Newcomer/player returning from injury to watch: Tyrann Mathieu, safety.
By signing Mathieu, the Chiefs got themselves a stud at safety who can really play just about anywhere in the defensive backfield and hugely improve the defensive unit against the pass and rush. More than all that, though, Mathieu brings a swagger to the Chiefs that was absent. They had plenty of star power in their defensive ranks, but perhaps there was more pomp than pop, as a unit that featured the since-departed Justin Houston and Dee Ford (Eric Berry played sparingly) allowed 421 points, ninth-most in the NFL and the highest total among playoff-bound teams. It might be a bit far-fetched to hope for a stingy defense that consistently holds opposing offenses down, considering the high-octane thrill ride that is the Chiefs offense isn’t exactly the D’s greatest ally. Nonetheless, nothing turns a shootout into a blowout like a defense that brings the wood and brings some attitude making a stand. That’s what the Chiefs need, and that’s what Mathieu can provide.
Los Angeles Chargers (6 votes)
The Los Angeles Chargers have problems of their own—the largest among them a potential contract holdout by starting tailback Melvin Gordon. But they have some depth behind Gordon, plenty of offensive skill-position talent—including wide receiver Keenan Allen, who made the Pro Bowl in back-to-back years—a veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers and a much better defense than the Chiefs appear to possess.
For NFL Analyst Brent Sobleski, that’s enough to move the Chargers to the front of the line.
Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
First football job: Graduate assistant coach at Brigham Young University in 1982
What he learned: Reid said he hadn’t considered going into coaching after the end of his playing career at BYU in 1981. But he was invited to be a graduate assistant for the Cougars by head coach LaVell Edwards for the next season, and by the end of the year, he was hooked. Edwards sent Reid into the coaching world the next year with some words of wisdom.
”He said that when you come to the head coach with a problem, have a well-thought-out answer,’’ Reid said. “You can use that in all facets of life. Have a plan. The head coach might not agree with you on it, but you’re coming to him with an answer. If he has something different, stick with that and go 100 miles an hour to do it. That’s a huge lesson, and as simple as it is, it’s big for marriage, it’s big for raising kids, dealing with the media and so on. It was great advice.’’
O’Daniel will likely continue to play a crucial role on the Chiefs’ special team unit this season, Brooke Pryor of the Kansas City Star reports.
O’Daniel was on the field for over half of the special team’s snaps in each game last season. The 24-year-old logged 292 snaps on special teams and 311 snaps on defense over 16 contests in his rookie season, recording 34 tackles (21 solo), a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. O’Daniel missed both of Kansas City’s playoff games with an ankle injury, but that seems to be a long-forgotten issue.
Tight End: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
The emergence of Patrick Mahomes brought new energy and a new dynamic to the Kansas City Chiefs offense in 2018. Yet one key member of that offense has been dominating since Mahomes was a freshman in college.
In 2014, tight end Travis Kelce finished the season with 862 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Those are terrific numbers for a second-year tight end and a first-year starter, but they were only a sign of things to come.
Kelce had 875 yards receiving in 2015 and has topped the 1,000-yard mark in each season since. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler, a two-time first-team All-Pro and arguably the most important player on Kansas City’s offense outside of Mahomes.
Robinson and Conley actually had similar pass-catching production last season, though the former played just 419 offensive snaps (40 percent) while the latter handled 802 (77 percent). Robinson’s superior per-snap and per-target efficiency bodes well for continued growth, depending on what happens with Tyreek Hill (suspension) and rookie second-round pick Mecole Hardman. Kansas City’s ideal scenario may feature Robinson in the No. 4 job again, but the question marks ahead of him -- including Sammy Watkins’ injury history -- should create opportunities for a top-three role for at least part of the season. Coach Andy Reid specifically mentioned that Robinson does an excellent job getting open for Patrick Mahomes on broken plays when the quarterback scrambles outside the pocket.
If you felt sick over my thoughts on the Chargers, you may want to scroll right on to the comments, because the more homework I’ve done on the Chiefs, the better they look. Andy Reid is right up there with Kyle Shanahan in the play design department, and he’s led the NFL’s offensive evolution as more and more teams steal concepts from the college and high school games.
He also has the most talented quarterback in football.
