The 2012 Kansas City Chiefs sent an astounding six players to the Pro Bowl, despite posting a meager 2-14 record for the season. Each of those six players (Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Dustin Colquitt and alternate Justin Houston) are back with the team for the 2013-14 season, leading to optimism that this year's team will experience significant improvement.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at potential award winners (league and team awards) on the roster.
The defense again figures to field the bulk of the award winners, but the offense and special teams units each have standouts as well.
With new head coach Andy Reid running the show, the concept of the Chiefs fielding a Most Valuable Player on the offensive side of the ball isn't far-fetched at all.
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles has elite speed and has proven to be a weapon, even in the most conservative of offenses...when coaches bothered getting him on the field for touches. The lowest yards-per-carry average Charles has ever had over the course of a season was an eye-popping 5.3, and that was last season—a performance for which Charles was awarded a Pro Bowl bid.
The new offense Andy Reid brings is far different from the ultra-conservative philosophy practiced by previous offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Reid likes to stretch the field vertically with receivers on deep crosses and give his tight ends and backs space to work underneath.
I fully expect Charles, if he remains healthy (suffering from a lingering right foot strain to start the season), to meet and exceed last season's rushing yardage and touchdown totals.
But where I really expect him to blow his previous numbers away is in the passing game.
Charles is a legitimate MVP contender. He should see Chiefs fans placing his name alongside the likes of Priest Holmes in the pantheon of all-time Chiefs running backs.
Despite bringing in what many thought was a pretty good haul in the 2013 NFL draft, the Chiefs don't really have anyone who jumps out at you as a Rookie of the Year candidate.
Top overall pick Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan is an offensive tackle. While it is one of the most vital positions on the team, it is a difficult position to statistically quantify, and thus it's often ignored like the rest of the offensive line, sadly, when award season rolls around.
Unfortunately for Kansas City fans, in order to have a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles would likely have to not see the field. Charles is currently sitting out the preseason with a lingering right foot strain.
Former Arkansas Razorback and third-round pick Knile Davis gives the Chiefs the best shot at a Rookie of the Year candidate.
Davis is a more traditional size/strength/speed running back. He brings a 230-pound frame with 4.37 speed, a 570-pound squat, and the ability to pump out 35 reps on the 225-pound bench press to the field.
Davis isn't nearly as agile and doesn't have the short-area burst that Charles brings to the table, but he does bring more size and great long speed. He has shown flashes this spring on screens, working in Charles' stead.
Do-it-all defensive back Eric Berry is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year, should the Chiefs field one.
Strong consideration was also given to Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Brandon Flowers, but Berry's versatility allows for him to be utilized in a variety of different ways. I believe that gives him the inside track.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a defensive back who tackles better in open space. Berry also covers well in man looks, is instinctive in zone, shows a nose for the football, and works well through traffic when blitzing the quarterback.
Kansas City's aggressiveness in rushing the passer this preseason and Berry's unparalleled "multiple" ability in defensive schemes lead me to believe he will be posting gaudier statistics than we've seen, specifically in the tackles and interceptions columns.
The Chiefs' special teams units have vastly improved under new special teams coach Dave Toub, and punter Dustin Colquitt has been on fire this preseason. Colquitt has been fantastic in his placement of balls, pinning opponents deep in their own territory, a skill that will be vital for the Chiefs this coming season.
The Chiefs will look to play the field-position game with their tough defense and hope the offense comes together as the season moves along.
I think Colquitt has as legitimate a shot as any punter for this award, though typically kickers and return men are given the nod.
Sean Smith, the defensive back who will be playing opposite Brandon Flowers this season, came over from the Miami Dolphins. Smith has never registered more than two interceptions in a season, but I believe he will more than double that total this season.
Smith can be maddening in that he'll gamble on the ball. But with the Chiefs' new-look defense emphasizing up-field aggression and the pass rush, I can see Smith getting more hurried targets his way as quarterbacks steer clear of Brandon Flowers on the other side of the field.
Smith finished last season with 12 pass deflections and two interceptions, making this season a potential breakout one for him.
We've already covered Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles and Dustin Colquitt, all of whom I expect to repeat as Pro Bowl selections.
But who else could the Chiefs send to the new-format Pro Bowl this year?
Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe seems a likely candidate for the Pro Bowl this year. With a new quarterback in Alex Smith, who could do no worse than the triumvirate of terrible the Chiefs trotted out last year, Bowe figures to see the ball sent his way more often, which is good for all involved...except opposing defenses.
Outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will benefit greatly from the added emphasis on rushing the passer this season, as it is the primary specialty of both. Both men should benefit from playing opposite the other and build on the totals they garnered last season.
Cornerback Brandon Flowers is also a likely beneficiary of the increased emphasis on the pass rush. It will require opposing quarterbacks to get the ball out sooner, which is less time Flowers is forced to try to keep up with opposing wide receivers.
The Chiefs could see as many as four players on the All-Rookie team. Offensive tackle Eric Fisher should have a high impact for Kansas City. He's the favorite to be named to the All-Rookie team.
Other candidates include running back Knile Davis, tight end Travis Kelce out of the University of Cincinnati, and linebacker Nico Johnson of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Though none of the latter three is considered starters at this juncture, each figures to see playing time and could see themselves named should they play well.