It seems hard to believe now, but there was a time when the Chiefs taking Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft was controversial. Not only was Mahomes considered a boom or bust prospect, but remember the Chiefs were coming off of a 12-4 season and seemed to have a viable quarterback in place in Alex Smith and the two first round picks (#27 in 2017 and eventually #22 in 2018) they gave up to move up to take Mahomes at 10 could have been used on non-quarterbacks to add pieces to an already strong roster.
It’s the kind of decision that could have badly backfired if they had selected a quarterback who didn’t pan out, but Mahomes has proven the Chiefs to be spectacularly right for taking a chance on him. Mahomes spent his rookie year on the bench behind Smith, only starting a meaningless week 17 game, and then the Chiefs traded Smith to the Redskins for a 3rd round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller and anointed Mahomes the starter for his second season in the league in 2018.
All Mahomes did was win the MVP in his first season as a starter, joining Peyton Manning as the only quarterback in the 5,000 yard/50 touchdown club, while completing 66.0% of his passes for an average of 8.79 YPA and finishing as Pro Football Focus’ #2 ranked quarterback, only behind Drew Brees, who had almost a hundred fewer pass attempts. Overall, the Chiefs led the league with a 45.18% first down rate on the season, the highest single season mark in recent memory.
The Chiefs’ 2018 season ended in the AFC Championship game, but that was hardly Mahomes’ fault, as he got them within a defensive penalty of making the Super Bowl, despite being supported by a league worst defense that allowed a league leading 42.20% first down rate on the season. In 2019, with a better supporting cast, Mahomes was able to take this team all the way, giving him a regular season and a Super Bowl MVP in his first 2 seasons as a starter, the only quarterback in NFL history to do that.
The story is a little bit more up and down than that, as Mahomes dealt with leg injuries early in the 2019 season and at one point looked like he had suffered a potentially devastating knee injury during a week 7 game against the Broncos, but he ended up only missing two and a half games, returning in week 10 to take this team all the way. In fact, that knee injury may have been a blessing in disguise, as it allowed Mahomes to fully rest a lingering ankle injury that could have limited him all season if he didn’t rest it.
In the last two games between injuring his ankle and going down with the knee injury, he had completed just 55.4% of his passes for an average of 8.03 YPA, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions and had led the Chiefs to a 40.36% first down rate, after a 45.34% first down rate in his previous 20 career starts prior to the ankle injury. Even at less than 100%, Mahomes is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but the Chiefs likely would not have won the Super Bowl if he remained limited for the rest of the season.
Upon Mahomes’ healthy return in week 10, the Chiefs lost their first game in close fashion to a Tennessee team that turned out to be better than they looked at the time, but then the Chiefs ripped off 9 straight wins en route to the Super Bowl, including 7 wins by double digits. Including the Tennessee loss, the Chiefs had a 43.06% first down rate in 10 games after Mahomes returned. Mahomes also earned PFF’s highest quarterback grade from week 10 on and was arguably better down the stretch last season than he was in his MVP season, which just shows the kind of player he can consistently be if he can stay healthy long-term.
Mahomes’ injury also lined up with when this defense started playing better, which may be coincidence more than anything, but the Chiefs allowed a 34.36% first down rate in their final 10 regular games and their three post-season games, starting with that game against Denver, a drastic improvement from a 41.85% first down rate allowed in Mahomes’ previous 22 career regular season starts. All in all, the Chiefs had a +7.82% first down rate differential from Mahomes’ return in week 10 through the Super Bowl, so it’s not surprising they were able to go all the way. I’ll get into their defense later, but if they can be even serviceable on that side of the ball this season they should be very much in the mix to become the NFL’s first back-to-back champion since the 2003-2004 Patriots.
With Mahomes still only going into his age 25 season, there’s no question that he has the potential to be the best quarterback in the NFL for the next decade. The only question was how the Chiefs would keep him long-term and how much they’d have to pay to do so. There was speculation that the Chiefs would get creative with his contract structure and they certainly did, signing Mahomes to an unheard of 10-year extension that pays him 450 million in new money, with another 25 million available in incentives for Super Bowl appearances and MVPs. On top of that, because of the structure of the deal, the whole contract is functionally guaranteed.
