Aug 032013
 

Introduction

The Chiefs were no ordinary 2-14 team. They had 5 Pro-Bowlers last year. That might sound baffling, but it’s not. Only Eric Berry and maybe Tamba Hali (who had a down year) didn’t deserve it, but they could have easily been replaced by Brandon Flowers and Justin Houston. Unfortunately for them, football is a team game, not a contest of who has the highest amount of good players. This team was the perfect example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. If you’re as poorly coached and poorly quarterbacked as the Chiefs and lose the turnover battle at a near record rate, you’re not going to win a lot of games. I don’t care how many talented players you have.

Because they were no ordinary 2-14 team, the Chiefs took a different approach to the off-season than most teams coming off of seasons with similar records do. Instead of rebuilding, the Chiefs acted as contenders, bringing back their top two free agents Dwayne Bowe and Branden Albert on a lucrative multi-year deal and the franchise tag respectively.

They also signed four players to multi-year deals, adding Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith to shore up holes in the secondary, Mike DeVito to shore up a hole on the defensive line, and Anthony Fasano to likely be their starting tight end. They brought in a veteran Head Coach in Andy Reid and, rather than using an early draft pick on a quarterback for the future, they sent a 2nd round pick to San Francisco for veteran Alex Smith and used the #1 overall pick on a more NFL ready player in Eric Fisher, who will plug in at right tackle immediately.

I think, overall, their moves made a lot of sense this off-season. They might have overpaid a few players, but I like the strategy and I think they’ll be a much improved team this season. Not only are they more talented, but the additions of Alex Smith and Andy Reid will fix the three things that were holding them back last season, quarterback play, turnovers, and coaching and let the rest of their talent shine.

Reid wore out his welcome in Philadelphia, but he also managed to keep his job there for 14 seasons, which is saying something. Over his time there, he made basically every quarterback he had look better than they were, allowing the Eagles to ship off Kevin Kolb, AJ Feeley, and, eventually, a washed up Donovan McNabb for 2nd round picks, even though none of the three ever did anything of note for their new team. He also revitalized the careers of Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick, who both came to Philadelphia as backups on cheap one year deals.

Reid should continue his fine work with new quarterback Alex Smith, a great fit for Reid’s West Coast offense. Smith was not as good as he looked in San Francisco with Jim Harbaugh. Their supporting cast made life very easy for him, especially their defense, as Smith had an excellent win-loss record despite only leading a talented offensive bunch to 23 points per game in 1 ½ years under Harbaugh.

However, I don’t think you can say he’ll immediately regress to the borderline starter he was before Harbaugh. I believe he’s legitimately an improved quarterback over the one he was 2 seasons ago. Plus, with Reid and Kansas City’s supporting cast, he’s not going into such a bad situation in Kansas City. He’ll also see a much easier schedule than he did in San Francisco. He’s physically limited and can only lead teams deep into the playoffs in absolutely perfect situations, but at the very least he’ll stabilize the turnover margin.

Speaking of that turnover margin, it was a league worst -24 last season, which was actually one of the worst in NFL history (-30 by the 1965 Steelers is the worst in NFL history). It made it very tough for them to win games and affected both sides of the ball, especially defensively, where they were not nearly as bad as the 26.6 points per game they allowed would have suggested.

Turnover margin tends to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. For example, teams with 20 or fewer turnovers on average turn the ball over 25.5 times the following season, while teams that turn the ball over 35 or more times turn the ball over 28.1 times the following season. Teams with 20 or fewer takeaways take the ball away an average of 25.3 times the following season, while teams with 35 or more takeaways take the ball away an average of 27.3 times the following season. Teams with a turnover differential of +15 or higher have a turnover differential of +3.6 the following season, while teams with a turnover differential of -15 have a turnover differential of +1.5 the following season.

