We've reached the halfway point of the regular season and it's safe to say that the Chiefs are right on target in terms of overall record where many of us thought they would be. Yet many of the smaller stories around the team have been wildly unpredictable.
Since we're at the halfway point, let's have a bit of fun answering the questions that arose during the team's preseason:
How will the team handle Sean Smith's exit?
Looking back: Not only did Smith leave the Chiefs but he departed to their division rivals, the Oakland Raiders. In Smith's final two seasons especially, he became an above average press corner who, at times, looked like a player the team could ill afford to lose. Yet instead of locking up the secondary, along with Eric Berry, to long-term contracts, John Dorsey instead retained front seven veterans like Tamba Hali, Jaye Howard and Derrick Johnson.
The present moment: So far, so good. Kansas City's youth movement in the secondary has gone as smoothly as possible. While some teams take forever to rebuild an aging secondary (just check out the Bears' attempt to do the same over the last few years), the Chiefs identified an elite playmaker in Marcus Peters and an athletic corner in Phillip Gaines. Steven Nelson entered the season as a serious question mark, but he's become a solid ironman performer for the team — not only playing on 97 percent of all defensive snaps but also playing another 40 percent of special teams (536 total snaps). No other Chiefs player is even at 500.
Even younger players like D.J. White have flashed at times, while Eric Murray has become dependable on special teams. This is a unit that will only continue to get better game after game as they play together, learn defenses, gain reps, study film and take to coaching. That's a scary thing for Chiefs' opponents moving forward — even as Eric Berry's long-term future with the team remains up in the air.
Will someone step up into the No. 2 WR role?
Looking back: Opposite Jeremy Maclin was a sizable hole within the Chiefs offense, the lack of a second wideout to force defenses to respect that side of the field. The Chiefs obviously enjoy other options in the passing game, including Travis Kelce and employing someone from the carousel of running backs, but questions surfaced as to whether or not Chris Conley or Albert Wilson could make the leap. Let's not forget how much John Dorsey talked Wilson up in the offseason.
The present moment: Dorsey might have believed Wilson's ceiling to be higher than years past, but he didn't back up those words in the draft. Dorsey spent two draft picks on wide receivers in DeMarcus Robinson and Tyreek Hill. While Robinson has yet to show up on offense, Hill has become an instant spark alongside Conley who has separated himself from the pack as the team's second-best wideout.
Together, both Conley and Hill have become a clear second and third option among WRs, with 286 and 223 receiving yards respectively. Hill especially has a scoring touch with four receiving touchdowns in only 19 catches. Expect his targets to increase as the season wears on and the Chiefs coaching staff learns to create even better mismatches down the stretch. As for Wilson, with only 12 catches and 94 total yards to his name, he could be on the roster bubble heading into 2017.
Did Dorsey shore up the offensive line enough?
Looking back: The Chiefs have a history of letting solid offensive linemen leave for bigger paychecks while trying to find diamonds in the rough on the free agent market. Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson were the latest pair of Chiefs draftees to hit the open market, a sign of frustration for some fans who wanted the bleeding to stop on an already needy line.
Fortunately when Dorsey wants his man, he typically gets him (a quick moment of silence for Emmanuel Sanders here). He locked down Sean Smith three offseasons ago when the Chiefs need a top corner. He landed Jeremy Maclin to lock in a top receiver. And when a top flight offensive tackle was available, in a league starved for such options, Dorsey worked his magic once again to bring in Mitchell Schwartz.
While the addition of Schwartz was a huge boost, questions remained about the middle of the offensive line — from whether developmental players like Laurent Duvernay-Tardif could make the leap to how Mitch Morse would recover from a season ended by concussions.
The present moment: While the offensive line is still a work in progress, it's clear that the Chiefs own one of the league's most promising overall units. Fisher and Schwartz, both newly inked this offseason, should be good-to-great bookends for the next half decade. LDT has learned to use his incredible size, agility and athleticism to great effect. Morse hasn't missed a beat since returning to the middle, and this year's rookie addition Parker Ehinger had the starting left guard spot locked up since training camp.
The downside now is that Ehinger is out for the season and the team's injuries at running back keep the line from earning considerable acclaim. Schwartz has played through pain and another injury would expose some questions on the depth chart. Why has the team been reticent to play Jah Reid? Is Bryan Witzmann anything more than a project? Who is Mike Person? Why did the Chiefs ever, ever play Jordan Devey?
In short, the Chiefs line has more stability that it's had in years after Schwartz stopped the bleeding on the right side just as Fisher entered his prime on the left. The team has a lot of youth and upside in the middle, so while the growing pains will still show themselves, there's reason to be impressed with the work Dorsey has done on the fly.