If the Kansas City Chiefs produce another season featuring an AFC West title and a deep run into the postseason, we’ll already know the primary reasons.
Head coach Andy Reid will be captaining an offensive scheme that puts quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the best position to utilize tight end Travis Kelce and company. On the flip side, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive tackle Chris Jones will create enough chaos to contribute to wins.
The top of the roster will get them far, but the supporting cast around them can make the difference between a second-consecutive Super Bowl and a missed opportunity. So I picked out my three biggest X-factors for the Chiefs’ 2023 season, highlighting how they could push the team over the top to be the first repeat champions in 20 years:
1. Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu
The Chiefs have one of the best primary pass rushers in the NFL: defensive tackle Chris Jones. Who is the team’s second-best pass rusher?
The answer that the team and fans hope for is second-year defensive end George Karlaftis. That said, the unit is much scarier to opposing offenses if free-agent signing Charles Omenihu can prove himself to be the most effective pass rusher behind Jones. He has made a career out of beating guards and centers as a situational, interior rusher: he lined up inside on 23% of his snaps last season and earned a pressure on 13% of his pass-rush snaps. None of the Chiefs’ secondary rushers from the previous year had a rate higher than 10%.
We can count on Omenihu to be a weapon paired with Jones inside, but that’s a role that players like defensive end Mike Danna or defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton can also excel in. If Omenihu can evolve into as effective a rusher from the edge, it could further maximize the Chiefs’ pass-rush lineup on a particular down.
The 36" arms show up in Omenihu's rushes, constantly reaching around blocks and looking to make a game-changing play on the ball— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) March 15, 2023
Last yr, he caused this game-changing fumble in the playoff game, plus forced the interception to seal their W over LAC pic.twitter.com/Hga6ziTbt2
The more he evolves as a player, the more he’ll play. The more he plays, the more likely he is to create a big play. He has forced five fumbles in his career, using his long arms to constantly disrupt quarterbacks in the pocket.
2. The team’s development of drafted wide receivers
The Chiefs have supported Mahomes with plenty of weapons in his young career, but the team has yet to develop a wide receiver who started with the superstar quarterback. With the news that veteran wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has signed with the Tennessee Titans, their ability to develop Skyy Moore and rookie Rashee Rice becomes even more important.
Veteran wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling stepped up in spots last year, but his ideal role in the Chiefs’ offense centers around his long speed and ability to win on vertical routes. Dynamic receiver Kadarius Toney is going to be electric in the ways the Chiefs’ offense gets him in space. After that, this team needs someone who can create separation through physical coverage, be reliable on tough passes over the middle and make the most of their opportunities after the catch.
Both Moore and Rice have the foundation of talent to provide those skills. Mahomes and the pass offense have always leaned on having this type of receiver (Sammy Watkins and Juju Smith-Schuster), so it’s up to the team to provide the offense with that skillset by developing the drafted duo.
3. Safety Justin Reid
The Chiefs’ defensive backfield has a natural progression to make in 2023 — simply because of the amount of second-year players that make it up. However, it’s a veteran whose improvement from 2022 could make the biggest impact.
Safety Justin Reid should be a much bigger playmaker in the defense than he was a year ago. Last season, the natural leader had to work through learning a system while simultaneously developing relationships with players who have never played in the NFL. The growing pains were evident for most of the year, but Reid settled into his role as the 2022 season grew.
Earlier this offseason, he revealed to reporters that he didn’t feel completely comfortable in the defense until Weeks 14 and 15.
“[That’s when] I really started to get it down,” he admitted, “because we do a lot of stuff. Plus, we had a lot of new faces. It [was] kind of hard because there wasn’t as much help; we [were] all trying to figure it out together.”
So Reid’s familiarity with the system can now be used as a weapon by Spagnuolo, who has always valued the safety position highly. An All-Pro season from safety Tyrann Mathieu helped boost the Chiefs to the Super Bowl LIV win, and the Chiefs’ defense could use that versatility from the safety position again.
If Reid goes from solid starter to dynamic playmaker this season, it could add an additional layer to how Spags can confuse opposing quarterbacks.