The National Football League has reached the midpoint of its 2013 season, and the Kansas City Chiefs find themselves the lone unbeaten team in the league. The Chiefs consist mostly of the same personnel that won a meager two games only a year ago.
While there are new starters at quarterback, cornerback, wide receiver, right tackle and tight end, the team and its depth remain otherwise intact.
The lion's share of the credit for the improvement probably should go to the coaching staff, who have brought renewed purpose and aggressiveness to this team, especially on defense.
Without further ado, here is the midseason report card for the rookies, free-agent and trade acquisitions.
Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan was the top pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Fisher was widely lauded for his postseason workouts at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, and was selected ahead of the much more heralded offensive tackle from Texas A&M, Luke Joekel.
Fisher was expected to come in and anchor the right side of the Chiefs offensive line, and perhaps even eventually supplant Brandon Albert on the left.
Things haven't worked out as planned, however. Fisher has struggled mightily in pass protection early in the season, and the Chiefs have often had to pull tight ends out of routes to assist him. When Fisher suffered a concussion, and was forced to miss some action, his replacement Donald Stephenson fared little better.
The Chiefs need a much improved performance out of Fisher in the second half of the season if they are to keep quarterback Alex Smith and running back Jamaal Charles healthy for a stretch run.
With only 59 yards on 17 carries, most wouldn't believe rookie running back Knile Davis is Kansas City's third-leading rusher, but it's true. Davis, a third-round pick out of Arkansas, has been gradually worked into the rotation for the Chiefs.
Kansas City seems willing to build his confidence slowly. For a guy with a penchant for injuries and fumbles, that may be the best course of action. Of course that means Davis has seen precious little action over the first half of the season, but look for his workload to increase as the Chiefs began gearing up for a playoff run.
Mike Catapano's name may not have the household recognition of many of the other Chiefs players, but the defensive end has garnered notice from the coaching staff. Catapano, a seventh-round rookie out of Princeton, has played in every game of the 2013 season for the Chiefs.
Most of his time has been spent on special teams, but he has made the most of the time he's been given on defense, notching a sack and two tackles in rotational duty.
Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper has been an absolute steal for the Kansas City Chiefs, and they didn't even draft him. Cooper was selected out of Rutgers in the seventh round by the San Francisco 49ers, who released him when making final roster cuts.
The Chiefs promptly claimed Cooper off waivers and have been smiling ever since. Cooper has 13 tackles, two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and a fumble recovery for a touchdown thus far this season.
Technically, Cooper is third on the Kansas City depth chart behind Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith, but the Chiefs keep finding it more and more difficult to keep the rookie off the field.
The Kansas City Chiefs have several rookies that have yet to make an impact on the team. Due to injury or simply depth at their respective position, guys like Nico Johnson, Travis Kelce and Tyler Bray have yet to see meaningful playing time.
So I could not evaluate them at this time.
Free-agent acquisition Donnie Avery has quickly become one of quarterback Alex Smith's top targets. Avery is third on the Chiefs in receptions and second in receiving yardage.
Avery came to the Chiefs as a former second-round draft pick by the St. Louis Rams. He had a reputation for speed—but also for injuries and drops. Avery is catching about 56 percent of the targets he receives and does have a fumble on the year, but he has remained healthy thus far, and been a key component in the Chiefs hot start.
Acquired for two draft picks from the San Francisco 49ers, former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith used to have the label "bust" attached to his name. After Jim Harbaugh arrived as head coach in San Francisco, however, he seems to have developed a new label: "winner." Over the past three seasons Smith has more wins than any other quarterback in the NFL.
While Smith has done nothing to shed the "game manager" label applied to his efficient and risk-averse style of play, it appears that same conservative approach was just the catalyst the Kansas City offense needs.
While the full impact of Smith's presence on this team can't be felt in the box score, it can be felt in the win column.
Sean Smith was brought in to play opposite Brandon Flowers, and he hasn't disappointed thus far.
Smith has the length and physicality the Chiefs were looking for on the outside, and he plays his best in man coverage.
Smith, who came over from the Miami Dolphins, also has a reputation as a bit of a gambler in coverage. Early in the season, Smith seemed to have shed his old habits, but in recent weeks, Smith has lapsed a few times in coverage, costing the team.
It will be interesting to see if he again rights the ship or slips firmly back into the bad habits that led to his departure from Miami.
Defensive back Quintin Demps is a former Andy Reid draft pick. Demps was taken in the 2008 draft in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles, when Reid was the head coach there.
Demps spent the last three seasons with the Houston Texans before joining the Chiefs in the spring.
Demps has proved to be an excellent addition, and he currently leads Kansas City with three interceptions. He also has eight passes defensed, and has been nothing short of excellent in coverage, freeing up the Chiefs to use Eric Berry in other roles.
The Chiefs made several other acquisitions through free agency this past year, but many of them haven't had significant enough playing time to warrant a full grading yet. Guys like Anthony Fasano, who looks to be developing a chemistry with quarterback Alex Smith (at least when he's not hurt), figure to be added to my end-of-season grades once there's more film on them.