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5 Chiefs statistics from 2021 — and what they mean for 2022

Let’s take a look at some significant numbers from last season — and what they could indicate for this year.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody loves digging deep into the vast amounts of information available from Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus more than I do.

So let’s find some of the important statistics from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2021 season — and consider what they mean for the coming season.

1. The Chiefs’ offense finished first in points per drive, yards per drive, drive scoring percentage and third-down conversion rate

Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Even with the underlying theme of opposing defenses capping Kansas City’s vertical passing attack, the offense was still historically efficient in moving the chains and making the most of their drives. In 2021, the team led the league in first-down conversions with 419.

The Chiefs’ third-down conversion rate (52.2%) was five points higher than any other team. In the last decade, no other team has come close to matching them.

For any team, it’s fair to expect some natural regression in these metrics — let alone one with so many new faces at its skill positions. To make up for this expected drop in efficiency, the offense can be more volatile, heightening the ceiling of the big plays while taking on higher risks. The defense will also need to carry the load more than it did out of the gate last season.

Any Patrick Mahomes-led unit can reach 2021’s league-leading efficiency. But in 2022, will it be fair to expect it instantly? Probably not — and that should be factored into our expectations.

2. In Weeks 9-18, Chris Jones created pressure on 17% of his pass-rushing snaps

When you include the five batted passes he earned in that stretch, he impacted the quarterback’s dropback or threw on over 19% of his pass-rushing opportunities. Either figure is very impressive.

Week 9 was edge rusher Melvin Ingram’s first game with Kansas City. It was also the first game where Jones played more from the interior than over (or outside) the offensive tackle. It stayed that way for the rest of the year.

With Jones not having to worry about 2021’s EDGE experiment any longer, he can do what he does best for all of 2022 — which could lead to a better bottom line than the nine sacks he racked up last year. That constant pressure from the inside could also make sacks easier for defensive ends Frank Clark and George Karlaftis.

While the unit finished fifth in team pressure rate, it earned the fourth-fewest sacks last season. Jones’ consistent interior presence should help boost that production.

3. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had four total touches on third downs

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Edwards-Helaire had two carries and two catches on third down. Compare that to his rookie season, in which he had nine rushing opportunities and four catches in those scenarios. In 2021, only 2% of his touches happened on third down; in 2020, that rate was 6%.

This statistic backs up what was very obvious: whether it was because of their blocking, pass-catching or big-play abilities, the Chiefs strongly preferred Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon as their third-down running backs.

With Williams gone, Edwards-Helaire has an opportunity to see more snaps on passing downs, which should boost his overall impact and get him closer to maximizing the skillset that made him a first-round pick.

Still, re-signing McKinnon could signify that the team would again prefer the veteran for that spot. In training camp, this makes it that much more critical for Edwards-Helaire to prove he can get it done.

4. The Chiefs’ defense allowed the highest yards per possession and second-most yards per play

The unit ranked second-worst in rushing yards per attempt and fourth-worst in net passing yards per attempt.

While a fun stretch towards the end of the season — including two matchups against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger halfway out the door — made the defense’s overall performance easier to stomach, there were problems from Week 1 all the way to the bitter end.

It’s a big part of why there was so much defensive turnover this offseason. But sometimes, that’s all it takes to get a jump start. A new look — one with which opponents are less familiar — can naturally result in improved production; think of the team’s early years under defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. This can be especially true if some of the new players are upgrades over their predecessors. As a whole, we should expect the unit to improve.

5. Players with 42% of 2021 special-teams snaps will not return in 2022 — including the top 4 players

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In recent seasons, four staples of the Chiefs’ special teams have been safety Armani Watts, wide receiver Marcus Kemp and linebackers Dorian O’Daniel and Ben Niemann. These players led the unit in snaps last season — and all of them are gone. Other key players like safety Dan Sorensen, cornerback Mike Hughes and wide receiver Byron Pringle are also not returning.

It’s a reminder that as much turnover as we will see on both offense and defense, the third phase of the game will have a lot of room for key players. The returning snap leader will be tight end Noah Gray, which may give him an advantage in the tight end room.

One of the other top returning players is cornerback Chris Lammons — and even he is facing the possibility of a multi-game suspension.

During training camp, it will be worth taking note of the players who stand out on special teams. They could represent the next wave of players for whom special-teams coordinator Dave Toub will pound the table.