Those are eye popping numbers, but the Chiefs were always going to have to break the bank to keep Mahomes long-term and it’s a more team friendly deal than you’d think because of the length and the way the cap has been going in recent years. Including the 2 years and 28 million remaining on his current rookie deal, it’s a 12-year deal in total that keeps him under team control through 2031. If you look at just the first 4 years of the extension, Mahomes is set to make 155.8 million in new money, 38.95 million annually, which is obviously a lot, but it’s not a bad value when you compare it to the 35 million, 33.5 million, and 32 million annually that Russell Wilson, Jared Goff, and Carson Wentz got annually on 4-year extensions, as those three are all older and not as good as Mahomes. Most estimates had a 4-year extension for Mahomes valued at 40 million annually this off-season, so in that sense the Chiefs got off easy.
After the first 4 years, Mahomes is set to take home 294.6 million in new money over 6 years, an average of 49 million annually, but that’s actually where the real value of this deal comes in. In just the past 6 seasons, the salary cap has increased 50% and the average salary of the highest paid quarterback (prior to Mahomes’ new deal) increased by 60% from 22 million to 35 million, so it’s conceivable that just 4 years into Mahomes’ extension, the highest paid quarterback could be making 55 million annually (a roughly 60% increase), making Mahomes’ 49 million dollars annually look like a bargain by comparison, with another 6 years to go on the deal. As much money as this is, the Chiefs almost definitely would have ended up paying him more over the next twelve years if they had signed him to a series of shorter term deals.
Anyway you look at it though, it’s a lot of money and a steep increase from his rookie deal, so there’s concern that the Chiefs won’t be able to keep talent around him long-term. That will definitely become a concern at some point, but the way this deal is structured, his cap hits are just 5.347 million and 24.807 million over the next two seasons respectively, so it won’t hamper them just yet. In fact, they managed to bring back the 2nd most snaps of any team in the league this off-season and have a good chance to repeat as a result. However, with Mahomes becoming the Chiefs 11th player making more than 8 million annually (169.9 million combined), something will have to give at some point, even if the cap keeps climbing like it has.
No team has won the Super Bowl since 1994 with more than 12.5% of the cap committed to the quarterback position and just 6 teams have won it over that stretch with a quarterback taking up more than 10% of the cap. Mahomes is set to count between a projected 12%-19% of the cap throughout most of his new contract, but if any quarterback is capable of being the exception it’s Mahomes. We’ve already seen him take a less than stellar supporting cast, including a terrible defense, to the brink of the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs obviously hope they never have to use their backup quarterback, especially since their backup is an underwhelming option in Chad Henne, who has just a 75.5 QB rating in his career in 53 starts and hasn’t made a start since 2014. Matt Moore wasn’t horrible last season in Mahomes’ absence last season, completing 59 of 91 for 659 yards and 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and if the Chiefs can convince him to come back for his age 36 season he’d probably be a better option than Henne. Either way, this team will go as Mahomes goes, so they’d be in a lot of trouble if they had to turn to a backup regardless of who it is.
Update: Moore has been re-signed.
As good as this offense was down the stretch last season, the Chiefs were still able to potentially add a new dimension to this unit when they used the 32nd overall pick on LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs didn’t have a bad running game last season, rushing for 4.18 YPC, 20th highest in the NFL, but that was primarily because teams couldn’t stack the box against the run, for fear of Mahomes beating them deep. They also had the 6th fewest carries in the league with 375 and that includes 43 carries by Mahomes himself, so running backs were really not a big part of this offense in 2019.
The Chiefs used to have a dominant feature back, using a 3rd round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Kareem Hunt, who not only played well on the ground, rushing for 2,151 yards and 15 touchdowns on 453 carries (4.75 YPC) in 27 games, but also was a big threat out of the backfield as a receiver, averaging a 47/494/6 slash line per 16 games. However, Hunt was kicked off the team in the middle of the 2018 season for disciplinary reasons. In his absence the Chiefs have turned to Damien Williams as their lead back and used both Williams and aged veteran LeSean McCoy in tandem together last season (111 carries and 101 carries respectively).
Williams hasn’t been bad, rushing for 4.68 YPC on 161 carries in 27 games with the Chiefs, but he’s a 6-year veteran who has never topped 111 carries in a season and he has a career 4.19 YPC average, so he’s a very underwhelming lead back. Edwards-Helaire, meanwhile, profiles more similarly to Hunt as a player, as he’s not only a talented runner, but also he was the best pass catching running back in the draft. McCoy is no longer with the team and Damien Williams looks like the clear #2 back right now, so Edwards-Helaire should be a big part of this offense. How big of a part remains to be seen, as they still may want to keep Williams somewhat involved so they don’t overload the rookie, but Edwards-Helaire has feature back upside as a rookie and looks like an obvious upgrade at a position of need.
