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The Chiefs’ strongest position groups heading into St. Joseph

We embark on the time-honored tradition of dissecting the team’s depth chart, identifying the strongest position groups.

NFL: AFC Championship-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In this two-part series, we will be taking a look at the Kansas City Chiefs’ position groups — and ranking them accordingly.

When evaluating positional strength, we will take four things into account:

  1. Star power
  2. Depth
  3. Past performance
  4. Projected performance

The cream of the crop — who rise to the top


Quarterbacks

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If I wanted to be lazy, I would just write the words “Patrick Mahomes” and move on. He’s a generational talent who has already amassed a career’s worth of accolades. He is the best player in football — and to be honest, it isn’t even close.

But beyond Mahomes, you could argue that this group has some great depth.

Head coach Andy Reid covets having a wily old veteran at backup quarterback like he covets a cheeseburger after a win. If his starter goes down, he wants a guy who can come in and keep the ship from running ashore.

Enter Chad Henne, who became the hero of the Divisional Round game against the Cleveland Browns last season. When the game was on the line, Henne had ice in his veins. When his number is called, he comes through.

Fighting for the number three spot on the depth chart, the Chiefs have a pair of developmental quarterbacks: Anthony Gordon and Shane Buechele.

If I were to ask who led the Pac-12 in passing yards, total yards and touchdowns in 2019, how would you answer?

You might guess that it was Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.

But Gordon is the correct answer. He surpassed Herbert by more than 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. But you will not be likely to get anything out of him in the running game. During his senior year at Washington State, he rushed the ball 51 times for minus 20 yards. Still.. as a traditional pocket passer, he shows good touch on the ball. His arm strength is not out of this world, but it should be enough to get the job done.

Safeties

NFL: AFC Championship-Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Tyrann Mathieu is the undeniable star of this unit. Chiefs Kingdom’s “Landlord” is a guy who walks into a room full of alphas — and immediately becomes the top dog.

When ex-Chiefs running back Le’Veon bell spoke poorly of Reid on social media, Mathieu jumped to his coach’s defense — and then called out Bell for making excuses for his own lack of success.

Mathieu can do this because he backs it up on the field. Since joining the Chiefs in 2019, he has 10 interceptions and two first-team All-Pro honors. But be careful: don’t bring those accolades up to him.

Behind him is Juan Thornhill. The third-year player is almost Mathieu’s exact opposite, suffering a torn ACL in Week 17 of his rookie season. When asked about Thornhill’s health after he returned to the roster last season, Reid admitted that his young safety was not 100%. Thornhill profiles out as a rangy player who can run sideline-to-sideline — and still step up in man coverage. After another offseason to heal, I am excited to see what he looks like.

The third man in the equation is “Dirty” Dan Sorensen. While he is not the strongest (or fastest) player on the field, he is intelligent, knows defensive coordinator Steve Spagnolo’s defense inside and out — and is clutch. It often feels like his highlight reel is much better than his actual play — but boy, do those highlights seem to happen when the Chiefs need them most!

Tight End

NFL: OCT 08 Chiefs at Texans Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kansas City’s No. 1 wide receiver is their tight end Travis Kelce. With every year that passes, he continues to put the finishing touches on his Hall of Fame resume. In 2020, he set the record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end. That was his third among the top 10 tight end performances in NFL history — two of them in the top three. Aside from Mahomes, he’s arguably the team’s most important player.

Further down the depth chart, the Chiefs have brought back Blake Bell. “The Belldozer” spent last season in Dallas. They also invested a fifth-round draft pick in Noah Gray out of Duke, whose college tape looks a little bit like Travis Kelce Jr. — and I’m not just saying just because Gay also wore 87. He shows great body control, has strong hands and gets upfield quickly after the catch.


The Malcolms in the middle


Running Backs

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With fourth-year player Darrel Williams and veteran Jerick McKinnon on the roster, the depth is there. We are just waiting on the star power to develop. Clyde Edwards-Helaire posted a respectable rookie campaign, but it fell short of many Chiefs fans’ expectations. With a full offseason under his belt, I fully expect him to take the next step in Year 2. I would not be surprised if he ends the year with a Pro Bowl nod.

Wide Receivers

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

For this group, the star power is there; it’s the depth that’s lacking. Tyreek Hill is elite in nearly every aspect of the receiving game. If I were to name a flaw, it’s that he still lets too many passes into his body. He needs to work on catching the ball in front of his frame. According to NBC Sports, Hill tied for sixth place in dropped passes. Tied for sixth was Kansas City’s No. 2 wide receiver Mecole Hardman. No other team had more than one wide receiver on this list. In St. Joseph, the Chiefs need to get their receivers on the jugs machine.

Offensive Line

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been made about the Chiefs’ revamped offensive line — but after the Super Bowl, Kansas City was building from a large deficit. There are still a lot of unanswered questions — like who is going to start at three of the line’s five positions? There is a lot of depth — and multiple exciting new players — but now, we just need to see it work on the field.

Defensive Line

NFL: AFC Championship Game-Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Even with Frank Clark’s pending legal issues — which I will set aside — this group looks solid. Whether you keep Chris Jones inside or shift him to the edge, he has proven to be a game-wrecking force. The addition of defensive tackle Jarran Reed may prove to be one of the best moves of the offseason. Derrick Nnadi plugs up the run game like a hairball in the shower. Mike Danna, Tershawn Wharton and Alex Okafor are all solid rotational players. Throw in a couple of guys with upside — like Taco Charlton and Joshua Kaindoh — and on paper, you have to feel pretty good about this group.

But last year, the numbers just weren’t there. People care a lot about sack numbers — and it is what gets you paid. But if you want to see a whole picture of how a team gets after the quarterback, look at their quarterback pressure percentage, which is a compilation of hurries, knockdowns and sacks. As you might expect, the Chiefs finished 12th in 2020 — right in the middle of the pack.

But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were third. If the Chiefs are going to take it back this year, they need to do better at making opposing quarterbacks feel uncomfortable.


Next up, we’ll break down Kansas City’s weakest position groups.

Football is almost here, people. Get excited!