It’s been 50 years since the Chiefs played in a Super Bowl. That’s more than two Patrick Mahomes lifetimes, but the reigning NFL MVP’s brilliance last season had KC within an overtime coin flip of playing for the Lombardi Trophy. As Mahomes prepares for his encore, it’s clear that the Chiefs’ rallying cry is Super Bowl LIV or bust.
Toward that end, Kansas City retooled its defense, the Achilles heel last season. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was fired, and Steve Spagnuolo, a longtime assistant under coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia, was brought in to give the defense a championship-worthy overhaul. The Chiefs dumped the bloated salaries of a pair of franchise icons, outside linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry, reloading instead with defensive end Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu as the new leaders of a remade unit
“We never had a real house, you know?” Hardman told CNN on Thursday.
The former University of Georgia wide receiver said his family was never financially stable, often living paycheck to paycheck, not knowing what financial burden would fall into their lap next.
”Money was tight, basically,” Hardman said. “We didn’t have money like that but we made it work and just kept faith in God.”
Hardman said both his mother and father have supported his passion for football since the beginning and he wanted to do something to make their lives more comfortable.
His entire family loves the home, but for him, he says, it’s a bonus that he’s able to be a leading example for the kids in his hometown of Bowman, Georgia.
”It just gives them motivation to do something great,” he said.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City finished 31st in total defense (405.5 ypg) and 24th in scoring defense (26.3 ppg) last year, but it still managed a No. 7 fantasy finish thanks to a league-leading 53 sacks, 27 takeaways (tied for seventh), and five D/ST TDs (tied for second). The Chiefs followed up that up with a busy offseason that saw them jettison Justin Houston (nine sacks), Dee Ford (13 sacks), Ron Parker (two INTs, TD), and Steven Nelson (four INTs) and bring in Frank Clark (13 sacks), Alex Okafor (four sacks), Tyrann Mathieu (two INTs, three sacks), Bashaud Breeland (two INTs, TD in seven games), and rookie Juan Thornhill (six INTs at UVA). Perhaps most importantly, Kansas City fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and brought in Steve Spagnuolo. How much is all of this going to change things? It’s tough to say, but with Chris Jones and Clark, you know the Chiefs will put pressure on QBs, and with playmakers in the secondary, you know they will pop off for some big plays. If they can limit points at even a slightly better clip, the Chiefs could pay off in a big way.
Around the league
John Elway hit a Lombardi-winning home run when he recruited Peyton Manning to Denver. Since then, the Denver Broncos GM has struck out swinging with every attempt to fill the quarterback job.
”It’s a hard position to fill,” Elway told reporters Wednesday. “We tried to shake all these trees around here the last four years and the quarterbacks didn’t fall out. So it’s difficult. We’ve taken a lot of shots, we’ve tried a lot of different situations. ... Hopefully with Joe [Flacco] we’ve got it solidified with Drew [Lock] working under him.
“It’s been a battle, but this league’s a battle. It’s been a tough situation, especially at that position. ... [But] I’m excited for that position.”
Overcome the loss of Rob Gronkowsk?
I mean, they did win a Super Bowl without him a few years ago, so maybe you don’t need to be all that concerned about his retirement. But Gronk was pretty great. A definite Hall of Famer. He holds the NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end in a single season with 17. He had five seasons with at least 10 touchdowns, the most by a tight end in NFL history. And he retired with a franchise-record 79 receiving touchdowns. So I don’t want to make it seem like it was no big deal.
Plus, if you look at Brady’s numbers with and without Gronk, they’re clearly better with him. Brady’s passer rating with Gronk is 104.3. It drops all the way down to 88.1 without Gronk. That’s just 0.5 points north of the league average (87.6) since 2010, when Gronk entered the league
In case you missed it at Arrowhead Pride
Who is TE2 behind Travis Kelce?
Due to his offseason ankle surgery, Kelce hasn’t been able to participate at all during offseason workouts. While I expect him to be ready to go, there’s still plenty of questions about the rest of the group.
Deon Yelder was acquired mid-season last year and earned the Andy Reid’s praise during minicamp. Wichita, Kansas product Blake Bell signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs to vie for an opportunity in one of the most explosive offenses in football. UDFA John Lovett has turned some heads in his transition from Ivy League quarterback to more of an H-Back role in the NFL. How it shakes out will be interesting.
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