Aside from the upgrade at running back, the rest of this offense looks more or less the same as the one they won the Super Bowl with last season. Left guard Stefen Wisniewski is the only missing starter on offense and he’s a middling player who only made 2 regular season starts, so he won’t be hard to replace. The Chiefs will likely go back to Andrew Wylie, who began last season as the starting left guard before missing time with injury and eventually losing his job. Wylie went undrafted in 2017, but has earned a slightly above average grade from Pro Football Focus on 21 starts over the past two seasons, so he’s not a downgrade.
The other option would be Mike Remmers, a veteran who can play both tackle and guard. Remmers was a solid starter in his prime and earned a middling grade from PFF last season in 14 starts at right tackle for the Giants, but he’s now going into his age 31 season and may end up as versatile depth more than anything. With Wisniewski and swing tackle Cameron Erving gone, the Chiefs needed to replenish depth upfront this off-season and they did just that with Remmers, even if he doesn’t end up beating out Wylie to start week 1.
Aside from that, the rest of this offensive line is the same as last year and they could possibly be better this season with better health. Left tackle Eric Fisher was the most notable absence, as he missed 8 games in the regular season and his replacement Cameron Erving finished 85th out of 87 qualifying offensive tackles on PFF last season. Fisher isn’t a spectacular player, but he’s earned an average or better grade from PFF in each of the past 6 seasons (85 starts), maxing out at 24th in 2016, so having him in the lineup for 16 games or close to it would be significant.
Right guard Laurent Duvarney-Tardif also missed a couple games due to injury, but that’s been the norm for him, as he’s never started all 16 games in 6 seasons in the league. He played at a high level in 2017, finishing 19th among guards on PFF in 11 starts, but he’s otherwise been a middling starter in 57 career starts, so that year looks like an obvious outlier. Still in his age 29 season, Duvarney-Tardif should remain at least a capable starter when on the field, though he’s likely to miss time at some point if history is any indication.
Center Austin Reiter and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz were the only two Chiefs offensive lineman to make all 16 starts last season. Reiter was serviceable in his first full season as a starter, finishing 23rd out of 38 qualifying centers on PFF, after the 2015 7th round pick flashed on 333 snaps in the first 4 seasons as his career prior to last season, and, though he’s relatively unproven, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him have a comparable year in 2020.
Schwartz, meanwhile, is hands down their best offensive lineman and arguably the top right tackle in the whole league. Schwartz has earned an above average grade from PFF in all 8 seasons he’s been in the league, including three seasons in the top-15 among offensive tackles, He’s going into his age 31 season now, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down, setting and matching a career high 5th ranked finish at his position over the past two seasons respectively, and he has no injury history, missing just 6 snaps total in his entire career, including a 7,894 consecutive snap streak that ended last season. Even if he slows down a little bit, it would be a surprise if he wasn’t one of the best in the league at his position again. He leads an overall solid offensive line that should benefit from better health in 2020.
The Chiefs could also benefit from better health in the receiving corps, as #1 wide receiver Tyreek Hill was limited to 563 snaps in 12 games by injuries last season. Hill still finished with a 58/860/7 slash line, as he was highly efficient on a per route run basis, ranking 4th in the NFL with 2.45 yards per route run. That’s largely par for the course for him, as he’s averaged 2.42 yards per route run in 4 seasons in the league. He’s also finished in the top-12 among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus in all 3 seasons in which he’s been a starter. Still only going into his age 26 season, if Hill can stay healthy all season with a healthy Mahomes in 2020, he should match or surpass his 87/1479/12 slash line from 2018 (4th in the NFL in receiving yards).
If Hill can stay healthy, the Chiefs should have a pair of thousand yard receivers in 2020, like they did in 2017 and 2018, with tight end Travis Kelce having surpassed that mark in four straight seasons. A 3rd round pick in 2013, Kelce had significant injury concerns coming out of the draft and missed his whole rookie season with injury, but he remarkably hasn’t missed a game due to injury in 6 seasons and he has had at least 862 receiving yards in each of those seasons, including 103/1336/10 and 97/1229/5 slash lines in two seasons with Mahomes. He’s not a great run blocker, but he can hold his own and has overall finished in the top-4 among tight ends on PFF in 5 of the past 6 seasons, including 4 straight seasons. He’s going into his age 31 season, but he has shown no signs of decline, he has no recent injury history, and, even if he does decline a little, he would still be one of the top tight ends in the league.
