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Five thoughts on NFL.com’s prediction of Chiefs’ 2019 starters

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NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal got some things right, and others wrong

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal has been going through the league, making predictions about the starting rosters for all 32 teams in 2019. Still to come are his predictions for the NFC West and NFC South, but he’s now weighed in on all the AFC teams — including the Kansas City Chiefs.

Rosenthal’s prediction for the Chiefs offense:

Offense
QB Patrick Mahomes
RB Damien Williams
WR Sammy Watkins
WR Demarcus Robinson
WR Mecole Hardman
TE Travis Kelce
LT Eric Fisher
LG Cam Erving
C Austin Reiter
RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
RT Mitchell Schwartz

After a disturbing audio clip surfaced, the Chiefs announced Tyreek Hill would not take part in any team activities for the foreseeable future. The following day, Andy Reid confirmed prosecutors had reopened a child abuse investigation involving the All-Pro receiver. In his absence, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman all move up a spot on the wideout pecking order.

Thought 1: Rosenthal’s take on the wide receiver group is both right and wrong.

As Pete noted on these pages Monday, with each passing day, it seems more likely that Tyreek Hill will be a member of the Chiefs in 2019. But it also seems likely that he will miss some time; for now, he’s not involved in team activities and could face a suspension from the league for at least some of 2019’s games. Rosenthal has this part right: every receiver on the team will likely move up a spot on the depth chart for at least the opening weeks of the season.

But I disagree with Rosenthal’s depth chart. As Pete said on Tuesday, Mecole Hardman is more likely to make the team as a kick returner. That isn’t to say he won’t see snaps at wide receiver. He will. As Rosenthal himself noted in another comment, NFL Network’s James Palmer reported the Chiefs forsee a significant role for Hardman come Week 1. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Hardman will start. Just as in Hill’s rookie season, he’ll likely see snaps at wideout as he learns Reid’s system. That means Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp and Byron Pringle are more likely to be vying to become the third starter at wide receiver.

I loved watching Damien Williams run down the stretch last season, but he’ll face a challenge for the starting job from free-agent pickup Carlos Hyde.

Thought 2: There won’t be much challenge from Carlos Hyde.

As I’ve previously noted, Damien Williams performed well for the Chiefs in the final weeks of the season. National writers like Rosenthal are still fixated on the loss of Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs are not. They’ve moved on, and Williams is now the man.

I see Hyde as an offseason insurance policy in case the team could not acquire solid rookie running backs — but they did. If Darwin Thompson and James Williams don’t work out, Hyde could make the team. But if they do, I think he’ll be looking to be someone else’s backup running back come September; I think the Chiefs will prioritize on developing Darrel Williams and their new rookies.

Thought 3: I disagree with the final offensive line.

Rosenthal made no comment about the offensive line, but I disagree with his lineup. On Tuesday, Pete opined that center Nick Allegretti had a medium chance to start. I agree. But I disagree that it will be because he’s going to take Austin Reiter’s job.

Reiter was solid at center in 2018, but left guard Cam Erving was not. Erving had the lowest PFF grades on the offensive line in both run and pass blocking. Don’t forget: the Chiefs opted to play Jeff Allen over Erving late last December despite Erving being ready to go.

The Chiefs need more from their starting left guard. Allegretti is familiar with the position — having played mostly at guard in college — and would likely be fine backing up Reiter from there; Erving and Andrew Wylie would be prepared to step in if Allegretti has to move elsewhere. This is 100% Andy Reid: the plug-n-play offensive line in which the “best five guys” start.

And then there is a wild card: Kahlil McKenzie, whom the Chiefs went through a lot of trouble to keep around in 2018, even though he wasn’t active for a single game.

Here’s how Rosenthal sees the 2019 Chiefs defense:

Defense
DE Frank Clark
DT Derrick Nnadi
DT Chris Jones
DE Emmanuel Ogbah
OLB Anthony Hitchens
MLB Reggie Ragland
CB Kendall Fuller
CB Bashaud Breeland
CB Charvarius Ward
S Tyrann Mathieu
S Juan Thornhill

[Kansas City] is transitioning to a 4-3 defense with Steve Spagnuolo taking over. While the front office did a solid job replacing Dee Ford and Justin Houston with Frank Clark, Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah, the secondary still looks like a weakness.

The Chiefs ultimately didn’t go to the Super Bowl because they couldn’t cover. This cornerback group will again be a unit that opposing teams attack, although Tyrann Mathieu can ideally cover up some of his teammates’ mistakes.

Thought 4: Rosenthal missed by not providing would-be starters at each linebacker position.

Agreed: the Chiefs front office did a good job replacing the pass-rushing ability of Houston and Ford. But that’s where my agreement with Rosenthal’s prediction ends.

Note how Rosenthal punts on the question of who will be the Chiefs starters at Spagnuolo’s Sam (strong side) and Will (weak side) linebacker positions; he doesn’t even guess which side Anthony Hitchens will be on. Instead, he opts to list the players who will be in on the nickel sub-package, with Charvarius Ward as the third cornerback.

Rosenthal has a point, sort of; the Chiefs are likely to be in nickel more often than their base 4-3 defense. But that doesn’t mean that Sam and Will linebackers aren’t going to be listed as starters on the official record. Unlike Rosenthal, I think we’ll see Hitchens at Mike (middle linebacker) with Reggie Ragland behind him. I believe Damien Wilson and Dorian O’Daniel will be the likely starters at Sam and Will respectively; Jeremiah Attaochu and Ben Niemann are likely to back them up.

Thought 5: I’m tired of analysts saying the secondary looks like a “weakness.”

Really? More of this secondary looks like a “weakness” nonsense?

In 2018, the Chiefs secondary was roughly average against the pass — and that was with their starting safety Eric Berry on the sidelines with whatever-that-was, an aging Ron Parker taking his place, and then a parade of stopgap players trying to take up the slack on the back end. By themselves, the additions of Tyrann Mathieu and second-round pick Juan Thornhill should improve it.

While the cornerbacks were no one’s idea of shutdown corners, they held their own, and actually performed well with little help from the safeties; the Chiefs ranked 12th in opponent passer rating on the season, and far better against primary wide receivers than against slot receivers, tight ends and running backs; I’ve already weighed in with these numbers.

The only thing the Chiefs did at corner in the offseason (so far) was to exchange Steven Nelson for Bashaud Breeland. This move was a wash; they are pretty equivalent players. In his last full season with the Washington Redskins, Breeland played at a level quite similar to Nelson in 2018.

To be sure, Breeland didn’t play well during half a season in Green Bay last year, but he’s already acknowledged that missing training camp and half a season was a mistake; he clearly regrets his tour of NFL training camps looking for a team willing to replace the $24 million Carolina Panthers deal that was voided when he failed the physical.