With the NFL combine underway in Indianapolis, the offseason is now officially underway.
Throughout the year, teams do extensive self-scouting. We thought it would be appropriate to do the same for the Kansas City Chiefs.
It easy to say that since the team won the Super Bowl, everyone on the roster is championship-caliber. But with parity in the league the way it is, staying on top requires continuous investment and improvement. What was good enough for a first title might not be good enough for a second... or it might no longer be affordable.
So don’t necessarily think of this as simply an offseason shopping list. Teams don’t just go down the list of roster weaknesses and address them in that order. In fact, in order to build on what they do well, many times, teams will add to a position of strength — or improve depth in case of injury.
With that said, let’s rank the positions of strengths and weakness for the 2020 Chiefs as they stand now.
1) Quarterback: The 24-year-old former league MVP, current Super Bowl MVP and all-around good guy Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the NFL. There’s little argument on that fact. With incumbent Chad Henne and contributor Matt Moore entering free agency, decisions about his backup are forthcoming.
Projection: As long as the Chiefs have Mahomes, this will be the team’s biggest — and most important — area of strength. The only question will be who backs him up.
2) Coaching: There’s no longer an asterisk next to Andy Reid’s name in the record books. He’s a Hall of Fame head coach — and with the Chiefs, he is having the time of his life. The real surprise is that the team has been able to retain their entire coaching staff — including offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. The new defensive coaches really showed their worth, changing the scheme and turning over the bulk of the starters — who turned in performances that absolutely helped win big games down the stretch.
Projection: With another year of continuity, the Chiefs coaches build on their success. More than one of them is likely to become a head coach after 2020.
3) Safety: What a difference a year makes. The team’s 2019 defensive overhaul was highlighted by the acquisition of veteran Tyrann Mathieu and rookie Juan Thornhill to replace Eric Berry. There’s now little doubt that this is one of the very best safety tandems in the NFL. But depth at the position could take a hit in free agency. Kendall Fuller may command more than the Chiefs are willing to pay. One guy who likely won’t hit free agency is Daniel Sorensen. For successive offseasons, many predicted he would be cut. But during the playoff run, Dirty Dan became a national sensation.
Projection: As Thornhill and Mathieu move all over the field — making plays and erasing mistakes — this will continue to be a key defensive strength. Don’t rule out an addition of depth at the position — especially as Thornhill recovers from injury.
4) Pass rushers: A near-complete overhaul of the defensive ends in Steve Spagnuolo’s image also paid big dividends in 2019. Frank Clark played through injury — and was the closer when they needed him the most. Emmanuel Ogbah was the surprise of the group, leading the team in sacks before going on injured reserve. The rest of the rotation proved to be solid, with the team’s next man up attitude on full display through injuries to Ogbah and Alex Okafor. Terrell Suggs was a fantastic late-season veteran addition, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be back. In 2020, two wild cards will be coming off injured reserve: Breeland Speaks and Tim Ward.
Projection: The Chiefs will continue to prioritize a deep rotation featuring many of the contributors from 2019 — and a couple of new faces. Pass rushing is critical area — and the team has proven their ability to find the type of rushers Spagnuolo can use effectively.
5) Interior defensive line: Chris Jones is the headline-grabber. Reports and speculation about his 2020 status are all over the place. But in 2019, the outperformance of Mike Pennel and Khalen Saunders helped turn the defense around. Derrick Nnadi continued to be a very solid starter inside, but Xavier Williams wasn’t much of a factor.
Projection: With Nnadi and Saunders as the future, the defensive line will continue to be a strength. We think Jones will be back — we hope for the long term — but Williams and Pennel will likely test free agency. Additional depth may be needed.
6) Special teams: With ‘Uncle’ Dave Toub at the helm, expectations for the other phase of the game are always high. The coverage units and kickers have been stellar — but there were still a few notable errors in 2019. Rookie Mecole Hardman made the Pro Bowl as a returner — and then followed his selection with a long return touchdown. There are a ton of young, athletic guys developing on special teams. The one notable free agent is Anthony Sherman.
