2021 RANKINGS · Points: 4th | Yards: 3rd
Too low? Too high? I had to include the Chiefs on the list because, well, Patrick Mahomes is Patrick Mahomes. It’d be insane to not expect a potent offense with No. 15 at the helm. Not to mention, the offensive brain trust of Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy is second to none.
Now, Tyreek Hill isn’t walking through that door. “Cheetah” has a profound effect on opposing defenses, and he’s irreplaceable as a home run hitter. Kansas City’s run game is suspect, at best. Those are the concerns.
However, K.C. still has Travis Kelce; you know, the best tight end in football? And the receiving corps overall is solid, with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Skyy Moore coming aboard. Definitely a group the generationally talented quarterback can score points with.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
Can Patrick Mahomes keep the Chiefs as the kings of the AFC? (David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)
The Kansas City Chiefs have been the team to beat in the AFC ever since Patrick Mahomes took over as their starting quarterback. However, their conference domination could be coming to a close.
The Chiefs traded star wideout Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins this offseason, and they lost safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Charvarius Ward in free agency. And while they were losing talent, the rest of the AFC West was adding pieces left and right.
The changing landscape isn’t lost on Chiefs general manager Brett Veach.
“All of a sudden, other teams have other resources to spend, and the league is only going to get tougher, and it’s harder for us to maintain that level of success,” he told Kevin Clark of The Ringer. “So that level of focus has to be there week in and week out. It’s also true that we have a target on our back, as opposed to three, four years ago, when we were chasing teams. They’re coming after us. So just that mindset, it starts from the top down, it starts with Coach (Andy Reid) and Pat. And they set the tone.”
That tone is a .710 winning percentage for Reid as the head coach in Kansas City and 50 wins in 63 regular-season starts for Mahomes.
As long as that dup is in town, the Chiefs are going to be tough to beat.
2022 best case scenario
Smith-Schuster has proven he can be a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver, having achieved the milestone back in the 2018 season when he totaled 1,426 receiving yards on 111 receptions and seven touchdowns. In seasons past he was the bonafide WR1 for the Steelers and now walks into an ideal situation to reclaim that label with the Chiefs. Forming synergy early on with Patrick Mahomes and posting close to 1,000 yards receiving in 2022 is not a lofty goal among this offense and would be a home run for fantasy owners.
2022 worst case scenario
Even with the departure of Hill and Pringle, the Chiefs continue to have a multitude of weapons on offense. Since Smith-Schuster is on a one-year “prove it” deal there is the possibility that he may not form the chemistry of a WR1 with Mahomes and that proving not to be an issue for this team’s title aspirations. Mahomes could continue to feed Travis Kelce and potentially form a synergy with Valdes-Scantling, leaving Smith-Schuster as the odd man out with limited fantasy production to account for.
The Chiefs still have former first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire as Jerick McKinnon goes into his second year with the team. Kansas City scooped up Isiah Pacheco in the seventh round of this year’s draft and he’s already turned heads, as Ronald Jones may find himself on the outside looking in once we get to final roster cuts. K.C. also has arguably the best offensive line in football heading into Week 1.
Looking back to last year, the Chiefs averaged 4.54 yards per rush, which was seventh best in the league. Their 4.6 yards per first-down rush was sixth-best in the NFL. And they averaged 2.29 yards before contact per rush, leading all teams.
The Chiefs faced an eight-or-more-man box on just 14.2% of their rushes, last in the league and a sign of the respect opposing defenses had for Mahomes and the passing game. Conventional wisdom would indicate that percentage will go up with the absence of Hill, and the Chiefs seem prepared for that.
Reid was asked about what he thought the team would be getting in Shelton. He’s confident that they’re getting a talented player and athlete, but also a bit of a kindred spirit for the Chiefs’ head coach.
“I think we’ll get a lot out of him,” Reid said of Shelton. “He’s a big guy. He’s a big kid, right? He’s really a gifted athlete, for as big as he is, he’s a gifted athlete. He’s had some real productive snaps. He was with the Giants last year and had some productive snaps there. He and I could probably afford to lose a couple (of pounds) and I think he’ll do that as we go forward.”
Shelton (6-2, 345 pounds) has the reputation of being an excellent run stopper. He’s coming off of what was considered to be a down year in New York, but as Reid mentioned, he’s had some productive snaps throughout his career. From 2016-2018, Shelton didn’t have a run defense grade lower than 72.8 per Pro Football Focus.
Around the NFL
The league’s officiating department, in consultation with the competition committee, will ease off some of the roughing calls that have caused many of us watching to say, “What was the defender supposed to do?!”
While “forcible” contact to the head or legs of the quarterback will still be properly ruled as roughing the passer, the incidental contact to the passer should not draw a flag, according to documents provided by the NFL. Walt Anderson, the NFL’s SVP and head of officiating training and development, has instructed his officials of these new rules throughout the offseason, and officials are explaining the rule clarifications to coaches and teams during training camp this preseason.
Since 2011, any movement of the quarterback’s head caused by contact by a defender would be ruled a foul. Upon review this offseason, the NFL didn’t feel there was a safety issue with just any contact to a quarterback’s head. When a pass rusher tries to “match” the quarterback’s hand when attempting to block or bat a pass, the potential incidental contact to the QB’s head or neck won’t be flagged for roughing. But if the defender uses a “violent, swinging or thrusting” motion with his arms, that will still be flagged.
Ravens have a special rookie. With all the pomp and circumstance that accompanied Matt Araiza into the draft process, it was surprising to some when the Ravens used a fourth-round pick to make Jordan Stout the first punter taken in the 2022 NFL Draft. Stout’s showing Thursday was an example of just why a club known for its special teams prowess pounced on Stout. He was booming punts and kickoffs throughout the Ravens’ NFL-record 21st straight preseason win. Stout’s final punting line saw an average of 47.8 yards on four punts with one coming to rest inside the 20. The long-locked, scruffy-bearded Penn State product is going to tilt the field in the Ravens’ favor plenty of times to come.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
This has stood out to Bleymaier, who talked to reporters after Tuesday’s training camp practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.
“Skyy has come in — and he wants to be perfect,” said Bleymaier. “He wants to take every rep and learn from it, see the whole picture... There is just so much on his plate, he could start swimming in all of the different things that are going on — [but] he wants to stay right on top of it. He’s the first one to come over and ask [questions or] give hypotheticals about a different situation. He’s just seeing the big picture — not just the specific route or rep that he took.”
Bleymaier had similar thoughts about another newcomer: former Green Bay Packers wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling, whose attention to detail has also stood out during practice.
“MVS is a perfectionist,” Bleymaier revealed. “He comes out, he knows exactly what he’s got [and] he wants to be perfect on every single rep. He’s exactly where he needs to be. We’ve taken a ton of reps all through these camps — sometimes not putting guys in the most optimal position to win — [but] he’s fought right through that, getting to where he needs to be and making all of his routes as good as they can be.”