Ethan Hewett | July 29th, 2019
The Kansas City Chiefs ended 2018 on a sour note losing a close game at home in the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots. While it ended on a low, the majority of their campaign was positive, finishing 12-4 on the regular season. The Chiefs also won their first playoff game since 2015 and hosted the AFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history. Patrick Mahomes won Most Valuable Player and became only the second quarterback in history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, joining only Peyton Manning. The defensive side of the ball was a completely different story, finishing second to last in total yards allowed per game. There were a lot of highs last season, and while it may have finished on a low note, Chiefs fans had to be happy with the beginning of a new era for Chiefs football.
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The Chiefs made a bigger splash than usual this offseason. They decided it was time to completely revamp their defense, firing Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton, and bringing in Steve Spagnuolo. Along with the coaching change, they also let a lot of players go, including safety Eric Berry along with edge rushers Justin Houston and Dee Ford. They have gone on to replace these three by signing free agent safety Tyrann Mathieu, and defensive end Alex Okafor. Their biggest splash, however, was trading with the Seattle Seahawks for defensive end Frank Clark, sending their 2019 NFL Draft first-round pick, a 2020 second-round pick, and swapping 2019 third-round picks.
Along with free agency, they added a few notable names through the Draft. Picking up wide receiver Mecole Hardman and defensive back Juan Thornhill in the second round. Both of whom will most likely make an impact early on. The third notable pick came in the third round, where the Chiefs drafted defensive tackle Khalen Saunders. With the new faces, also came a new scheme. With Spagnuolo now in charge of the defense, they made the switch to a 4-3 (which is why they targeted Clark). General Manager Brett Veach and staff agreed that the change should help to benefit their team and personnel.
To put it simply, the Chiefs offense in 2018 was incredible. With the play design of Andy Reid and execution by his players, they led the league averaging 425.6 yards per game and averaging 35.5 points per game. Even in their four losses, they averaged 37.5 points. They will return nearly every starter this year on offense with Demetrius Harris, Chris Conley, and Mitch Morse being the only exceptions. It also helps to have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Patrick Mahomes, who will look to continue his success and build off of his 2018 MVP season.
With Tyreek Hill most likely not going to see any suspensions from the NFL, the only question there is on the offensive side is who will play behind Travis Kelce. While there isn’t much change personnel-wise, some fear that teams will figure out Mahomes, but I would expect Reid and Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy to continue to change their playbook just enough this year to not allow opponents to really get a grasp on this extremely fast and talented offense. Look for another explosive season in 2019.
It is a new year for the Chiefs defense and a lot of new faces. With the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, expect a very aggressive and much-improved defense. With the trade for Frank Clark, the defensive line is looking better than ever with Clark, Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, and most likely Alex Okafor being your starting four in the trenches. Linebackers will be interesting to watch as well, with the new scheme change to a 4-3, players like Anthony Hitchens should benefit greatly as he will get to be much more aggressive in his playstyle.
The secondary was easily the weakest point last season allowing 30 touchdowns through the air. The team essentially cleaned house, letting Eric Berry, Steven Nelson, Eric Murray, and Orlando Scandrick go after last season. Signing Tyrann Mathieu in free agency brought in a versatile playmaker that Spagnuolo will likely have lined up all over the field in 2019. Hopefully, Charvarius Ward can continue to develop as a strong outside corner and Bashaud Breeland can make an impact early on. Don’t forget about Juan Thornhill either as he was a ball-hawk for the Virginia Cavaliers in 2018.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
The top spot is easily secure for Mahomes, with Henne continuing to stay in his backup role for 2019, barring any injuries. The Chiefs only kept two quarterbacks last year and I don’t see a reason why they don’t repeat that this year. Expect Kyle Shurmur to make his way to the Practice Squad this season.
Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy has already come out and said that Damien is the starter for 2019 making him a lock. Hyde and Thompson should also be pretty secure with their roster spots and Sherman was one of the better fullbacks last season and while he may not contribute as much this year offensively he can still make a strong impact on special teams.
The top three spots are a lock here. With Hill likely not facing any suspension from the NFL, the bottom three spots will be very competitive. Dieter showed flashes late last season and Robinson isn’t necessarily a lock either, as there are a handful of guys competing for really only three spots.
After Kelce just about every other spot is wide open at this point. Lovett is a quarterback who is learning the tight end spot, but impressed at Organized Team Activities in May and has continued to impress early on in training camp. With Andy Reid using a lot of sets with two tight ends I would expect three guys to suit up, so that’s why I also have another veteran in Bell.
With the tackle spots locked down by Schwartz and Fisher, I expect the interior to have some experimentation during the preseason. Expect Duvernay-Tardif, Wylie, and Rieter to be day one starters with Erving, Allegretti, Mackenzie, and Hunter serving as versatile backups. Depth could be a concern, however, as Erving is the only backup with playing experience.
Jones, Nnadi, and Saunders should prove to be a very good lineup for 2019. With some depth behind them, this could be one of the more underrated defensive lines next year. Notably missing is Xaiver Williams, who has a similar play style to Hamilton. It was really a coin flip as to which of these two made the final cut.
This will probably be one of the best competitions to watch throughout training camp. To me, the only guy that is safe is Hitchens. Ragland may not even be the best fit for this defense, and the Chiefs brought in Wilson and Lee to add to the pool. O’Daniel could be a guy to watch as well and work his way even further up the depth chart.
With Clark and Okafor as the starting defensive ends, this should be a very good defensive line in 2019. I do expect more rotation this season allowing guys like Ogbah and Speaks to shine. Depth is a bit of a concern, but I could also see Chris Jones getting a few snaps outside as well.
I expect the top three guys to have their spots secure right away. Reaser who was an Alliance of American Football standout and rookie Mark Fields will bring competition along with rookie Rashad Fenton to secure that final spot. Notably missing is Tremon Smith. The second-year veteran just hasn’t quite lived up to expectations other than on special teams. The Chiefs will probably stash him on the practice squad this year.
Mathieu, Thornhill, and Watts should feel very comfortable heading into the preseason. The final spot could prove to have some competition as the Chiefs brought in several defensive backs including Harold Jones-Quartey who could compete for the final spot here. I simply couldn’t bring myself to keep Daniel Sorensen on the team this year, as I think with the return of Watts and pickup in Thornhill, the Chiefs will show him the door.
All three of these spots should be locked for the Chiefs. Butker has produced at kicker, with Colquitt still being one of the better punters in the league since being drafted in 2005. Winchester should also be comfortable at long-snapper come the regular season.
With all of the changes that the Chiefs have made on the defensive side of the ball this offseason and a loaded offense, it’s hard to not have them making another deep playoff run this year. The talent is there, along with the production from last year to prove that they can make it work. While some will tell you that Mahomes will take a step back this year, let’s put that phrase into context and realize that he will probably take a “step back” statistically. However, when it comes to actual performance and impact, I can only see him continuing to grow under the guidance of Andy Reid.
Defensively there are a few key names to watch. Anthony Hitchens was a bit of a disappointment in 2018. With the scheme change, however, expect Hitchens to be much more of his old self, where he would penetrate and make plays in the backfield. Darron Lee is another interesting name as well. The young linebacker could use a fresh start after fizzling out for the New York Jets. New linebacker coach Matt House, could definitely help these two reach their full potential. With all this being said, and I hope this is true being the Chiefs fan I am, next year really relies on the secondary taking a step forward. If they do, the Chiefs could be making the trip to Miami this year for the Super Bowl.
Season Prediction: 13-3 and making the playoffs, they also should be hosting another AFC Championship Game this year.
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