Projecting the Kansas City Chiefs' Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
In the wake of free agency's talent pool reaching its high-water mark, projecting teams' depth charts—for competitive clubs who primarily build through the draft, at least—can be somewhat bland in nature. Roughly five weeks prior to the 2014 draft (May 8-10), that unwritten rule applies to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Last offseason, most Kansas Citians blushed like starry-eyed groupies whenever John Dorsey's name breached conversation. Why? Scrolling through Spotrac's list of team transactions, Dorsey signed or traded for 22 new faces—players who ended the prior season on a different organization's roster—between the time of his signing (Jan. 12) and Day 1 of the 2013 draft (April 25).
He was the right-hand man of the savior. A no-nonsense, square-jawed Oprah on Black Friday at Dollar General. Detective James Carter (NSFW) at Heaven on Earth massage parlor.
This offseason, that number has dwindled to eight, or nearly one-third, which in the court of public opinion—namely critics whose salary-cap prowess stems from a Madden disc—is code for complacency.
The projected depth chart doesn't include a slew of marquee free agents, but that doesn't mean that Dorsey is kicking back at One Arrowhead Drive, slacking on the job like the second coming of Peter Gibbons. It simply means that last offseason, the Chiefs spent mounds of money ironing out the details to forge a 2014 playoff contender.
And by the looks of it, it was job well done.
Starter: Alex Smith
Backups: Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray
At this point, locals who badmouth Smith remind me of aging recluses who won't admit that CDs sound better than vinyls (see They don't have that 'feel.')
Any person with an objective bone in his or her body can swallow their pride and admit that Smith played incredibly well last season, especially considering the circumstances.
While some of his teammates wilted under the spotlight, No. 11 basked in the glow. He shrewdly operated Andy Reid's West Coast offense, gradually meeting expectations and eventually surpassing them.
All in all, Smith is a relatively evasive passer who exhibits pinpoint accuracy on short-to-intermediate routes. Furthermore, he made progress in debunking the "deep-ball myth"—which was anchored in reality before 2013—during the latter half of the season.
During the 2013 preseason, Daniel's composure regularly regressed to that of a deer in diesel headlights, skimming through secondary progressions before frantically taking off on foot. However, he grew more accustomed to Reid's system by the week, culminating in his stellar Week 17 regular-season debut.
With serviceable protection, Daniel dispelled doubts and (temporarily) silenced naysayers. However, he's not a shoo-in at No. 2.
Being that character concerns rendered him undraftable, Bray, for his own sake, should've returned to Tennessee for his senior season. That being said, there's no questioning his eye-opening arm strength and overall talent. Remember, in his final collegiate season, Bray spearheaded the SEC's No. 2 passing offense as a true junior.
A year ago, the then-rookie outplayed Daniel throughout the preseason, posting an 83.3 passer rating to the veteran's 76. If 2014 springs a case of deja vu, Bray, in terms of his depth-chart positioning, could earn a promotion.
Notable Number (2013): Nine
Smith's ranking among NFL quarterbacks in deep-ball accuracy, completing 46.3 percent of attempts that traveled 20-plus yards through the air (four touchdowns, no interceptions).
Starters: Jamaal Charles (HB), Anthony Sherman (FB)
Backups: Knile Davis (HB), Cyrus Gray (HB), Joe McKnight (HB), Eric Kettani (FB)
Charles might be the most universally beloved Chiefs player since the late great Derrick Thomas. He's an open-field artist who snaps ankles like wishbones, arguably doubling as the most well-rounded halfback in the league.
Kansas City's fleet-footed Pro Bowler is primed for another stat-stuffing season. However, Charles, like every other running back, is at the mercy of his offensive line, which looks far from promising at the moment.
Anthony Sherman ranked as Pro Football Focus' (PFF) No. 1 overall fullback in 2013. He steamrolls lanes as a lead blocker, while trustworthy hands and deceptive athleticism also make him a receiving threat.
