Before the 2012 NFL season, I predicted that the Kansas City Chiefs would win the AFC West. With Romeo Crennel running the team and a plethora of strong defensive players, I thought the pieces were in place.
I liked Kansas City's offensive line, and on Jamaal Charles' back I expected a very good running game, with Matt Cassel being the ultimate game manager. Well, Cassel was awful, turnovers killed this team and the wheels were off the cart from the very beginning. But I still see much of the potential of what I did a year ago, and as much as I respected the majority of Kansas City's roster last year, it is certainly better right now after the opening wave of free agency. What are the expectations for the Chiefs next season?
First of all, Andy Reid is a clear upgrade at coach. While his game management skills are consistently questionable, he does understand how to maximize talent at the quarterback position. Although I see Alex Smith as a limited passer and not the long-term answer for the Chiefs behind center, he's a guy whom Reid can count on -- which is something he couldn't say about Michael Vick last year in Philadelphia. Smith is smart and has no problem throwing the ball away and living for another day rather than forcing a throw he shouldn't make or playing outside the structure of the offense. Smith and Chase Daniel are more the orchestrators behind center that Reid envisions for his scheme -- much like what he most likely saw when surprisingly drafting Kevin Kolb and Nick Foles while already having a quarterback in place in Philadelphia.
Daniel was one of my favorites among this year's free-agent quarterbacks, and it wouldn't surprise me if the former University of Missouri QB makes an impact on his new team. He, too, is efficient, gets the ball out quickly and is accurate with his ball placement. Plus, hanging in theNew Orleans Saints' quarterback meeting room over the past few years couldn't have been be a bad thing. He might just challenge Smith for the starting role. It's safe to say that not only will Kansas City be improved at quarterback, but more importantly, the number of turnovers and mistakes generated from this position will be dramatically decreased from a year ago. That in itself should dramatically improve the Chiefs' chances of generating more wins.
The Chiefs also have a lot of flexibility with the No. 1 overall draft pick. As it stands today withEric Winston -- an above-average right tackle who is better as a run-blocker than in protection -- being released, it seems very apparent to me that Kansas City has identified Luke Joeckel (or possibly Eric Fisher) as the best player in this draft and a Day 1 starter at either right or left tackle opposite Branden Albert, who was franchised. We also know that Reid is going to throw a high percentage of the time, and while a supremely talented rookie tackle might have some early struggles, both Joeckel and Fisher are equipped to be superb in protection.
The Chiefs also have four young offensive linemen in Jeff Allen, Jon Asamoah, Rodney Hudsonand Donald Stephenson (who could be a valuable swing tackle) who have promise and should be improved players with experience from last year. Geoff Schwartz was an under-the-radar signing who could also pay off on the interior for the Chiefs. It would surprise me if Kansas City's offensive line wasn't one of the team's strengths in 2013, and it will be built for success for the long term.
Keeping Dwayne Bowe was a great move, and he should see a ton of targets, but Kansas City could use another able body at wide receiver. Jon Baldwin does have a ton of ability, and maybe Reid (along with some improved quarterback play) can get more from him than the past group did, but counting on him doesn't seem like a great idea right now. Donnie Avery's speed, despite his poor hands, could prove valuable as a player that defenses must account for downfield. Smith isn't a great deep passer, but speed on the perimeter should open space for the Chiefs' other weapons -- and Reid is known to take plenty of shots deep.
Even though they paid quite a bit, I do like the addition ofAnthony Fasano. A highly underrated and reliable two-way tight end, Fasano should help an already tough running game, especially with his perimeter blocking for Charles, as well as pass protection help for Kansas City's offensive line. Fasano will usually line up in line, and by doing so, maybe Kansas City expands Tony Moeaki's receiving capabilities by moving him around the formation more and flexing him out to draw linebacker coverage.
I am very excited about the K.C. defense and expect the Chiefs to field a top-10 unit in 2013. Up front, the addition of Mike DeVito is big. DeVito is very difficult to play against for 60 minutes and excels at disrupting opposing running games. There is no question that the way DeVito approaches the game will positively affect Dontari Poe, Tyson Jackson, Allen Bailey and the rest of this positional unit.
Out of the starting three defensive linemen, there isn't a pass-rusher that stands out -- although Poe could develop in this area. Bailey, however, could step up in his second season and contribute as an interior pass-rusher on throwing downs. The Chiefs absolutely need more from their interior pass rush than they received a year ago, and while they don't have their second-round pick (which they gave up for Smith), drafting for an interior pass-rusher (or maybe an inside linebacker to compete for the spot next to exceptional every-down linebacker Derrick Johnson) should be strongly considered in Round 3. Although Glenn Dorsey is gone, Kansas City's front five should be improved next season as Poe matures and the Chiefs' dynamic outside linebackers continue to wreak havoc off the edges rushing the quarterback.
But it is in the secondary where the most improvement should be seen in Kansas City's defense. Although rarely recognized as such, Brandon Flowers is one of the top cornerbacks in the game today. But Kansas City's other cornerbacks struggled in 2012. As a result, the Chiefs signed Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. With great size to do battle with Denver's large wideouts, Smith is best in man coverage and is a physical corner who disrupts receivers at the line of scrimmage. Robinson is a hitter who is aggressive in all facets of playing the position. What I foresee from Robinson is a role very similar to what Charles Woodson has done in Green Bay over the past few years: a defensive back who can man the deep zones, walk up to the line of scrimmage and play man coverage against slot receivers.
Kendrick Lewis is a decent safety who missed a large portion of the season due to injury. His return should help, but he may not be a full-time player with Robinson on board. And Javier Arenas is a serviceable nickel cornerback. There is now depth here. But the reason I am most excited about Kansas City's secondary is Eric Berry. One of the best safety prospects to enter the NFL in quite a while, Berry began last season very slowly as he returned from injury. But after the Chiefs' season abruptly went downhill and few paid attention, Berry began to look like his old self. He can be very special. Berry and Robinson offer Kansas City the ability to use its safeties in a very wide variety of ways, while the Chiefs play a lot of man coverage with their cornerbacks.
I very much understand that this is a quarterback-driven league. And I am not at all sold on Smith as a franchise QB. But I do think Kansas City will be improved dramatically at this position from a year ago, and overall, this looks like a 9-7 team to me right now, with the arrow very much pointing up. I don't see the Chiefs challenging Denver for divisional superiority, but a playoff berth certainly is not out of the question for Kansas City with its improved roster