Turnovers and takeaways are incredibly hard to predict on year-to-year and even a game-to-game basis (teams with a turnover differential of +4 or higher and teams with a turnover differential of -4 or lower both average a turnover differential of +0.0 in the following game). Alex Smith should cut down on their interceptions. They should recover more than the 33.3% of fumbles that hit the ground that they did last season, 3rd worst in the NFL. And their talented defense should get their hands on a few more interceptions as well. With almost the same defensive unit in 2011, they had 19 interceptions. Last year, they had 7. That’s how inconsistent this stuff can be.

That will go a long ways towards letting their talent show through and improving their record. Every year, one team goes from 5 wins or fewer to into the playoffs and I think the Chiefs have the best shot of any of last year’s 7 such teams to do so (Kansas City, Jacksonville, Oakland, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Arizona). Detroit might be more talented, but they have a much tougher conference to deal with.

Quarterback

I already went into Alex Smith in the intro. He’s not in the top half of starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but he’s miles ahead of anything the Chiefs had at quarterback last season and might be their best quarterback since Trent Green was healthy in 2005. He’ll stabilize the turnover problem and at the very least be a 2-year stopgap. I don’t see why he couldn’t do his best Matt Cassel 2010 impression and take this team to the post-season against a very weak schedule. They have the supporting cast.

Grade: B-

Running Back

Jamaal Charles is a big part of that supporting cast. If it weren’t for Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson (and the fact that the Chiefs were abysmal), more people would have paid attention to Charles’ amazing return from an ACL tear. Charles rushed for 1509 yards and 5 touchdowns on 285 carries and was a deserving one of Kansas City’s 5 Pro-Bowlers. In terms of pure talent, I think Jamaal Charles is one of the top running backs in the NFL and that we haven’t seen his best season yet.

Yes, he’s had injury issues and has never been trusted by a Head Coach to carry the load, but remember who he’s had as Head Coaches: Herm Edwards, Todd Haley, and Romeo Crennel. Haley gave him fewer carries in 2010 than Thomas Jones even though Charles almost set the single season record for yards per carry. He was averaging a good 2.7 yards per carry more than Jones. Last year, Charles got 5 carries in a loss to the Raiders and when asked why after the game, Romeo Crennel’s answer was “I don’t know.”

Sure, he’s had just 784 carries in 5 seasons, but his career 5.8 YPC is MOST ALL-TIME of backs with more than 500 career carries. After him, it’s Marion Motley, a fullback, linebacker, and kick returner who I think wore a leather helmet (1946-1955), Bo Jackson, one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen, and some dude named Spec Sanders who also served as his team’s punter (1946-1950). Why do his coaches never give him the ball?!

You might not think things will get better with Andy Reid coming in, but while Andy Reid hates to run the football, when he does, he’s faithful to one back and his playbook has enough passes to backs that Charles should be able to surpass his career high of 320 touches in a season. He’ll catch plenty of Alex Smith check downs and is a solid bet to catch 55-60 passes, which would surpass his career high of 45.

He’ll also see more goal line touches, more consistent work, and more room to run on a team that can actually move the football through the air this season. He’s another year removed from that ACL tear and he’s the clear lead back with 3rd round rookie Knile Davis and backup caliber talent Shaun Draughn battling for carries behind him. He was 5th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage last season and he’s my pick to lead the NFL in that category this season, as Brian Westbrook did under Reid in 2007.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

Charles will be helped by a great offensive line, as will Alex Smith. Branden Albert was franchised this off-season and while he wasn’t re-signed to a multi-year contract because of concerns about the long-term health of his back, the Chiefs felt confident enough in his back to give him 9.5 million guaranteed for this season and refused to trade him for anything less than a 2nd round pick (talks with Miami eventually broke down over Miami’s unwillingness to give Albert the long-term deal he wanted).

Despite missing 4 games and being limited in others with those back problems, Albert was ProFootballFocus’ 24th ranked offensive tackle last season. The 2008 1st round pick was better in 2011, when he ranked 18th at his position. He may not be around with the Chiefs in 2014 and beyond, as he’ll turn 30 during the 2014 season, but he should be able to once again serve as an above average blindside protector this season.

