last season. Finishing the year at 11-5 including a Wild Card berth into the playoffs, it is safe to say that the team turned things around quickly last season. The Chiefs suffered some tough losses this off-season, but they are back to compete for an AFC West title this season.
Key Veteran Additions: DT Vance Walker, OG Jeff Linkenbach, LB Joe Mays, CB Chris Owens, OG Mike McGlynn and OT Ryan Harris.
Key Off-season Losses: OT Branden Albert, CB Brandon Flowers, OG Geoff Schwartz, OG Jon Asamoah, DE Tyson Jackson, LB Akeem Jordan, WR Dexter McCluster, S Kendrick Lewis, S Quintin Demps and CB Dunta Robinson.
Draft Picks (Round Taken): DE/OLB Dee Ford (1), CB Phillip Gaines (3), RB/RET De’Anthony Thomas (4), QB Aaron Murray (5), OG Zach Fulton (6) and OT Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (6).
The additions of Head Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith made a huge difference for the team in 2013. The Chiefs started out the season hot, winning their first nine games. After their improbable start, the Chiefs lost five out of their last seven regular season games, and suffered a tough post-season loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round, 45-44.
It was certainly a wild season for the Chiefs, but it is one that they can use to build on for the future.
After years of complete trash at quarterback, Smith brought nice stability at the position in 2013. He has always had the label of a game manager, but late last season he really started to let it rip when the Chiefs needed him to do so.
His play down the stretch did not lead to many wins, but Smith’s 30/46 for 378 yards and four touchdowns in the playoff loss certainly turned some heads. Ideally, the Chiefs will be able to allow Smith to manage the game with a conservative approach, but it is nice to see that he has that kind of upside.
Coming off of an MVP caliber season, Jamaal Charles will be the single most important player for the Chiefs once again this season. Last year, Charles was the only player in the NFL to lead his team in both rushing and receiving when he ran the ball 259 times for 1,287 yards (5.0 YPC), and hauled in 70 receptions for 693 yards. He also scored a total of 19 touchdowns.
Simply put, Charles is the obvious focal point of the Chiefs’ offense, and they will likely be in big trouble if he takes a step back this season. Charles is an incredibly explosive player who can take it to the house at any point. His talent is elite, expect Charles to be incredible once again in 2014.
Due to a salary cap crunch, the Chiefs had to let a lot of key starters walk this off-season, and were not able to replace them with the same caliber of players. The unit that is going to suffer the worst from the off-season losses is likely going to be the offensive line.
With Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah leaving via free agency, the Chiefs will be without their three best offensive lineman from a year ago. Eric Fisher, the first overall pick from the 2013 NFL Draft, will take over the left tackle position after a sub-par rookie season.
Fisher has some upside, and Rodney Hudson is a solid starter at center, but the rest of the offensive line is a complete mess. The expected starter at right tackle, Donald Stephenson, will be suspended for the first four games of the season for PED use. Some combination of Jeff Allen, under whelming newcomers Jeff Linkenbach, Mike McGlynn and Ryan Harris, and sixth round rookie Zach Fulton will help round out the group. The offensive line is very likely to be a problem for the Chiefs this season.
The reason Charles led the team in receiving had a ton to do with his incredible ability, but it also had a lot to do with the Chiefs’ lack of receiving options. Dwayne Bowe is a good down field target, but he had statistically the worst season of his career in 2013 (57 receptions, 573 yards and five touchdowns), and did not look as good athletically as he had in the past. Expect Bowe to bounce-back a bit this season, but he is still a mediocre number one option at wide receiver.
Unfortunately, it gets much worse after Bowe in the receiving core. Donnie Avery started most of the games opposite of Bowe last season, but he is clearly a below-average option at best. Junior Hemingway showed some nice upside late last year, but he is completely unproven. AJ Jenkins is an athletic target, but he is even more unproven than Hemingway. Coming off of a serious knee injury, Kyle Williams could make a real impact on this team that is starved for legitimate receiving options.
