From the FanPosts - JD
As many had speculated, its depth may make it the best Chiefs roster in a long time. So I decided to analyze that possibility, comparing the team as its constructed today to the one that began 2020 season as the defending champions.
That squad returned 20 of 22 starters from its 2019 roster that won the Super Bowl. Many expected it to go undefeated -- and it didn't disappoint, going 14-1 with its starters and cruising to a second straight Super Bowl appearance.
Let's start the comparison with the Chiefs' offense.
2020 (2): Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
2021 (2): Mahomes, Henne
No changes here. Following Super Bowl LIV, Kansas City signed Henne to a two-year contract. The biggest question may be how Mahomes responds after suffering his first double-digit loss in Super Bowl LV. My best guess: Scorched Earth.
In his fifth year as a pro, Mahomes is only going to be better -- which should terrify the rest of the NFL. His maturity, another year in the system – and a chip on his shoulder -- should lead to an even more productive year.
2021 outlook: Slight upgrade
2020 (3): Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson -- and FB Anthony Sherman
2021 (3): Edwards-Helaire, Williams, Jerick McKinnon -- and FB Michael Burton
For all the hype first-round pick Edwards-Helaire received going into 2020, it felt like he underachieved. But he had 1100 yards from scrimmage -- behind only tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. In 2020, he hopes to build on that solid output. With former wide receivers coach Greg Lewis now leading the running backs, Edwards-Helaire should be able to build on ability as a receiving threat, giving this high-powered offense another dimension.
Entering his fourth season with the team, Williams is steady. He knows the offense -- and will get opportunities in both short yardage situations and on passing downs.
McKinnon is the wild card -- and the main reason this group should be better. After his breakout with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017 -- when he accrued 991 total yards as a backup -- McKinnon has often been injured. Now back to 100% with the Chiefs, he's made standout plays all over the field -- as a playmaker with the ball in his hands, blocking in pass protection or making special-teams tackles.
The Chiefs didn’t go into 2021 intending to replace Sherman’s 13 total yards and one touchdown from 2020. The Chiefs like to have a fullback who can contribute all over the field, so they were seeking a special teams contributor who could be a factor in all four phases -- just like Sherman had been. In preseason, Michael Burton was solid in his 26 special-teams snaps. But for Burton, replacing Sherman -- a longtime fan favorite -- will be a tough ask.
2021 outlook: Upgrade
2020 (6): Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Marcus Kemp
2021 (5): Hill, Hardman, Robinson, Pringle, Daurice Fountain
The group is largely the same. But if Hill continues to impact games with his speed -- and the combination of Hardman, Robinson and Pringle can all elevate their production -- this group will be better. Watkins will obviously be the biggest loss. In 10 games last season, he totaled 424 total yards and two touchdowns -- both figures less than those of Hardman and Robinson. So the Chiefs are likely hoping for a collective improvement that will replace Watkins' production.
2021 outlook: Downgrade
2020 (4): Travis Kelce, Nick Keizer, Deon Yelder, Ricky Seals-Jones
2021 (4): Kelce, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson and Noah Gray
While Kelce’s 2020 season was his best ever, the position group's depth was questionable, totaling just 13 catches (on 21 targets) for only 99 yards. For Kelce, the ideal 2021 season would be to have a reduced role, preventing any additional wear-and-tear in preparation for a deep playoff run. Bell returns to the team, joined by new additions Gray and Fortson. As a group, they should be able to produce when Kelce is on the sidelines. Bell is a better blocker than any of 2020's backups -- and both Gray and Fortson bring new elements that head coach Andy Reid -- and Mahomes -- will be able to to use.
2021 outlook: Upgrade
2020 starters: Eric Fisher, Kelechi Osemele, Austin Reiter, Andrew Wylie, Mitchell Schwartz
2021 starters: Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Lucas Niang
2020 reserves: Mike Remmers, Daniel Kilgore, Nick Allegretti, Yasir Durant
2021 reserves: Remmers, Austin Blythe, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Wylie, Allegretti
Fisher and Schwartz were one of the NFL's top-tier tackle combos. Fisher had a Pro Bowl season in both 2018 and 2020, while Schwartz had four straight All-Pro years. It's going to be tough to match that level of production. But Brown comes into the season following two Pro Bowl seasons. At just 25 years old, he could build on that success. Niang is still an unknown. There's a lot of hope here, but it's hard to think this isn't a potential downgrade.
In 2020, Osemele was coming off multiple injuries with the Jets. Reiter was a serviceable center. Wylie was coming off an injury in 2019. Statistically, they were above league average. But the eye test left a lot to be desired, as Mahomes' pocket was consistently pushed back -- and short-yardage conversions needed creativity for success. So this is where the 2021 group gets interesting. Thuney is an anchor who always knows the right technique to use. Humphrey and Smith come in as rookies, but have excellent chemistry together -- and know how to move a pile. The talent is there to give Mahomes more time and space to work in the pocket -- and make those short-yardage situations more doable.
Meanwhile, 2021's reserves include players with winning pedigrees and Super Bowl experience. With the exception of new veteran free agent Blythe, they were all counted upon to make offense work in 2020 -- and until the Super Bowl, they did. When your fourth-best lineman in last year's Super Bowl is now your ninth-best lineman, you’ve made some upgrades.
2021 outlook: Upgrade
The bottom line
To be fair, it's going to be very tough to replicate the production of the Chiefs' offense in 2020. They ranked second in total offensive DVOA -- behind only the Green Bay Packers. Comparing the known output of a previous season to the upcoming one is always difficult; in any such comparison, there is quite a bit of projection. But the Kansas City front office -- using all the resources available to them -- have absolutely made the roster better. This 2021 offense is clearly deeper than it was a year ago -- and as the season goes on, they should have the ability to gel together, becoming one of the few franchises to ever appear to three straight Super Bowls.