One of the other reasons why Albert could be gone in 2014 is that the Chiefs used the #1 overall pick on Eric Fisher, an offensive tackle from Central Michigan. Fisher will play right tackle this season, but if they don’t feel confident giving a long-term deal to a going-on-30 left tackle with a history of back problems next off-season, he also gives them an insurance option on the blindside. Ordinarily, it’s hard to trust a rookie, especially one coming from a small school background like Fisher, but he was the #1 overall pick and he should find life easier on the right side than the left side, so I don’t have any issue projecting him as an above average starter this season.

Things are strong on the inside of the line as well. 2010 3rd round pick Jon Asamoah improved on a strong 2011 with an even stronger 2012, grading out 10th at his position, after grading out 18th in 2011. He could be even better this season and he’s one of the best guards in the NFL. He’ll play next to Rodney Hudson, a 2011 2nd round pick. Hudson was as accomplished as a collegiate offensive lineman could be, starting all 4 years, making the All-ACC team in his final 3 years, and the All-American team in his final 2 years, doing so unanimously in his senior year.

However, the NFL doesn’t have a lot of sub-300 pound offensive lineman and Hudson weighed in at 299 at The Combine, while not posting a particularly fast 40 time at 5.31. In spite of 27 reps of 225, there were still major questions about his ability to anchor. Hudson barely played as a rookie, serving as a reserve guard. However, with long-time NFL veteran Casey Wiegmann retiring, a hole opened up at center for the Chiefs and Hudson was moved there for the 2012 season. The move made sense. Hudson’s lack of strength and athleticism wouldn’t be as big of an issue at center and his intelligence and technique would be big time assets.

Hudson started out very well in his first season at center, only allowing 1 pressure in his first 2 and ½ games, but he went down with a broken leg during the middle of that 3rd game, costing him his season. In spite of the limited playing time, he graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 23rd ranked center (he wasn’t eligible, but I included ineligible players), grading out above average as a run and pass blocker. Only Dallas’ Phil Costa played fewer snaps than him and graded out better than him. Provided he can stay healthy (injuries have never been an issue for him before last year), Hudson could certainly pick up where he left off and emerge as an above average center.

Left guard is the weak point of the line. There is currently a three-way battle for that job between Donald Stephenson, Jeff Allen, and Geoff Schwartz. Stephenson and Allen are both 2nd year players, going in the 3rd and 2nd round respectively in 2012, but both struggled mightily as rookies. Allen started 13 games at left guard last season, but graded out 79th out of 81 eligible guards. Stephenson, meanwhile, started 7 games as the swing tackle, but was not impressive at all, grading out 58th out of 80 eligible despite the limited playing time. He’ll probably serve in the swing tackle role again if he can’t win the left guard job. Both players could be better in their 2nd year in the league, but there are no guarantees.

Both 2nd year players are dealing with injuries in Training Camp, which puts them at a disadvantage in the battle for the starting job. However, that might work out for the best for the Chiefs because Schwartz is probably the best man for the job. Schwartz was excellent in his only year as a starter in 2010, starting 5 games at right tackle and 11 games at right guard. If you take his composite grade (at guard and tackle), he would have been ProFootballFocus’ 5th ranked guard and 13th ranked tackle. He missed the entirety of the 2011 season with a hip injury, but he was very good as a reserve with the Vikings last season on 160 snaps. It’s possible the 2008 7th round pick is just a one year wonder, but he was more than worth it for the Chiefs on a cheap one year deal and he deserves to be the starting left guard.

If Schwartz is the weak point on your offensive line, you’re in good shape. They don’t have any elite players on the line, but it’s still a well above average unit. They should be improved over a 2012 offensive line that ranked 21st in pass block efficiency and 7th in run block grade, with Fisher coming in, Hudson coming back, Asamoah further maturing, and Allen and Stephenson likely moving to reserve roles.