Anthony Fasano and Sean McGrath are solid, yet unspectacular players who put up some nice production at tight end for the Chiefs last season. Fasano will be the starter, but each player will have a role in the offense. However, neither Fasano or McGrath represent much upside.
The most intriguing player at the tight end position is second year player Travis Kelce, who sat out his entire rookie season with a knee injury. Kelce is a big (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) and athletic tight end who shows huge upside in the passing game.
The comparisons to Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots may be premature, but Kelce was a monster on the field this preseason catching 11 passes for 193 and two touchdowns. He shows obvious upside, has legitimate big play ability and is certainly a player who could emerge with the Chiefs lacking reliable receiving options.
Last season, the Chiefs gave up 19.1 points per contest defensively, the fifth fewest allowed in the NFL. While they were able to hold the scoring of their opponents to a minimum, the Chiefs did allow a lot of yardage. Their 367.8 yards allowed per game was the ninth worst in the NFL. The bend, but don’t break philosophy worked well for the Kansas City defense last season, but it is fair to wonder whether that will continue this season.
The Chiefs are led defensively by Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, their incredible duo of outside pass rushers. Houston burst onto the scene last year with a three sack outing in the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He followed that up with a 4.5 sack performance two weeks later against the Philadelphia Eagles. Houston recorded 11 sacks last season, while only playing in 11 games because of a knee injury. He is one of the most dynamic young pass rushers in the game, and will play a huge role for the Chiefs this season.
Hali is the wily veteran of the two. While he may not have the elite-level athletic ability anymore, Hali is an incredibly smart and consistent player who can certainly still get to the quarterback. Hali had 11 sacks in 15 games last season. Rookie Dee Ford has some serious upside, and will play a role in certain pass rush situations.
The Chiefs have a very good run defense, and that is led by their massive nose tackle Dontari Poe, who emerged as a second-year player last season. At 6-foot-3, 346 pounds Poe is a big man with incredible strength and very impressive athleticism. He is a run-stuffing machine, who also rushes the passer very well from the inside. Run-stuffer Mike Devito will also play a large role up front, with Vance Walker, Allen Bailey and Kyle Love getting some work as well.
Derrick Johnson is a defensive leader for this team who is coming off of another productive season. Johnson will be an intricate part of the Chiefs’ run defense, and is a very good pass defending linebacker. Free agent addition Joe Mays was expected to start inside with Johnson, but he will reportedly miss up to six weeks with a wrist injury. Nico Johnson, Frank Zombo, Josh Mauga and James Michael-Johnson are all options for the Chiefs to use without Mays, but none of them are near as good of an option as the injured run-stuffing linebacker.
After the offensive line, the secondary was the hardest hit position group this off-season. The Chiefs cut cornerback Brandon Flowers because of their salary cap issues, and he will be a tough player to replace. Teams always seemed to pick on the corner opposite of Flowers last season, and now those guys will be on both sides of the field. Marcus Cooper appears to have the inside track to one of the starting corner positions, with Chris Owens, Sean Smith, Ron Parker and rookie Phillip Gaines likely to get some playing time as well.
Eric Berry is one of the best players at the safety position in the NFL. He is great in coverage, very good against the run and likely the best pass rushing safety that the league has to offer. Berry is a great all-around player, who will have to play a huge role in this secondary this season. Husain Abdullah will likely start next to Berry as the free safety. While he will not make many big plays, nor does he represent much upside, Abdullah is a solid player who will not hurt the Chiefs very often.
As a whole, the defense should be very good once again this season, but their secondary is a huge concern. They have a very high level pass rush, and that will certainly help hide their corners a lot of the time, but for how long? The Chiefs will certainly be susceptible through the air at times this season, and that could quickly become an issue in the pass happy NFL.
The offensive line and lack of receiving options are a real problem for the Chiefs’ offense. Sure, Charles is one of the best players in the NFL, but can he really be expected to carry the entire load again this season?
The Chiefs certainly have a lot of talent, but there are legitimate concerns throughout the roster. This will be a competitive team, but with so many questions, and a tough schedule; 11-5 will likely be much harder to achieve this season.