Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Kansas City Chiefs
G Jeff Linkenbach, DT Vance Walker, ILB Joe Mays, CB Chris Owens.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Dee Ford, CB Phillip Gaines, RB De’Anthony Thomas, QB Aaron Murray.
WR/KR Dexter McCluster, OT Branden Albert, G Jon Asamoah, G Geoff Schwartz, DE/DT Tyson Jackson, ILB Akeem Jordan, CB Dunta Robinson, S Kendrick Lewis, S Quintin Demps.
2014 Kansas City Chiefs Offense:
The Chiefs averaged nearly 28 points per game this past season despite the fact that Alex Smith struggled to connect downfield on most occasions. Whether the reason for that was Smith’s limited arm strength or his poor supporting cast is debatable. What’s not is that Kansas City had an absurdly easy schedule. The team battled all of the inept NFC East squads, as well as the Jaguars, Titans, Texans, Bills, Browns and Raiders twice. Smith was able to just dump off short passes to his play-makers and have them do all of the work.
That strategy won’t be as fruitful in 2014. The Chiefs have to take on all of the NFC West teams and their dominant defenses. The Patriots and Steelers also loom on the slate. With that in mind, Smith will have to threaten the opposing stop units downfield, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to do that for the same two aforementioned reasons. He still has major physical limitations, which would explain why his YPA dropped to a pedestrian 6.5 without Jim Harbaugh aiding him. He had a solid touchdown-to-interception ratio of 23:7, but that’s not sustainable, especially given the tougher schedule on the horizon.
Kansas City didn’t do anything to help Smith in terms of giving him better weapons. In fact, the team lost Dexter McCluster, who was a big part of the offense. Dwayne Bowe is still on the roster, but he’s one of the least-efficient receivers in the NFL. The good news is that he’s been working with a nutritionist and a personal trainer in an offseason for the first time in his career. The Chiefs will need that to pay off because Smith’s other non-running back weapons are the inconsistent Donnie Avery and the unknown Travis Kelce, a second-year tight end who missed his entire rookie campaign because of a knee injury.
Of course, Smith will feed the ball to Jamaal Charles as much as possible. Charles saw his carries drop from 285 to 259 in 2013, but his catches doubled. He logged 70 receptions for 693 receiving yards to go along with 1,287 rushing yards, and he scored 19 times in the process. Charles won’t be 28 until December, and he doesn’t have an extensive workload history, so he should be just as effective this upcoming season, minus the fact that he’ll be facing tougher defensive opponents.
One other thing that could hurt Smith is the decline of the offensive line. Left tackle Branden Albert has bolted for the Dolphins, leaving Eric Fisher to man the blind-side position in his wake. Fisher struggled immensely as a right tackle during his rookie campaign, but perhaps there’s a chance that he’ll be better at his natural position. Of course, there’s a decent chance he could be a complete bust because he wasn’t supposed to be the No. 1 overall pick in one of the weakest drafts in recent memory.
Albert’s departure will force Donald Stephenson into the lineup on a full-time basis. Stephenson didn’t play very well in 2013, and neither did projected starting left guard Jeff Allen. Making matters worse, Jeff Linkenbach, who couldn’t even crack Indianapolis’ starting lineup (the Colts had brutal blockers), is projected to start at right guard. Center Rodney Hudson is the only stable piece up front.
2014 Kansas City Chiefs Defense:
Prior to their Week 10 bye, the Chiefs limited every single opponent of theirs to 17 points or fewer. Some saw this as a remarkable feat, but Kansas City played a barrage of terrible quarterbacks in the first half of the season, including Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrelle Pryor, Case Keenum, Jason Campbell and Jeff Tuel. It would have been disappointing had Kansas City not limited those signal-callers to fewer than three touchdowns.