Grade: A-

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Along with Branden Albert returning at left tackle, the Chiefs also brought back Dwayne Bowe this off-season. A season after being franchise tagged, the Chiefs gave Bowe a 5-year, 56 million dollar contract. Bowe has caught 415 passes for 5728 yards and 39 touchdowns in 88 games in his career, which compares favorably to Vincent Jackson, who got 5 years, 55.5 million last off-season, despite just 272 catches for 4754 yards and 37 touchdowns in 92 games at a similar age. Bowe has produced those improved numbers without the luxury of strong quarterback play, which Jackson had in San Diego with Philip Rivers.

Bowe caught just 59 passes for 801 yards and 3 touchdowns in 13 games in 2012, the 2nd worst season of his career, but that’s actually pretty impressive considering his quarterback play. Now he gets to play in a pass heavy offense under Andy Reid with arguably the best quarterback he’s ever played with (compared to Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, and Brady Quinn) and he’s a great fit for a West Coast offense. He’s quietly one of the better receivers in the NFL in Kansas City and the arrow is definitely pointing up for him. He could surpass his career highs of 86 catches (2008) and 1162 yards (2010), though the 15 touchdowns he caught in 2010 remain largely a fluke.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Chiefs’ receiving corps is not nearly as impressive. They’ll probably give Jonathan Baldwin another shot to win the starting job opposite Bowe and the 2011 1st round pick is still a talented receiver going in his 3rd year, frequently a breakout year for receivers. However, he’s shown absolutely nothing in 2 years in the league to show he’s anything other than a big stiff at 6-4 225 who can’t grasp the mental part of the game, catching just 41 passes for 579 yards and 2 touchdowns on 587 pass snaps in his first 2 years of the league. You never want to write a receiver with Baldwin’s natural ability off, but I don’t expect big things from him.

Baldwin might not even make it to week 1 as the starter if he can’t beat out veteran Donnie Avery in the pre-season, a real possibility. Avery wouldn’t be much of an upgrade though. The once snake-bitten receiver appeared to have revitalized his career last season in Indianapolis, where he caught a career high 60 passes for a career high 781 yards to go with 3 touchdowns, but he was actually one of the most inefficient receivers in the NFL.

He graded 100th out of 105 eligible at his position on ProFootballFocus, had his position’s 3rd highest drop rate among eligible receivers (12 drops to 60 catches) and ranked 70th out of 82 eligible in QB rating when thrown to, catching those 60 passes on 112 targets with 3 interceptions to those 3 touchdowns. He was a fine young receiver in his first 2 years in the league in 2008-2009 before injuries, but it appears those days are gone, after an injury plagued 2010-2011 stretch that saw him play just 8 games and catch just 3 passes. He’s best suited to being a depth receiver and remains an obvious injury risk.

Whoever wins the 2nd outside job opposite Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster will remain as the slot specialist. He’s alright in that role, catching 52 passes for 452 yards and a touchdown on 70 targets and 389 pass snaps, despite awful quarterback play, last season, his first in the role full time after being experimented as a running back. The slot receiver has a pretty big role in Andy Reid’s offense as Reid likes to pass a lot and use a lot of 3-wide receiver sets.

Reid’s Eagles used the 3-wide formation on 49% of their snaps last season and slot specialist Jason Avant an average of 52 passes in that role over the last 3 seasons. The diminutive 5-8 170 pound McCluster is a noticeably different type of slot receiver from Avant, but he could see similar production. He won’t be a huge factor in the off-season or anything though and he’s unlikely to be fantasy relevant, for those of you who are interested in that type of thing.

With weakness at receiver after Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs will need to get some production from the tight end position. Unfortunately, things aren’t much better there. Anthony Fasano comes over from Miami. He’s a good all-around tight end and inline blocker, who contributes a little bit in the passing game, but he wasn’t worth the 16 million they paid him over 4 years. They shouldn’t expect much more than any of his career highs, 41 catches (2012), 528 yards (2010), and 7 touchdowns (2008). He’ll likely start.

