The Kansas City Chiefs went out and had one of their most fruitful offseasons in recent memory by bringing in an assembly of players, be it through free agency or the draft, that will either make an immediate impact as starters or provide much needed depth in case of injury (something that the team was all too familiar with in 2011).
Had it not been for injuries to running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry, tight end Tony Moeaki and quarterback Matt Cassel, last season might have ended on a more constructive note for the Chiefs. However, instead of being able to build off of their 2010 AFC West title, they regressed and missed the playoffs entirely.
Though Scott Pioli and Co. did their best to prevent that from happening again, injuries are undeniably a part of the game. If certain players go down, regardless of depth, it could mean that the 2012 campaign will be an extension of last season.
If the Chiefs want 2010 to be more of the norm around Kansas City, here are eight players that must remain healthy this season.
The Kansas City Chiefs have spent the last couple of years revamping their receiving corps.
Last offseason they signed Steve Breaston and used their first-round pick on Jon Baldwin. At this year’s draft, they used their fourth-round pick on a true slot receiver and special teams threat in Devon Wylie, and also took potential sleeper Junior Hemingway in the seventh round.
Since Tony Gonzalez was traded, Dwayne Bowe has been the Chiefs’ main receiving threat, hauling in 356 balls for 4,927 yards and 36 touchdowns through his five seasons in the NFL.
Bowe’s absence would allow the opposition to virtually shut down the Chiefs’ passing attack and key in on their running game—their bread and butter.
This is assuming that either Bowe signs the Chiefs’ franchise tender or both sides agree on a long-term contract.
Many perceived that one of the needs for the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason was to find an inside linebacker to play alongside Derrick Johnson. The organization’s brass either didn’t believe that to be the case or they just didn’t find the right fit.
Whatever the case may be, having Johnson in the lineup makes whoever is positioned next to him a much better player. Without his playmaking ability, the Chiefs would have a potentially unforgiving hole in the middle of their defense.
Quarterback Matt Cassel may be on his last legs as a Kansas City Chief, but he is still the team’s starting signal-caller and they still do not have a viable backup in case he goes down again.
The Chiefs did sign Brady Quinn to compete with Ricky Stanzi to be the primary backup, but it seems his hype coming out of Notre Dame was unjustified and Stanzi just doesn’t have the reps under his belt to prove he is capable of doing the job.
Brandon Flowers is finally starting to receive the recognition he deserves for being one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. How much his success can be attributed to having Brandon Carr on the opposite side will be determined this season with Carr bolting for “greener” pastures with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Chiefs spent this offseason shoring up the cornerback position by signing Stanford Routt to replace Carr as a starter, signing Jacque Reeves as a backup and drafting DeQuan Menzie in the fifth round of the draft.
The Chiefs are as deep at cornerback as they have been in recent memory, with Javier Arenas still in the picture as well. However, the drop off in talent and consistency after Flowers is a bit of a concern.
If Flowers were to miss an extended period of time, opponents would have no qualms about picking on his replacements.
During his rookie season, safety Eric Berry showed precisely why he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. His playmaking ability and leadership qualities exhibited enough for him to be named to the Pro Bowl that season.
He came into 2011 as one of the leaders of the Chiefs defense. That is, until he was carted off the field after tearing his ACL during Week 1’s 41-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
There obviously wasn’t a replacement that could have come in and equaled Berry’s value to the team, but Jon McGraw and Sabby Piscitelli weren’t even upgrades for each other, let alone an All-Pro-caliber safety in Berry.
With Berry in the lineup, opposing offenses are kept honest up the middle of the field. Without him, the Chiefs defense is a shell of its overall potential.
The Kansas City Chiefs have employed their fair share of feared pass-rushers in recent memory (Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith and Jared Allen to name a few). Tamba Hali is now in that discussion.
Since the Chiefs moved to the 3-4 defense prior to the 2009 season, Hali has accumulated 35 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. He has been the only real threat the Chiefs have had in terms of pressuring the quarterback.
Justin Houston could emerge after showing promise last season. Dontari Poe could open up more opportunities for Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson to get to the opposing quarterback, too.
But without Hali in the lineup, the Chiefs would be void of any legitimate pass-rushing threat.
The Kansas City Chiefs filled one of their biggest needs this offseason by signing former Houston Texans right tackle Eric Winston to complement left tackle Branden Albert. The two create one of the best tackle tandems in the NFL.
The Chiefs also used second- and third-round picks in this year’s draft on offensive linemen Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson, so overall depth is not a concern. However, the drop-off in talent and consistency is enormous.
If either Albert or Winston were to go down with serious injury, the Chiefs would be back to square one as if Winston wasn’t brought in at all—flattening any chance of the team returning to its 2010 offensive form.