The Chiefs also have good depth in the receiving corps. Most thought #2 wide receiver Sammy Watkins and his 14 million dollar non-guaranteed salary were gone this off-season, but the Chiefs were able to come to an agreement to bring him back for 9 million. Watkins never developed into the #1 receiver it looked like he would be, after going #4 overall pick in 2014 and putting up a 60/1047/9 slash line in just 13 games in 2015, as a series of injuries have seemingly sapped his explosiveness and limited him to a 54/754/5 slash line per 16 games over the past four seasons, with no full 16-game seasons played since his rookie year, but he’s still a solid #2 wide receiver who has earned an average or better grade from PFF in all 6 seasons in the league and who is still only going into his age 27 season. He’s almost a guarantee to miss time at some point, but he should be an asset while on the field.
With Watkins and Hill both missing time last season, DeMarcus Robinson played 735 snaps, but he was highly ineffective given the offense he played in, totalling just a 32/449/4 slash line and averaging just 0.96 yards per route run. Robinson is a good athlete who went in the 4th round in 2016 and he’s still only in his age 26 season, but he should have averaged more than 0.87 yards per route run in his career, given the offense he has played on. There was some speculation that Robinson could get a big contract somewhere this off-season based on upside, but that speculation never made much sense and Robinson ended up having to take a 1-year, 2.2975 million dollar deal back in Kansas City.
It’s very possible Robinson won’t be any higher than 4th on the depth chart this season, as 2019 2nd round pick Mecole Hardman flashed on 471 rookie year snaps and seems to have earned a bigger role, especially if Robinson is his only real competition. Hardman finished with a 26/538/6 slash line on 41 targets (13.1 yards per target), while averaging 1.84 yards per route run as well. The speedster is a perfect fit for this vertical offense and, while he might not be quite as efficient in a bigger role in 2020, he still has a chance to put up good production even as the 4th or 5th option in the passing game.
The Chiefs also upgraded at the #2 tight end spot this off-season, signing Ricky Seals-Jones to replace Blake Bell, who finished 65th out of 73 qualifying tight ends on PFF on 398 snaps last season. Seals-Jones isn’t much of a blocker, but he’s averaged a decent 1.29 yards per route run in three seasons in the league. He won’t get much playing time or many targets behind Travis Kelce, but he’s a better fit for the #2 tight end role than Bell was. This is a deep and talented receiving corps overall.
One key player whose days with the team could be numbered after the Mahomes extension is interior defender Chris Jones, who remains unsigned long-term after being slapped with a 16.126 million dollar franchise tag. Jones wants upwards of 20 million annually on a long-term deal, something he could get if he hit the open market, as he’s finished in the top-8 among interior defenders on Pro Football Focus in each of the past 3 seasons, has totalled 31 sacks, 33 hits, and a 12.3% pressure rate over that stretch, and is still only going into his age 26 season. However, the Chiefs really don’t have the flexibility to add another big deal long-term. Jones has recently said he won’t play for the Chiefs without a new deal and, while he has plenty of financial incentive to not actually sit out the season, it’s possible the Chiefs end up having to explore a trade for him before the season starts if they don’t want to meet his asking price.
If they do end up trading him, they may end up settling for less than they could have gotten had they moved him earlier in the off-season. Considering the Colts gave up the 13rd overall pick to acquire DeForest Buckner from the 49ers and gave him 21 million annually on a long-term extension, the Chiefs probably could have gotten a similar deal had they been willing to move Jones before the draft. Now at the very least the Chiefs wouldn’t get an asset that could help until 2021 if they moved Jones and it’s debatable if they could even still get a first at this point in the off-season, with the Chiefs running out of time to reach an extension.
Obviously the ideal would be to keep him for at least one more year on the franchise tag, as they have to cap space to do so and don’t have anyone close to being able to replace him at the defensive tackle position. Derrick Nnadi was the other starter and played 598 snaps total. He was adequate against the run, but got no pass rush, with 1 sack, no hits, and a 6.1% pressure rate on the season. The 2018 3rd round pick also had a similar year on 448 snaps as a rookie prior to last season. He may take a step forward in his 3rd season in the league, but that’s not a guarantee and it’s very possible he never develops as a pass rusher and his ceiling is as an above average situational run stuffer.
