Just like the entirety of the 2018 season, there are more questions than answers on the defensive side of the football for the Kansas City Chiefs.
With the new NFL year quickly approaching, there still isn’t much out there on what route the team will take in order to fix the major problems on defense that ultimately led to their season ending in the AFC championship game.
There hasn’t been any new news regarding Eric Berry’s injuries, a solution for them or if he’s even capable of playing next year. Justin Houston is under contract, but that could very easily change in a matter of weeks. Dee Ford is an unrestricted free agent but that title is likely to change with the franchise tag.
How much flexibility the Chiefs do or not have will be determined primarily by those three players—regardless of what happens to those big-ticket players, there are still short and long-term questions at two critical positions: defensive end and cornerback.
Regardless of Ford’s franchise, Houston stays in 2019 or Eric Berry’s contract remains on the cap, the need to upgrade both positions is important. While there are more answers at pass rush in 2019, the outlook could drastically change in 2020. The cornerback currently has the least amount of talent under contract for next season.
What position should be prioritized with the Chiefs’ round-one selection? We laid out two strong cases on this week’s episode of the AP Laboratory.
There is a strong class of players for us with late-second, early-third-round grades. Conversely, there is a strong upper class of edge rushers like Brian Burns and Jachai Polite that have been mocked to the Chiefs or are available for a small trade up into the early 20s. The best chance of an impact pass rushers falls on the athletic traits that can be found in the first round. Players like Frank Clark could be had in some years in the second, but the traits weren’t what pushed him into the second day—it was an off-field issue.
Pairing great athletic traits at the EDGE rusher position with a first-round selection and then being aggressive to ensure a player like Rock Ya Sin or Joejuan Williams at cornerback in the second round gives you a chance to improve the talent at two positions, even if you aren’t getting a chance at a top-tier corner. The athletic traits at EDGE are harder to come by on the second day. Adding a mid-level free agent to the mix along with a second-round pick at cornerback should easily upgrade the talent over what the Chiefs had in 2018.
It is very possible that Justin Houston and Dee Ford aren’t on the roster in 2020. Your top pass rusher will be Breeland Speaks and whatever you can acquire in free agency and the draft next year. Taking a defensive end this year ensures that player has a year to develop and prepare to take on a big responsibility in 2020. If most of the pass rushers don’t make it to the open market in 2020 like they appear to not be this year, it will be hard to piece it together. There are more mid-level solutions at corner hitting the market than there are pass rushers who can make an impact.
Cornerback does have the least amount of talent on this roster and just because you’re not investing your top pick there doesn’t mean the Chiefs won’t address it.
Top-flight cornerbacks are equally hard to come by as the EDGE position and you typically have to find one in the first round. The corner position can make a drastic jump in talent and production by acquiring the talents of Byron Murphy (BAEron) from Washington or Greedy Williams from LSU. Both have CB1 potential and can help solve the problems that led to third-and-long conversions in overtime of the season-ending loss to the Patriots.
Upping the talent profile of the position could allow the pass rush to get home. The Chiefs struggled to cover for 3 seconds. A weaker pass rush might be able to bring more pressure due to major improvements in coverage. The Chiefs had one of the best pass rushes in the NFL and it didn’t matter because they couldn’t consistently cover.
2020’s in-house cupboard will be bare at cornerback as well. Kendall Fuller is a free agent after the 2019 season. The remaining players under contract will be Tremon Smith, Charvarius Ward and whoever the Chiefs select in this draft. That’s a scary proposition if you haven’t added a major asset. Ensuring you have a top-tier cornerback to lean in 2020 could help significantly.
We discussed draft philosophy, analyzed a recent mock draft from Chad Reuter and answered your questions in this week’s episode of the AP Laboratory.