Meanwhile, 3rd round rookie Travis Kelce and veteran incumbent Tony Moeaki will compete for the move tight end role. Moeaki is a marginal tight end, who has caught 80 passes for 1009 yards and 4 touchdowns over 2010 and 2012 (with a torn ACL in 2011 in between) since being drafted in the  3rd round in 2010. Kelce has more upside, but he’s just a 3rd round rookie, so it’s tough to count on him much. Moeaki’s 1.323 million dollar base salary is about 3 times more than Kelce’s so that could work against him, especially if the Chiefs could find a trade partner for him before the season starts. He’s already been rumored as an option for the Patriots to replace Aaron Hernandez, with former Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll serving as the receivers coach there.

Whoever wins the job, they’ll unlikely to give Alex Smith the consistent #2 receiver after Dwayne Bowe he would like. Jamaal Charles could be 2nd on the team in receptions. It’s the weakness of the Chiefs’ offense, but they should be alright. They won’t turn the ball over as much. Jamaal Charles will be a yards from scrimmage monster. They have a strong offensive line. Andy Reid is an underappreciated offensive mind. And they should approach the 23 points per game Smith led the 49ers to over the past 2 seasons.

Grade: B-

Defensive Line

The Chiefs largely did a good job of filling their holes this off-season, but one thing they did not obtain was someone to pressure the quarterback from the defensive line and a tertiary pass rush option after Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Hali and Houston, their starting rush linebackers in their 3-4 defense and primary edge rushers, did a great job last season, combining for 20 sacks, but they can’t do it alone, as the Chiefs had just 27 sacks on the season and were ProFootballFocus’ 28th ranked pass rush team.

Their 3-man defensive line got absolutely no pass rush last season.  Chief defensive linemen combined for 5 sacks, 7 hits, and 18 hurries on 1225 combined pass rush snaps last year, a pathetic 2.7% rate. For comparison, JJ Watt had 21 sacks, 24 hits, and 31 hurries by himself. I know rushing the quarterback isn’t their primary job, but that’s pathetic. They have to get some sort of pass rush, especially in sub packages on obvious passing downs. Hali and Houston can’t do it by themselves. No two pass rushers can.

Tyson Jackson returns on the defensive line after restructuring his massive salary and will once again start in one spot. The surprise 3rd overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft has largely been a bust. He’s a better run stopper than pass rusher, but last season he didn’t even grade out above average as a run stopper and he managed just 3 sacks, 1 hits, and 3 hurries on 285 pass rush snaps, a 2.5% pass rush rate. He graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 5th worst ranked 3-4 defensive end overall and 2nd worst ranked pass rushing 3-4 defensive end. He’s been a better run stopper in the past and graded out above average in 2011, but at best he could be described as a solid base 3-4 end and nothing else.

Free agent acquisition Mike DeVito is pretty much a rich man’s Tyson Jackson. Few players are better pure base 3-4 ends, as he graded out 9th among 3-4 defensive ends last season, but he didn’t get any pass rush with 1 sack and 10 hurries on 248 pass rush snaps, a 4.4% pass rush rate. He was only a part-time player for that reason and should be used in that role this season with the Chiefs. He was essentially the same player in 2011, when he graded out 9th overall at his position and 5th as a run stopper at his position.

The player who has the best chance to give them any sort of pass rush from the defensive line is Dontari Poe. He’s a massive 346 pound nose tackle, but the Chiefs didn’t draft him 11th overall just for him to be a true two-down run stuffing nose tackle and he has rare movement ability for someone of his size. He has the upside to be a good every down player and get this team some much needed pass rush from the interior. However, I didn’t like the pick when they made it and he certainly didn’t do much to change my mind as a rookie, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 74th ranked defensive tackle out of 85 eligible and producing 3 hits and 9 hurries on 403 pass rush snaps, a 3.0% pass rush rate. He could be better in his 2nd season, but I think he’s too much of a straight athlete with subpar lateral ability to reach his upside.