The Chiefs also used a 2nd round pick in 2019 on an interior defender in Khalen Saunders, but he didn’t show much on 303 rookie year snaps. He could easily take a step forward in his 2nd season in the league, but even in that case I wouldn’t expect him to be more than a solid rotational player. Saunders particularly struggled as a pass rusher, with just a 2.0% pressure rate on the season, so the Chiefs used oversized defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (6-7 289) inside somewhat frequently in passing situations, but he struggled as well. He may have to play that role again though, for lack of a better option. The Chiefs have some young talent at this position, but Chris Jones elevates the position group by himself and if they had to trade him before the season begins, this would become a big position of weakness.
Tanoh Kpassagnon also saw significant snaps at the edge defender position, especially down the stretch, playing 691 snaps total, but he earned below average grades from Pro Football Focus as both a run stuffer and a pass rusher. The reason he had to play significant snaps down the stretch is because both Alex Okafor (42.1 snaps per game) and Emmanuel Ogbah (41.0 snaps per game) suffered season ending injuries. Ogbah is no longer with the team, but Okafor returns from injury, as does 2018 2nd round Breeland Speaks, who missed all of 2019 with injury. Those three will compete for snaps on the edge, with Frank Clark locked into an every down role (51.8 snaps per game) at one spot.
Clark is obviously the best of the bunch, though he did struggle to begin last season due to a neck injury. From week 11 on, he was PFF’s 40th ranked edge defender and totalled 4 sacks in 6 games with a 12.2% pressure rate. That’s much more in line with what he did in his three prior seasons, when he earned an above average grade from PFF in all 3 seasons (career best 20th in 2018) and had a 12.7% pressure rate with 33 sacks in 47 games. Still in his prime in his age 27 season, Clark should continue being an above average starter in 2019 if he’s healthy. The Chiefs probably overpaid by giving up a first and second round draft pick to acquire him and give him a 5-year, 104 million dollar extension, money that could have been better spent on Chris Jones, but if they can keep both Clark and Jones for 2020, they should be a strong inside/outside pass rush duo.
The rest of this group is questionable. Speaks came into the league with a lot of upside as the 46th overall pick in 2018, but his long-term projection is more questionable now after he struggled on 475 snaps as a rookie and then missed all of 2019 with a knee injury. Kpassagnon also went in the 2nd round, back in 2017, but he struggled in the first significant action of his career in 2019 and is no guarantee to get better.
Okafor is the veteran of the bunch and has some history of success, finishing 28th among edge defenders on PFF on 486 snaps in 2017 and 38th on 658 snaps in 2018, but he struggled mightily last season, finishing 114th out of 118 qualifying edge defenders on 421 snaps before the injury, and he’s been very inconsistent throughout his career. Injuries are also not new for him, as he’s missed 34 games and suffered three season ending injuries in 7 seasons in the league. He has some bounce back potential, but, like the rest of this group aside from Clark, he’s not a reliable option.
The Chiefs’ linebackers were their worst position group last season. Of the 5 players who played any significant snaps for them, only Reggie Ragland, a situational run stuffer who played 235 snaps total, earned an average or better grade from Pro Football Focus, and he’s no longer with the team. The Chiefs addressed this position in the second round with Willie Gay and he could easily play a significant role, even though he’s still a raw rookie. Damien Wilson (709 snaps), Anthony Hitchens (699 snaps), and Ben Niemann (400 snaps) were their top-3 linebackers last season in terms of snaps played and, even though all three struggled and are underwhelming options, they should all be in the mix for roles again in what looks like a weak group again.
Hitchens is the most proven option, as he earned an above average grade from PFF as a rotational player in 2016 and 2017, but he’s also finished below average in his other 4 of 6 seasons in the league and he’s really only their most proven option by default. Wilson was a first year starter last year, never topping 321 snaps in 4 seasons in the league prior to last season, but he wasn’t even good as a reserve, so it’s hard to see him ever developing into a capable starter at this point.
Niemann, meanwhile, is a 2018 undrafted free agent who barely played as a rookie before struggling in a larger role in 2019. With the unproven rookie Gay as their only potentially good coverage option, the Chiefs could frequently use three safeties in sub packages, with one lining up near the line of scrimmage as a coverage linebacker, something they did somewhat frequently last season. Linebacker looks likely to be a position of weakness again.
