From the FanPosts -- JD
On Tuesday, the Kansas City Chiefs announced their initial 2021 roster.
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 versus the team that started the 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.
In a previous article, I addressed the offense. Now let's move on to the defense and special teams.
2020 (4): Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Khalen Saunders, Tershawn Wharton
2021 (4): Nnadi, Saunders, Wharton, Jarron Reed
"Losing" Chris Jones from this group hurts the overall projection -- but with the addition of Jarron Reed, this group is still very strong. Nnadi is in a contract year and Wharton continues to impress. Saunders -- coming back from injury -- has also looked great. If the preseason is any indicator, this has become a strength of the team.
2021 outlook: Slight downgrade
2020 (6): Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Taco Charlton, Michael Danna, Demone Harris
2021 (5): Clark, Jones, Okafor, Danna, Joshua Kaindoh
The Chiefs "lost" Christ Jones in the defensive tackle room, but "gained" him here. Jones' camp and preseason performances have made his goals -- Defensive Player of the Year and a 20-plus sack season – more likely to become reality. Frank Clark being healthy is the most important part of this comparison. If he’s good to go and close to 100%, this is an upgrade over 2020. The main concern here is depth after those starters. Throughout the season, the rotation of Okafor, Danna, and Kaindoh will be relied upon heavily.
2021 Outlook: Slight upgrade
2020 (5): Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Willie Gay Jr., Ben Niemann, Dorian O’Daniel
2021 (6): Hitchens, Gay Jr., Niemann, Nick Bolton, O’Daniel, Darius Harris
This is largely the same group as 2020. A motivated Hitchens -- who looked great in the preseason -- and another year of development that helps Gay better understand his role could outweigh the drop-off from the veteran Wilson to he rookie Bolton. Niemann will continue to have an important role in this defense -- and the Chiefs have to hope he performs better than 2020.
2021 outlook: Same as 2020
2020 (5): Charvarius Ward, L’Jarius Sneed, Antonio Hamilton, Rashad Fenton, BoPete Keyes
2021 (5): Sneed, Ward, Mike Hughes, Deandre Baker, Fenton
With Bashaud Breeland suspended, the 2020 cornerback room looked very different in Week 1. Without his presence on the team, that early-season group looked as young as the 2021 team -- even if there is more talent in the new group with former first-round picks Mike Hughes and Deandre Baker. Then there's another year of development for Sneed, who is going to be considered as a top 10 corner by the end of the year. General manager Brett Veach made a few gambles with these players. It is truly unknown if they will be successful.
2021 outlook: Unknown
2020 (5): Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, Daniel Sorensen, Tedric Thompson, Armani Watts
2021 (5): Mathieu, Sorensen, Thornhill, Watts, Chris Lammons
Mathieu is in the last year of his contract and continues to be the heart and soul of the defense. The Chiefs hope that another year off from his injury will mean that Thornhill will be playing as fast as his rookie season. Watts and Lammons will continue to perform on special teams, but have yet to break through for any meaningful defensive snaps.
2021 outlook: Same as 2020
2020 (3): Placekicker Harrison Butker, punter Tommy Townsend and long snapper James Winchester
2021 (3): Butker, Townsend, Winchester
All three of these players are super-talented. Another year together -- and another year of development.
2021 Outlook: Slight Upgrade
The bottom line
The 2020 Chiefs finished 22nd in defensive DVOA -- which can mostly attributed to having the league’s worst red zone defense. All three levels have reasons for optimism -- but unfortunately, but that's all based on projection. If the defense can improve to the middle of the pack -- coupled with an improved high-power offense -- the 2021 season will be a ton of fun to watch. And for the third consecutive season, it could be playing in February.