Marcus Dixon, Anthony Toribio, and Allen Bailey are their reserve defensive linemen, but none of them appear to have the ability to give them the interior pass rusher they need. Bailey will probably play in sub packages and obvious passing downs with Poe and he has the most pass rush upside of the bunch, being drafted in the 3rd round in 2011 after running a 4.77 40 at 6-3 285 at The Combine. However, he’s played just 461 snaps in his first two seasons in the league and managed just 2 total hurries on 105 pass rush snaps last season. It figures to once again be a defensive line that stops the run well, but doesn’t generate any pass rush.

Grade: C+

Linebackers

As I mentioned, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are an excellent pass rush tandem, possibly one of the best in the NFL. Houston, a talented player who only fell to the 3rd round in 2011 because of a failed drug test at The Combine, carried over strong play from the final 6 games of the 2011 season into 2012, as he graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 4th ranked rush linebacker.

Houston and Hali had very similar raw pass rush numbers (10 sacks, 7 hits, and 27 hurries for Houston, 10, 8, and 28 for Hali), but Houston graded significantly out better in coverage and against the run. Houston dropped into coverage 173 times this year to Hali’s 81 and did a very good job of it and, as a result, he saw fewer pass rush snaps and still produced similar raw numbers. While Houston had a 12.5% pass rush rate on 352 pass rush snaps, Hali had an 11.4% pass rush rate on 405 pass rush snaps.

Though Hali graded out middle of the pack, 18th out of 34 eligible, at his position, he’s been much better in the past, grading out 4th in 2011 and 1st in 2010. Only going into his age 30 season, he’s a strong candidate for a bounce back year, while Houston could continue improving, which would give them an even stronger rush linebacker duo, but again, they can’t do it alone. They also lack serious depth at the position. Andy Studebaker played 59 snaps and represented the top reserve at the position last season, with 26 of those coming in a week 1 start in place of a suspended Hali. Things figure to be very much the same this season with career backup Frank Zombo as the top reserve.

Derrick Johnson is the 3rd strong member of their linebacking corps. He’s been a top-5 middle linebacker on ProFootballFocus in each of the last 3 seasons since he regained his starting job after being benched in 2009 by Todd Haley. Only Patrick Willis can say the same thing and while no middle linebacker is on Willis’ level, Johnson is the only other player who even comes close. He’s incredibly durable as well and rarely misses a snap.

The weakness in the linebacking corps is the other middle linebacker spot, which, along with the need for a pass rushing defensive lineman, is the biggest hole they left unaddressed this off-season. They did use a 4th round pick on Nico Johnson, but if he has to start as a rookie, it’ll be a problem. He could very well have to because the only other option is Akeem Jordan, who will compete with Johnson in Training Camp and the pre-season. Jordan follows Reid from Philadelphia, where the 2007 undrafted free agent was a solid career backup. Otherwise, it’s a loaded linebacking corps with 3 Pro-Bowl caliber players.

Grade: A-

Secondary

The secondary is where the Chiefs spent the most of their off-season efforts, adding Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith on multi-year deals. Both of those players will complement #1 cornerback Brandon Flowers, who remains one of the best in the NFL. He’s the only player who has graded out among the top-7 cornerbacks on ProFootballFocus in each of the last 4 seasons and it isn’t even really close, though if it weren’t for Revis’ torn ACL, he’d probably have joined him. He topped out at #2 overall in 2010 and last season was 7th. He allowed 40 catches on 80 attempts for 479 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, while deflecting 7 passes and committing 2 penalties.

