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Pro Football Focus ranks Chiefs in top five — but not first — in 2020 roster breakdown

The yearly preseason rankings are here, and Kansas City is slotted lower than expected.

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NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to each season, Pro Football Focus ranks the rosters of every NFL team from 1 to 32. Entering the 2019 season one year ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were ranked seventh.

This year, the Chiefs have risen three positions to fourth place. Here’s what PFF had to say, via ESPN:

Biggest strength: The Chiefs have the best quarterback in the NFL, and I don’t think there are many people out there arguing that point. It’s the out-of-structure plays that capture the headlines for Patrick Mahomes. He is, of course, very good at those, as his 24 big-time throws (eight more than any other quarterback) outside the pocket since 2018 will attest, but he also does the little things well. From manipulating defenders with his eyes to making the right reads from a clean pocket, there isn’t much to nitpick with his game. That makes the Chiefs one of the favorites to defend their Super Bowl title in 2020.

Biggest weakness: Kansas City did just win the Super Bowl with this cast of cornerbacks (plus Kendall Fuller, who left for Washington in free agency), but that doesn’t make it any more of a strength. Bashaud Breeland did a decent job of limiting production with just 29 receptions allowed on the season, but his coverage grade of 51.3 indicates that it came with a fair amount of luck. The reception total also doesn’t consider his 12 penalties on the season — tied for most at the cornerback position. A potential suspension following an offseason arrest for Breeland makes that starting spot even shakier.

X factor for 2020: The linebacking corps has been a problem for the Chiefs, but 2020 second-round pick Willie Gay Jr. adds an immediate dose of athleticism and coverage ability to the unit. Beside blowing the athletic testing out of the water at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Gay has shown instincts in coverage in his limited action at Mississippi State; his 93.9 coverage grade on 294 career coverage snaps in college speaks to that. He could provide a nice spark to the defense as a rookie.

Heading into last year, Mahomes was regarded as a top-five quarterback.

Super Bowls change things, with PFF now jumping on board with the idea that Mahomes is the hardly-debatable best quarterback in the NFL. The site’s point about the big-time throws, which are defined as “PFF’s highest-graded pass attempts based upon ball placement, velocity, targeted depth and other factors,” is intriguing to me.

Especially in the dead of the offseason with no real breaking news to discuss, conversations shift to the hypothetical — such as... what would the Chiefs be with just Mahomes and no Andy Reid — or vice versa? This point on his big-time throws lends some credit to the idea that Mahomes would be a force anywhere (like maybe even Buffalo, who traded the Chiefs the pick). But I think we can all agree he is reaching his absolute potential under Reid in Kansas City.

John Dixon and I recently discussed the Chiefs’ weakest position on one of our Editors Show podcast episodes. We agreed that the Chiefs should be most concerned about the linebacker position, but that doesn’t necessarily mean cornerback is a bad opinion. The expectation is Bashaud Breeland will miss the beginning of the season, but the hope is that the still-only-24-year-old Charvarius Ward will continue to grow. The Chiefs have options — be it Antonio Hamilton, Rasahad Fenton and rookie L’Jarius Sneed — on the other side. And we have seen them make some marginal play at that position work before thanks to safety help... all the way to a Super Bowl title.

Willie Gay Jr. is a fine choice as an X-factor, but I would lean more on the offensive side of the football in an expanded role for wide receiver Mecole Hardman or the addition of running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. If the offense stands to get better, which we actually expect, there may be little to worry about on the defensive side of the football, with opposing teams having to play one-dimensional out of the gate most days.

The PFF key

  • Elite (90-plus grade)
  • Good/high quality (80-89.9)
  • Average (70-79.9)
  • Below average (0-69.9)

CHIEFS OFFENSE

Elite: QB Patrick Mahomes

Good/High Quality: TE Travis Kelce, WR Tyreek Hill, RT Mitch Schwartz

Average: WR Sammy Watkins, LT Eric Fisher

Below Average (or rookies and players not active/barely active in 2018): RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB Damien Williams, WR Mecole Hardman, LG Andrew Wylie, C Austin Reiter, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

  • PFF considers “elite” players those with grades of 90 or better. QB Patrick Mahomes was rated 90.2 in 2019 by PFF.
  • RT Mitch Schwartz came the closest to joining Mahomes with an 89.3 rating, followed by TE Travis Kelce (86.1) and WR Tyreek Hill (84.5)
  • RB Damien Williams might jump up to that average category (as a floor) if he could stay healthy for an entire season. PFF/ESPN listed RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s college rating at 85.0 (which would be good/high quality.
  • It was surprising to see RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was rated the lowest player on the offense (59.7). The Chiefs restructured his deal this offseason.

CHIEFS DEFENSE

Elite: n/a

Good/High Quality: DT Chris Jones

Average: S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Rashad Fenton, S Juan Thornhill

Below Average (or rookies and players not active/barely active in 2018): DT Derrick Nnadi, EDGE Frank Clark, EDGE Alex Okafor, LB Damien Wilson, LB Anthony Hitchens, LB Willie Gay Jr., CB Charvarius Ward, CB Bashaud Breeland

  • According to last year’s ratings and rankings, DT Chris Jones was the Chiefs’ only elite defensive player and they had no players in the good/high quality category. This year, Jones is the only good/high quality defensive player at 87.6.
  • Rookie LB Willie Gay Jr. would be considered good/high quality if his college score, 83.1, counted.
  • S Tyrann Mathieu was the next-best player after Jones at 75.4, followed by CB Rashad Fenton (71.9) and S Juan Thornhill (71.5). The Chiefs did a solid job by finding an average-tier player as a rookie in the sixth round.
  • EDGE Frank Clark was only a 63.3 and LB Anthony Hitchens came in at 44.4, the worst of the defense.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS RANKING?

When I pulled the rankings up this year, I fully expected to see the Chiefs first. This was not the case, reminding me this list is based on the future much more than the past. It also is simply an evaluation of isolated roster talent without consideration of coaching or leadership off the field.

For example, the Chiefs and Saints are top-five teams, but give me Andy Reid over Sean Payton 10 out of 10 times. Even if you want me to buy that Mathieu is “average” on the field, what he does to improve the play around him cannot be — and is not — quantified by PFF.

Mahomes’ almost dropped out of the elite bracket, and Hill and Kelce were several rating points away. Those results, in particular, make the system feel a little flawed.

Poll

Do you agree with the PFF/ESPN rankings?

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  • 9%
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1003 votes total Vote Now

We also discussed training camp in Kansas City and its impact on fans, Eric Bieniemy and his interview this week and the best Chiefs thing we heard all week on the latest edition of the Editors Show.

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