The biggest reason for the Chiefs’ defensive turnaround last season was their safety play, as not only is safety a position where the Chiefs go three deep in sub packages, but they also have one of the better safety duos in the league as their starters in base packages. That wasn’t the case at all in 2018, when their horrendous defense had probably the worst safety play in the league, but the Chiefs fixed the problem quickly by signing Tyrann Mathieu to a 3-year, 42 million dollar deal and using a second round pick on Juan Thornhill last off-season. Together, they made all 16 starts and finished 21st and 33rd respectively among safeties on Pro Football Focus.
Mathieu’s career has been a winding road since entering the league as a 3rd round draft pick in 2013. He appeared to be on his way to Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2013 and 2015 respectively, finishing 9th and 1st respectively at his position on PFF in those two seasons, but both seasons ended with a torn ACL and he wasn’t nearly as good in injury plagued seasons in 2014 (428 snaps) and 2016 (561 snaps).
He played all 16 games in 2017, but wasn’t as good as he had been previously, so the Cardinals released him ahead of the 4 years and 42.5 million remaining on his 5-year, 62.5 million dollar extension. However, he’s bounced back pretty well over the past two seasons, finishing 20th among safeties in 2018 on a one-year deal with the Texans and then 21st last season in his first year in Kansas City. Perhaps most importantly, he’s stayed healthy, playing all 48 games over the past 3 seasons.
Still in his age 28 season, Mathieu should remain at least an above average safety for several more years if he can continue avoiding injury. Thornhill has his own injury concerns, coming off of a torn ACL suffered in week 17, which complicates his projection for 2020, but he could easily remain an above average starter and continue getting better long-term. So far everything seems to have gone well with his recovery, as he’s reportedly considered likely to be ready for week 1, roughly 8 months after the injury. The Chiefs also still have veteran Daniel Sorensen, who has struggled when he’s had to play every down in his career, but was capable in a sub package role last season (563 snaps), primarily playing as a coverage linebacker.
At cornerback, the Chiefs have to replace Kendall Fuller, their only real off-season loss (4-year, 40 million dollar deal from the Redskins this off-season). Fuller was an underwhelming player last season though and was only playing a part-time role down the stretch, while expected replacement Rashad Fenton flashed a lot of potential on 166 rookie year snaps. Fenton is still obviously a projection to a larger role, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was comparable to Fuller, who finished 78th out of 135 qualifying cornerbacks on PFF.
Fenton could end up as high as 2nd on the depth chart coming into the season, which would guarantee him an every down role. His primary competition for that job would be veteran Bashaud Breeland, although Breeland is facing potential discipline for an off-the-field incident and could be sidelined to begin the season anyway. Breeland has generally been a solid starter throughout his career (77 starts), but he’s coming off of a terrible season in which he finished 122nd out of 135 qualifying cornerbacks on PFF in 15 starts. Still only in his age 28 season, Breeland has some bounce back potential whenever he’s allowed to play, but he’s obviously a shaky option. While he’s absent, the Chiefs would likely turn to 4th round rookie L’Jarius Sneed, who is expected to be the #4 cornerback.
Chavarius Ward is the nominal #1 cornerback of this group, largely by default, as Ward was solid in his first significant action last (16 starts), but likely lacks #1 cornerback upside, as a former undrafted free agent (2018). He finished 39th among cornerbacks on PFF last season, which isn’t bad, but there’s no guarantee he’s even that good again. The Chiefs talented safeties mask their cornerback problems a little bit, but this secondary has obvious concerns at corner.
There’s no question the Chiefs will have a dominant offense this season and for the foreseeable future as long as Mahomes is under center. The question is if their defense is closer to the unit that struggled to begin last season or the one that played well down the stretch during their Super Bowl run. If it’s the latter, the Chiefs should be considered favorites to repeat. If it’s the former, the Chiefs should still be in the mix, but not as the favorites. I tend to side with the latter more because, outside of Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark, and Chris Jones (who may get dealt before the start of the season), this is a pretty underwhelming group, but there’s no doubt this is one of the top few teams in the league any way you look at it. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.
Final Update: The Chiefs lost Damien Williams and Laurent Duvarney-Tardif to opt outs and will be without Bashaud Breeland and Mike Pennel to start the season due to suspension. This is still one of the top teams in the AFC, but a repeat is far from a guarantee.
Projection: 11-5 (1st in AFC West)