Projection: There will be some turnover in the coverage units, but there’s no reason to believe they’ll take a step back. The specialists will likely remain intact — and they’ll have plenty of options at returner.
7) Wide Receiver: Even with some potential turnover, this position will be a strength going into 2020. Tyreek Hill is a top-5 receiver — and is locked up under a new contract. Hardman made a bunch of plays as a rookie. He will be well-served by a full offseason working on the finer points of being a Chiefs receiver. Demarcus Robinson became a full-time blocker and occasional target in 2019, but he is a free agent — one who is reportedly in demand. He could be replaced in-house by Byron Pringle. The biggest question here is Sammy Watkins, who won’t return on his current contract — but could be a candidate for a contract extension that would lower his cap number.
Projection: With Mahomes, receivers of all kinds can put up big numbers, but Brett Veach and Andy Reid will continue to prioritize speed and playmaking ability. Don’t be surprised if they go out and build on this strength.
1) Cornerback: Shockingly, this position was very good in 2019. Lacking any significant investment, the Chiefs got tremendous results from Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland. The only draft pick added in 2019 was Rashad Fenton, who absolutely outperformed all expectations by contributing on special teams and on defense. Along with Ward — and perhaps Alex Brown — he should be part of the answer going forward. But Breeland is now a free agent, as is Morris Claiborne and the aforementioned Kendall Fuller.
Projection: The Chiefs will likely invest in a new starting corner and additional depth via the draft and/or free agency. Last year’s perceived weakness turned out to be a strength — but with players departing in free agency, it has become a weakness again.
2) Linebackers: This position group could be described as a confusing mess. In Darron Lee and Dorian O’Daniel, we thought the Chiefs had two athletic, speedy players to run and chase in Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme. But both were relegated to the bench in favor of heavier run-stoppers for much of 2019. The Chiefs got by with Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson and Reggie Ragland taking up the bulk of the snaps and lining up in different spots each week. Ben Niemann saw his role increase — and made a couple of important plays — but he was still lacking strong ability in coverage and shedding blocks.
Projection: Most of us would consider linebacker the team’s top need, as they lack the range and athleticism we’d like to see. But the team appears committed to guys like Hitchens and Wilson, so the turnover might end up being smaller than we expect.
3) Offensive line: Given that the Chiefs have tremendous stability and talent at offensive tackle, it might seem odd to see this position group as a weakness. Clearly, everyone between bookend tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz is the problem. Andrew Wylie was replaced by Stefen Wisniewski down the stretch. Both are now free agents. Austin Reiter and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif both struggled — and carry significant salary cap hits. Swing tackle Cameron Erving appears to be the most popular guy on the team — and also carries a significant cap hit — but most fans would prefer him to be a backup. There are some young players — including Martinas Rankin and Nick Allegretti — who could challenge for starting roles in 2020.
Projection: We could see substantial turnover on the interior of the offensive line in an attempt to protect Mahomes — and improve the running game.
4) Tight end: This is both a strength and a weakness. With Travis Kelce — arguably the league’s best — in this position, you feel good about the production the Chiefs will get in 2020. But behind Kelce, there’s work to be done. Blake Bell and Deon Yelder are free agents; neither ever really became a big contributor. If Kelce were to have a significant injury, the Chiefs would be in trouble at tight end, so for that reason, we’ll mark it down as a weakness — and a position to target this offseason.
Projection: Kelce shows no signs of slowing down, but it’s pretty clear the team will need to keep churning for the second and third tight ends.
5) Running back: At times down the stretch, Damien Williams was spectacular — and the Chiefs do have a few young players who could earn roles in 2020 — but most still see running back as a position the team could improve. Darwin Thompson and Darrel Williams have each shown some ability in their limited opportunities — and on the reserve/future contract list, Mike Weber is a guy to watch. But could the Chiefs add a big-name running back to add another dimension to the offense? Given the fact that they brought in LeSean McCoy — and even reportedly considered Le’Veon Bell — we wouldn’t rule it out.
Projection: The Chiefs will look to add to this position, but not in the first round of the draft or early in free agency. Most will still consider it a weakness, but the team will continue to believe in the committee approach.