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10 Chiefs trending upward for 2018

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of looking back at another gut-wrenching playoff loss, let’s just say we look forward to the challenge of 2018 and try to find some reasons to be optimistic.

There are changes every season, and the Chiefs have already begun with some departures from the coaching staff. We think we know who the core players are for this team, and they’ll get some significant additions back from IR. We believe there will be an exciting new starting QB that could change everything. It also feels like the end of the road for some longtime favorites, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where the Chiefs likely need to get younger and more dynamic.

Heading into next season, let’s take a look at which players improved their stock over the course of 2017 and are positioned well for the future. Then, in a follow up piece, we’ll examine the uncertain outlook for some others.

1) Patrick Mahomes: In the last two weeks, we got a glimpse of what Mahomes can do when he made insane throws en route to a victory in Denver...AND we also got a reminder of why, even as good as Smith as been, a change is needed. Mahomes is a playmaker and competitor, with an extraordinary skill set for the QB position. He’s shown a pocket presence and understanding of the offense that proves he’s ready. Mahomes IS the future, and by all indications, that future is bright.

2) Tanoh Kpassagnon: The Chiefs’ second-round pick has been a season-long project, and we’ve seen potential, even in limited opportunities. He has a long way to go, learning technique, leverage and awareness. But, you can’t teach athletic ability and talent, and it appears Kpassagnon’s will translate to the NFL. The ceiling appears high, and he’ll likely get every opportunity to prove it in 2018.

3) Eric Berry: A popular “what could have been” and the topic of conversation all year was the loss of Eric Berry. When Berry went down, the defense lost the guy that could cover tight ends, cause turnovers and be an enforcer in the run game. They also lost an inspirational leader on the field, even when he did what he could to lead from the sidelines. Berry’s stock is up going into 2018, because we’ve seen just how much he means to this defense, and his return will be a welcomed boost.

4) Reggie Ragland: How many years have Chiefs fans wanted to see a downhill enforcer-type at the SILB position? It appears that one of Brett Veach’s first moves as GM was to secure one. Ragland was given the opportunity to start midseason, and steadily improved as the year went on. Assuming his strong play continues, he’ll be a bargain and a mainstay on the Chiefs defense, at least through the 2019 season.

5) Justin Houston: Houston had a “down year” by many people’s standards, ending up with 9.5 sacks and spending too much time in coverage. But, don’t get it twisted, he’s still an elite defender, and among the best EDGE players in the league. He’s particularly impressive against the run, when he routinely makes offenses pay for attempting to run right. He’s still got the bend around the edge and the bull rush that make him dangerous when rushing the passer, and he’s still in the prime of his career at 28 years old. There are reasons to believe that he’ll have a better 2018 than 2017, including the idea that the Chiefs may have a new defensive coordinator that will cut him loose a bit more. Perhaps they’ll also have a better pass rusher opposite him, which was severely lacking in 2017.

6) Harrison Butker: Buttkicker.com was a record-setting sensation in 2017. His booming kickoffs help neutralize any chance for opponents to get great field position on returns. He missed his first and last kicks of the season, but was nearly perfect in between. Hopefully, Butker will get more extra point opportunities and fewer field goals in 2018, but either way, he was a tremendous addition and part of the future in KC.

7) Kareem Hunt: What else can be said about the third-round pick that stepped in after Spencer Ware’s injury to lead the NFL in rushing? Hunt is absolutely the key to the Chiefs offense; when he’s featured, they win. In 2018, it will be interesting to see how new OC Eric Bieniemy is able to blend Hunt with a presumably healthy Spencer Ware in the new look Chiefs offense.

8) Tyreek Hill: Tyreek went over 1,000 yards and answered nearly all questions about his ability to be a featured No. 1 receiver. His drops in the playoff game were uncharacteristic and costly, but he consistently made plays all season. He’s added an explosive element to the Chiefs offense and proven he’s not just fast... he can absolutely run routes and track the ball with the best of them. Just imagine what he’s going to do in 2018 with Pat Mahomes. Draft him for your fantasy leagues.

9) Chris Conley: It seems like forever ago when Conley was lost for the season. For those that don’t remember, he was well on his way to becoming a reliable No. 2 wide receiver target that had improved his strength and was really attacking the ball while it was in the air. Look for Conley to re-assert himself and get right back into the WR mix in the coming season.

10) Travis Kelce: Kelce established himself as a top-two tight end in the NFL this season. He led the team in catches with 83 and had another 1,000-yard season. If there were any questions about his value to the team, they were answered in the playoff game. When Kelce was in, he was a reliable, primary target. His four catches for 66 yards and an early touchdown led the team in the first half. In the second half, the Titans adjusted to focus on Hill, and the Chiefs couldn’t respond without Kelce. Going into 2018, the passing offense will continue to flow through #87, let’s hope he stays healthy and the Chiefs develop more depth behind him.

Others who might be in line for a better 2018: Jehu Chesson, Steven Nelson, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Chris Jones, Ukeme Eligwe, Kevin Pierre-Louis