Projecting Chiefs' Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason
For a team that managed just two wins in 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs have created as much buzz as any team in the league with their offseason moves.
The new regime, led by head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey, has aggressively addressed several positions via trade, free agency and the draft. Those moves have created several competitive positional battles that many believe could make the Chiefs contenders as soon as this season.
Of particular interest are battles at four positions that pit incumbents against new players brought in to compete for the job.
What follows is the top five positional battles for the Chiefs, ranked from least to most important to contributing to the team's chances of contending in the AFC West in 2013.
Backup Running Back
Most Chiefs fans would wholeheartedly agree that for the team to become contenders again, the offense will need to rely upon the talents of starting running back Jamaal Charles.
Despite proving last season that he has fully recovered from his 2011 ACL injury, the team won't overuse Charles, who is at his best when he gets between 15 and 20 touches. That said, the battle in training camp will be for the backup job, a role that can expect five to 10 touches per game.
Gone is last year's backup, Peyton Hillis, who the team chose not to re-sign.
Here are the candidates to fill the role in 2013:
The Underdog—Cyrus Gray
The 23-year-old Gray joined the Chiefs last season from Texas A&M as a sixth-round pick and struggled to find playing time while battling injuries. Despite seeing playing time in 10 games, he touched the ball in just four of them after impressive flashes during the preseason.
To land the job, Gray will need to show he can handle more of a load than the seven carries and two catches he had in 2012.
The Wild-card—Shaun Draughn
If there was one guy who took advantage of the ineffective play of Hillis, it was Draughn. While the former North Carolina Tar Heel was far from flashy, he was reliable. Draughn played in all 16 games, racking up a 3.9 yards-per-carry average on 59 carries and catching 24 passes.
If Draughn expects to compete for the job, he'll need to prove to Reid that he can block on passing downs, and not just catch.
The Favorite—Knile Davis
The rookie third-round pick out of Arkansas was one of the best running back prospects in the country after a sophomore campaign in which he led the SEC in rushing with 1,322 yards.
However, after losing his entire 2011 season to a broken ankle and putting up mediocre numbers in 2012, it remains to be seen if Davis has anything left in the tank.
After his showing at the NFL combine, where he outshined every other running back in the 40-yard dash (4.37) and the bench press (31 reps), the Chiefs are betting that Davis can handle spelling Charles five to 10 times each game. Better yet, they hope a healthy Davis offers the same type of game-breaking skills that makes Charles one of the best backs in the NFL.
Slot Wide Receiver
Perhaps the biggest reason the Chiefs only won two games last season was the team's ineffectiveness in the passing game.
The organization addressed that issue in a big way with their acquisitions of quarterbacks Alex Smith and Chase Daniels, along with the re-signing of the team's best receiver, Dwayne Bowe. However, the team chose to let former slot receiver Steve Breaston go, creating an opportunity for a new slot receiver to step forward in 2013.
The Underdog —Dexter McCluster
Part of the reason the team acquired Breaston in 2011 was because McCluster showed he had a difficult time staying healthy as the full-time slot receiver. Reid has said that he loves what McCluster can do and he undoubtedly will remain part of the Chiefs plans on offense.
However, McCluster's size still necessitates putting him in motion for fear of him getting jammed by bigger corners off the line of scrimmage. While Reid will surely come up with ways to use him, it just appears doubtful that he could be the primary guy in the slot.
The Favorite —Donnie Avery
The former Indianapolis wide receiver was one of the biggest benefactors of the Colts' selection of quarterback Andrew Luck last season.
Avery's 60 receptions were more than any Chiefs receiver had last season and his 781 yards were just 20 fewer than what Bowe racked up. Of course, the flip side of Avery's numbers is cause for concern as he led the NFL in "drop rate," dropping 12 passes (16.67 percent).
With three of the four starting linebacker spots producing a Pro Bowler (Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston) for the Chiefs last season, it is that fourth linebacker position that could produce one of the best competitions in training camp.
