This time of year, the fantasy football mindset takes over. We’re all thinking about who the Chiefs can sign, draft, trade for, or re-sign that can make this team better going forward. It’s honestly my favorite part of the NFL year. But, player development is as important as acquiring the right players, unless you want your team to be in constant rebuilding mode.
The process that John Dorsey and Andy Reid have brought to Kansas City lends itself to consistency, and keeps the team from a position where they need to panic to fill a need.
- Dorsey likes to draft a year or two in advance of specific needs
- They’ve generally drafted for depth, instead of paying veteran free agents to sit on the bench
- They have a next man up mentality to replace injured players (and those that leave in free agency/trades)
- There is a clear path for young players to get on the field for special teams, and eventually play on offense and defense
I thought this would be a good time to consider some players who have a chance to step up into a larger role in 2017 and/or improve enough to impact the team.
We didn’t see the rookie play wide receiver at all in the 2016 regular season. He did show up on special teams, (four tackles) but his potential is as a playmaker on the Chiefs offense. I did a review of his college film here. He seems like an Andy Reid receiver in that he excels in running after the catch and runs good routes. With the emergence of Tyreek Hill, the continued growth of Chris Conley, and the return of a healthy Jeremy Maclin, there isn’t a ton of room for Robinson to have an impact season, but I do think he is certainly on the roster, and will compete for snaps. Albert Wilson is a free agent, so there’s a chance his job is up for grabs. I won’t go so far as to predict that Robinson is the Chiefs No. 1 WR anytime soon, but there’s enough potential with Demarcus that he could be a surprise contributor.
Many believe that the Chiefs will be in the market for new starters at offensive guard. I tend to disagree. I think they have a couple of young players that they really like in Parker Ehinger and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. LDT was recently featured on this list of underrated NFL offensive linemen. It’s a great read, and includes a cutup with some tremendous blocks by the Chiefs RG. The knock on LDT has been consistency... but as MNChiefsfan noticed, he’s improving. He has the athleticism and nastiness to be a huge asset in the run game. His pass protection needs improvement, but if he can just avoid being a liability there, he might just earn a new contract in KC.
The Pro Bowl special teams player finally got a chance to fill in at ILB due to a rash of injuries at the position in 2016. When the Chiefs took him, I actually thought he was a more promising player than Ramik Wilson. DJA has outstanding closing speed, and a knack for making the big hit. He plays with an aggression and passion that you want to see from a linebacker. ILB is another position that many believe the Chiefs will be looking to upgrade this offseason. But, don’t be surprised if they bring back the same group, and let DJA compete for defensive snaps. There’s still an outside chance that Derrick Johnson’s future replacement DID come from that 2015 draft class.
Ramik’s path to becoming a starter for the Chiefs was not a straight line by any means. Wilson played in 11 games as a rookie, but was cut prior to his 2nd season, then added to the practice squad, and eventually replaced March in the week 6 game against the Saints. Wilson responded with 8 tackles vs New Orleans, and became a regular starter. Ramik was a part of three turnovers this season (INT, FF, 2 FR) and had 3 passes defended. If he continues to develop and attack the football, he may just maintain a substantial role in the Chiefs front seven.
At one point in 2016, Dee Ford had seemingly answered all critics and become a star. He had 10 sacks in his first 10 games, and was in the conversation among the league’s best pass rushers. He logged 8.5 of his sacks during a five game win streak during October and November... but was conspicuously inconspicuous after that. Dee went back to disappearing over long stretches, as he made very few splash plays over the final 1⁄3 of the season and playoffs. So, which version of Dee Ford should we expect in 2017? He went from potential bust to elite pass rusher and back in the span of the last two seasons. Ford must find consistency if he is going to take the next step. If he does, the Chiefs may finally have the Houston/Ford combination to terrorize opponents in 2017. If not, OLB will continue to be a need.
Ehinger appears to be a difference maker, especially in the run game, and a great complement for Eric Fisher on the left side of the KC offensive line. His surprising rookie season was cut short due to an ACL injury. Getting him back could be a huge boost to the Chiefs offense, without any additional investment at the position. One of the biggest factors in the success of any offensive line is continuity. For the first time since 2005, the Chiefs have a chance to return all 5 starters from the prior year. Not only that, but all 5 are young and have shown upside and improvement.
Have you heard that the Chiefs have a high profile safety set to hit free agency? I do believe Berry remains a Chief, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to continue to develop guys behind him. Eric Murray didn’t get much time on defense this season, but he has developed a reputation as a stellar special teams player and a big hitter. He’ll likely remain fourth on the depth chart this season, behind Berry and two others coming off of career years: Ron Parker and Daniel Sorensen. Murray has the skills the Chiefs like, including a background as a CB, so they may start to work him into the lineup in 2017 to gain some experience.
His rookie year and back story have been well documented at this point. Hill was a transformational player on offense and special teams for the Chiefs this past season. So, why is he on this list? Because we haven’t seen his ceiling yet. Hill proved in training camp that he was more than just a gadget player. He demonstrated the ability to track passes in the air, and the potential to be a full time wide receiver. This offseason, he should be working on consistency in route running and catching the football. He has the opportunity to become an Antonio Brown/Steve Smith type player, but he needs to build off of what he showed in 2016.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing take the next step for the Chiefs in 2017?