Sean Smith will start opposite him. The 6-3 215 pound corner has plenty of talent, but is really inconsistent. He was ProFootballFocus’ 9th ranked cornerback in 2010, but ranked 5th worst in 2011, before a slightly below average season in 2012, though he graded out slightly above average in coverage, allowing 62 catches on 113 attempts for 732 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while deflecting 8 passes and committing 7 penalties. He’s inconsistent and has a history of being out of shape, but the 2009 2nd round pick probably averages out as an average starter.

Dunta Robinson, meanwhile, will play the slot, after being cut by the Falcons midway into an undeserved massive contract. He once again struggled in coverage last season, allowing 64 catches on 97 attempts for 834 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception, while deflecting 7 passes and committing 3 penalties. However, a strong run grade actually lifted his overall grade above average, as he ranked 4th at his position in that aspect. He’ll be a better fit on the slot in Kansas City, going into his age 31 season, but I wouldn’t expect big things from him.

Still, Smith and Robinson will be better as the #2 and #3 cornerback than what they got last season. Javier Arenas was decent, but Stanford Routt, signed as a cheaper alternative to departed free agent Brandon Carr (before Carr even signed), didn’t even make it through his first season with a team, getting cut mid-season. He graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 87th ranked cornerback out of 113 eligible on just 409 snaps. Jalil Brown, his replacement, was even worse, grading out 103rd on 371 snaps.

The Chiefs should also get better play from Eric Berry. To this point in his career, Berry is overrated. The 5th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Berry made the Pro-Bowl on name value as rookie, but, while he wasn’t bad, grading out 17th at his position, he didn’t deserve that honor yet. His development was stunted by a torn ACL in 2011 and even though he made the Pro-Bowl again upon his return in 2012, he didn’t look quite himself, grading out as just an average starter. I have big hopes for him going into his 4th year another year removed from that injury, but he’s not that player yet.

Opposite him, Kendrick Lewis is coming off a down year, being limited to 565 snaps by injury and grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 81st ranked safety out of 88 eligible, but he was an average starter in both 2010 and 2011 so he could bounce back. If he doesn’t, the Chiefs have Husian Abdullah behind him. He was an above average starter in 2010 (18th at his position) and on his way to a similar season in 2011 before concussion problems ended his 2011 season in the middle. He took 2012 off to recover and pursue religious obligations, taking a pilgrimage to Mecca, but now he’s back and healthy and could be an underrated pickup for the Chiefs. It’s a solid and improved secondary for the Chiefs, part of an overall solid defensive unit.

Grade: B+

Head Coach

Andy Reid gets a bad rep because he’s fat and sometimes misuses his timeouts and lost the locker room last season in Philadelphia, but for all of his weaknesses, his ability to get the most out of quarterbacks is so valuable and makes him a good Head Coach. He made Donovan McNabb, AJ Feeley, Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, and Jeff Garcia all look better than they were and he should do the same with Alex Smith this season. There’s a reason he was the Head Coach in Philadelphia for 14 years and why he got snatched up so quickly once let go. He and the Eagles needed to part ways for both of their sakes and he should benefit from a fresh start and a fresh team in Kansas City.

Grade: B+

Overall

Every year, at least one team makes the playoffs on the good defense, strong running game, decent quarterback, easy schedule model and I think the Chiefs will do so this year, much like they did in 2010. This was not your typical 2-14 team last year and they made the necessary adjustments this off-season to allow their talent to shine. I think they’ll be the NFL’s most improved team in terms of win total and be this year’s team to go from 5 wins or fewer to the playoffs.

They probably won’t beat Denver, but they’ll a better team than both San Diego and Oakland so 4 divisional wins is not out of the question. Outside of the division, they host the Giants, Dallas, Houston, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. They should beat Cleveland and at least split the other 4 games, which puts them at 7-4 in the aforementioned 11 games. They also go to Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Tennessee, Buffalo, and Washington, which outside of Washington is not a tough schedule. They could win 3 of those games. I have them at 10-6.

Projection: 10-6 2nd in AFC West

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