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Dixon’s AP mailbag: Hardman starting, an undefeated team and the best Chiefs wrestler

Let’s find out what Arrowhead Pride readers want to know this week...

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs-Minicamp Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Dixon’s Arrowhead Pride Mailbag, where I’ll do my best to answer your questions about the Kansas City Chiefs — and anything else that’s on your mind. If you have a question, you can hit my profile page to e-mail me, or ask me on Twitter.

While you’re at it, please follow me on Twitter, too.

On to your questions:

Put aside who was drafted first. Who starts on offense first, Mecole Hardman or Darwin Thompson?

— Rob

Thanks for asking, Rob.

I think Hardman has a better chance to start first.

The Chiefs have made it clear that Damien Williams is the starting running back; going into training camp, it’s his job to lose. Barring an injury to Williams this year, Thompson wouldn’t have a chance at starting for at least a full season — and that’s assuming he makes the final roster and manages to work his way up to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

It’s clearer that Hardman will make the team; he has the ability as a returner and as a wide receiver. Many are now assuming that Tyreek Hill will serve a suspension to begin the season — and of course, there’s always a chance that Sammy Watkins will miss a game or two (I hate to even bring that up. The Chiefs need for Watkins to play a full season in 2019. But history is history, right?).

So Hardman could end up starting in the early weeks of the season — but to do so, he’ll have to get to the fourth spot on the depth chart; for the moment, I’m assuming Demarcus Robinson will be third. That means getting past the likes of Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter, Byron Pringle and Cody Thompson. That could happen, but it’s not assured.

Once the season gets underway, though, Hardman could push to be the fourth wideout — assuming he shows the kind of return skills the Chiefs think he will. If he routinely makes big open-field plays in the kicking game, we know how this will play out: Andy Reid will want him to get snaps at receiver. if he does well there — and there’s an opening — Hardman could slide in as a starter this season.

It’s close. I can imagine scenarios where either could end up starting first. I just think there are more paths to it for Hardman than there are for Thompson.

If the Chiefs defense can get it together, do you think it’s possible for it to be a top 15 defense? If the Chiefs have a top 15 defense and can stay healthy, do you think it’s possible for them to go undefeated?

— A.J.

Appreciate the questions, A.J.

As I explained a few weeks ago, the Chiefs defense wasn’t nearly as bad last season as most people seem to think — and it was certainly better than “they couldn’t possibly get any worse.” In truth, they were just on the low side of average. Not good... but not bad, either.

I realize this flies in the face of the offseason narrative about the Chiefs defense being “dead last” (actually 31st) in what is probably the least informative defensive statistic there is: total yards allowed. But ask yourself this question: if the defense was really that terrible, could the Chiefs have been an overthrown pass to Damien Williams, an offsides call on Dee Ford or a coin flip (take your pick) from the Super Bowl?

No. They couldn’t have been.

Here’s the bottom line: the defense could easily rank within the top 15 without a statistically significant improvement over 2018’s performance. Statistically speaking, getting into the top 15 would require a measurable improvement, but not one that is significantly different from 2018. All the defense needs is the ability to make one or two more stops per game — which, in statistical terms — isn’t really that big of a difference.

So yes... I think the Chiefs defense becoming a top-15 unit is well within its ability. If it does, the Chiefs will be a very difficult team to beat.

Could that result in an undefeated season? That’s a much tougher nut to crack.

In just under a month, we’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Many of our readers aren’t old enough to remember that event — and it was just three years later that the Miami Dolphins became the first (and last) team of the Super Bowl era to go undefeated through the championship game.

That 1972 Dolphins team was ranked first in both points scored and points allowed. Only one team since then — the 1996 Green Bay Packers — has reached (and won) the Super Bowl ranked first in points scored and allowed. But that team was 13-3 in the regular season.

Of course... other teams came close. The 2007 New England Patriots (ranked first and fourth) went 16-0 in the regular season but were held to a season-low 14 points by Steve Spagnuolo’s New York Giants defense and lost Super Bowl XLII 17-14. The 1984 San Francisco 49ers and 1985 Chicago Bears each won the Super Bowl ranked second and first, but both teams also finished the regular season 15-1. The 1991 Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl after ranking first and second but lost two games in the regular season.

So... it’s hard. History suggests a team has to be dominant on both sides of the ball to have a real chance to run the table. It’s hard to imagine a team ranked... say, 12th or 13th in defense could pull it off.

Even if the Chiefs do achieve a staggering defensive turnaround (and a below average defense becoming the league’s best in a single season would definitely fit that description), nothing is guaranteed. The modern NFL — with its balanced schedules and salary cap — is a tough league in which to be so consistently excellent.

But who knows? Rankings for points scored and allowed don’t tell the whole story, either. What if Patrick Mahomes defies expectations and significantly exceeds his 2018 performance? Even with a somewhat improved defense — and maybe a little luck — 19-0 could be within reach.

Do you feel comfortable with our current roster?

— Chandler

Yes. More so with each passing day.

I find it interesting that the Chiefs have 46 offensive players and 40 defensive players on their 90-man roster at this moment. (Four special-teams players round out the 90). I’m not generally given to making wagers, but four months ago, I would have bet money that at this point, the scales would be tilted the other way — with more defensive players than offensive players ready to compete in training camp.

It’s a small indicator, but it says to me that Steve Spagnuolo is generally happy with the personnel available to him. To me, that was the biggest roster question going into the offseason: could the Chiefs acquire the players he needs for his scheme to work?

Oh, sure... some big-name players went away, but I generally believe their replacements should be improvements. Tyrann Mathieu will certainly contribute at a higher level than Eric Berry did in the last two seasons. Frank Clark — and a defensive scheme that can throw blitzes from any “X” on the whiteboard — should be able to replace the pass rush of Dee Ford and Justin Houston. And the more I heard Chiefs coaches and players talk during minicamp, the more convinced I became that Spagnuolo’s scheme really will make a difference.

Thanks for the question, Chandler.

Are the Chiefs looking to upgrade the secondary at all, or are they planning on going into the season with their current roster?

— Matt

Again... with each passing day, it seems more likely that there won’t be big changes in the cornerback group.

Many Chiefs fans got themselves worked up over the “rumors” that the team was going to make a deal for Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, but there was never any indicator such a deal was ever in the works. Instead, there was only one piece of informed speculation from one national writer that was passed around and around the Internet. Pretty soon that may seem like buzz, but there was never really any actual buzz. Peterson may have been unhappy with the Cardinals last season, but he reported to OTAs in Arizona. That’s not what unhappy veteran players do.

Others were convinced that the Chiefs would make a deal to get Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Again... it might have made sense to speculate that the cap-strapped Vikings might want to find a trading partner for Rhodes — who carries a cap number of $13.3 million in 2019 — but trading him would have left the Vikings with $7.2 million in dead money for the four years remaining on his contract. And Rhodes is 29.

While it’s certainly possible that the Chiefs could add another cornerback before the season begins, at this point, it’s a lot more likely that it will be a player who becomes available at the end of training camp.

Thanks for asking, Matt.

Which Chiefs player would make the best professional wrestler?

— Bob

Thanks for a great question, Bob.

I don’t have to think hard about this one: Anthony Sherman. Other Chiefs might be bigger and badder, but nobody on the team has the wrestling style Sherman possesses — from the hip beard to the outspoken demeanor to the outrageous fashion sense. I can easily picture him in the ring. And he comes equipped with the perfect wrestling moniker: The Sherminator.


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