Things fell apart for the Chiefs after that, as the Chargers, Broncos, Raiders and Colts posted 41, 35, 31 and 45 on them, respectively. A tougher schedule was one of the reasons for that, but there were other issues. One major problem was the injury to Justin Houston. The third-year pass-rusher dominated along with Tamba Hali, as the two combined for 20 sacks in the first 10 games. However, Houston was out for the entire second half of the season with an elbow injury. He’s healthy now, but he has been a no-show at OTAs because he wants a new contract. If he misses workouts, he could have a down year.
Given Kansas City’s lack of depth at outside linebacker and Houston’s contract demands, it’s understandable why the team spent the 23rd-overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft on Dee Ford. Some teams viewed Ford to be a reach that high. If all things are ideal, he won’t start for a while, but the Chiefs will at least be able to add to their pass-rushing rotation.
The Chiefs’ other offseason acquisition of note was Vance Walker, formerly of Oakland. Walker can rush the passer pretty well, but he’s always done so in the Raiders’ 4-3. It’s unknown how he’ll transition into the 3-4, but he does not project as a good scheme fit. He’ll start along with Allen Bailey, a solid run-stuffer, and Dontari Poe, who had a monstrous 2013 campaign. Poe dominated in terms of stopping the run and getting to the quarterback, establishing himself as one of the elite nose tackles in the NFL. Poe has been in even better shape this offseason, so as difficult as it is to believe, he’ll be even better in 2014.
Kansas City is mostly set up front and on the edge, and it also has quality players at one of the inside linebacker spots (Derrick Johnson) and both safety positions (Eric Berry and Husain Abdullah). The main issues, as the public witnessed during Indianapolis’ ridiculous comeback in the playoffs, are next to Johnson and the cornerback position. Beginning with the former, Nico Johnson, Joe Mays and James-Michael Johnson will all battle for that spot. Johnson, a 2013 fourth-rounder, played just 17 snaps last season. Mays was signed over from Denver, but he isn’t any good.
At corner, the Chiefs thought they were set with Brandon Flowers at one of the spots, but he has proven to be a poor fit for the new scheme and was released recently as a consequence. With him gone, Kansas City will have to go with some sort of combination of the mediocre Sean Smith, inept Chris Owens, unproven Sanders Comings and third-round rookie Phillip Gaines across from Marcus Cooper, who was inconsistent last year.
2014 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule and Intangibles:
The Chiefs need to bring back the Arrowhead magic that existed prior to 2007. Since that year, Kansas City is a dreadful 20-37 as a host, though it was 5-3 in 2013.
Andy Reid had poor special-teams units in Philadelphia after John Harbaugh left for Baltimore. That was not the case last year for the Chiefs, as they combined for four return touchdowns. However, three were scored by players who are no longer in Kansas City (Dexter McCluster twice, Quintin Demps), while the fourth was delivered by Knile Davis, who may not be ready to play right away because of a fractured fibula that he sustained in the aforementioned playoff loss to the Colts. That would help explain the fourth-round pick the Chiefs used on De’Anthony Thomas.
Kicker Ryan Succop did not perform well in 2013, going 22-of-28, including 1-of-4 from 50-plus. He was a combined 5-of-5 from that range in 2011 and 2012, so there’s a chance he could bounce back.
Pro Bowler Dustin Colquitt was 11th in net punting average. He tied Arizona’s Dave Zastudil for first in terms of pinning opponents inside the own 20.
“The Chiefs have a very easy, last-place schedule. They battle just four opponents who made the playoffs last year. Seven of their first nine foes are: Jacksonville, Dallas, Philadelphia, Tennessee, Oakland, Cleveland and Buffalo.” That’s what was written here last summer. This year, the Chiefs have a much more brutal slate, as discussed.
2014 Kansas City Chiefs Analysis: The Chiefs took advantage of poor opponents in the first half of this past season and caught fire. They slowed down once they had to deal with tougher foes, so Kansas City fans can expect more of the same in 2014. It’s unlikely that the Chiefs will venture into the playoffs once again. In fact, high expectations could capsize this team if it starts slowly.
Projection: 7-9 (3rd in AFC West)