Gone are the late Jovan Belcher and backup Brandon Siler, leaving the position open and ready for the taking by someone who wasn't a Chief in 2012.
The job won't be a glamorous one; rather. it will likely be a two-down gig won by the player who proves to be the best in stuffing the run. If the Chiefs can find a solid player to address that in 2013, their defense could be one of the AFC's best.
The Underdog—Akeem Jordan
The six-year veteran out of James Madison was handpicked by Reid, whom Jordan has played for his entire professional career.
Jordan has been a part-time starter throughout his career, with a career-best 71 tackles in 2009.
Reid is hoping Jordan can fill the same role with the Chiefs with his primary role on special teams, but also provide a solid player on defense when he needs to plug him in.
The Favorite—Nico Johnson
The rookie fourth-round pick was considered a two-down defensive specialist at the University of Alabama, where he terrorized opposing running backs.
While he could definitely be considered a liability in pass coverage, he will rarely be asked to cover anyone as a member of the Chiefs' defense. Rather, Johnson will be turned loose to track down and punish opposing running backs, before heading off the field on third down.
For the first time since future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez was traded to Atlanta following the 2008 season, the Chiefs offense appears ready to make the tight end a regular target in the passing game.
Gone from last year's team is veteran Kevin Boss, while former Dolphin Anthony Fasano will step in as the starter.
However, considering the emphasis the Chiefs plan to put on the running game, the team will invariably spend much of their time in two-tight-end sets. The second tight end could end up being one of the most effective offensive weapons for this Chiefs' offense in 2013, so the battle in training camp will certainly be one to pay attention to.
The Underdog—Tony Moeaki
The three-year veteran out of Iowa who has had durability problems since his college days is an excellent receiver with good hands and several acrobatic catches to his credit since joining the Chiefs in 2010.
Despite his talent, Moeaki remains a perpetual injury risk. He missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL, and has missed time in each of his other two seasons. If Moeaki can finally put the injury concerns behind him, he will provide the Chiefs a solid middle-of-the-field threat. If he can't, he will find himself in a reserve role.
The Favorite—Travis Kelce
This year's opening pick in the third round, Cincinnati's Travis Kelce made a name for himself as a member of the All-Big East first team in his senior season with 45 catches for 722 yards and eight touchdowns.
Kelce was considered by many the best all around tight end in the draft, and is often compared to the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski. Chiefs fans are hoping he can be the next Tony G.
If Kelce can prove the experts right, new quarterback Alex Smith will have two reliable tight end targets down the middle of the field to help him keep the chains moving. With the Chiefs investing the second pick in this year's draft on Kelce, it appears clear they are going to give him every opportunity to take the job from Moeaki.
Most NFL teams are happy to have just one guy they can consider a solid left tackle to protect their quarterback's blind side.
The Chiefs have two.
What remains to be seen is who will ultimately win the left tackle job and if it will cause any issues in the locker room or detract from what could end up being one of the best offensive lines in the AFC.
The Favorite—Brandon Albert
Despite efforts to trade Albert to the Dolphins during the offseason, the Chiefs were unable to find a dance partner. As a result, they will enter the 2013 season with the currently disgruntled Albert penciled in on the left side.
With Albert firmly stating at various times that he won't play anywhere but left tackle, he also appears to want the Chiefs to commit to him long term. However, considering Albert's recent injury issues it would appear unlikely he will get a long-term deal. He is likely getting ready to enter his final season in Kansas City.
The Future—Eric Fisher
We may never know this, but perhaps the biggest reason the Chiefs selected Central Michigan's Eric Fisher with the top pick in the NFL draft over Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel is the fact that Fisher has shown the flexibility to play right tackle, whereas Joeckel has not.
It appears now that when they Chiefs became convinced that Miami was not going to cave to the Chiefs' trade demands for Albert, they became resigned to the fact that they were going to spend the top overall pick on a guy that is going to end up playing right tackle this season.
While it will be a travesty for Chiefs fans if Fisher never ends up the team's left tackle, it appears he will have to wait his turn behind Albert one more season.