I'm 90 percent sure that Knile Davis, judging from his skill set, chose football over joining the X-Men. Davis meshes bruising power and blurring speed in a way that's rarely seen, but he needs to rectify his fumbling issues.
Cyrus Gray is a talented, jack-of-all-trades rusher who's a viable third-down option, but he'll likely battle Joe McKnight—a versatile player with returning experience—for the final halfback slot on the 53-man roster.
Notable Number: 20
The number of 15-plus-yard rushes by Charles, who, on average, authored one such attempt every 13 carries.
Starters: Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery
Backups: Junior Hemingway, A.J. Jenkins, Frankie Hammond, Weston Dressler, Rashad Ross, Jerrell Jackson, Fred Williams
There's a realistic chance that 2014 could serve as Bowe's last year in Kansas City. His cap hit is set to jump an additional $2 million in 2015 ($14 million overall), but unlike this upcoming season, the Chiefs will be able clear cap room ($3.5 million) by releasing him next year.
Hypotheticals aside, Bowe's skill set is tailored for Andy Reid's offense (which doesn't mean that he's not overpaid). He's a crisp route-runner, as well as one of the better blocking wideouts in the league. Moreover, he's a big-bodied possession receiver with imposing upper-body strength, routinely shedding open-field tackles when afforded a full head of steam.
However, Bowe has never played with a creditable No. 2 receiver on the opposite end of the field, which will undoubtedly change after this year's draft.
Avery totes vertical speed, but little more. He shies away from contact, particularly when blocking, and drops have plagued his professional career. Out of 111 wideouts who played at least 25 percent of offensive snaps in 2013, PFF's database ranked only six below the veteran.
If Kansas City drafts Avery's replacement, the team can gain $1.35 million by releasing him.
Being that he has average quickness, Hemingway needs to polish his route running before he becomes a weekly factor in game-planning. That being said, he touts an impressive catch radius and snags virtually everything that enters it.
Like Bowe, Hemingway's blocking is especially valued in Reid's screen-heavy offense.
Dressler is a wild card. He has both the speed and quickness to effectively occupy the slot, but his ability to beat press coverage will ultimately determine his playing time. For the former CFLer, pre-snap sprints are a thing of the past.
Hammond showed glimpses of promise last preseason (primarily in the return game). He might potentially crack the practice squad.
Notable Number: 26.2
The percentage of snaps in which Bowe occupied the slot.
Starter: Anthony Fasano
Backups: Travis Kelce, Sean McGrath, Richard Gordon, Demetrius Harris
Fasano is typically more productive than what Chiefs fan saw last season. He combated week-to-week injuries (which hasn't been a trend throughout his career), but at full health, he's a sound in-line blocker and serviceable receiving option.
Assuming he fends off the injury bug, Kelce could easily unseat Fasano as the starter. Like Knile Davis and Sanders Commings, Kelce's draft stock plummeted due to a variety of issues, but his landing spot (No. 63 overall) isn't indicative of his overall talent.
A season-ending injury derailed the tight end's rookie debut (again, like Commings), but if he enters 2014 at full strength, ticket holders will be pleasantly surprised.
Kelce is an athletic target capable of breaking tackles after the catch, and he has underrated straight-line speed. Furthermore, he's a dominant blocker who plays with a permanent chip on his shoulder. Whether from scrimmage or on special teams, Kelce looks not just to shield defenders, he looks to destroy their will.
The third-stringer, McGrath, owns a skill set similar to Fasano, although he's not quite as talented or experienced. Having said that, he proved that he can crack the starting lineup (if need be) without handcuffing the offense's potential.
Notable Number: 71.9
The percentage of intended passes caught by Fasano.
Starters: Eric Fisher (LT), Jeff Allen (LG), Rodney Hudson (C), Rishaw Johnson (RG), Donald Stephenson (RT)
Backups: Colin Kelly (OT), R.J. Dill (OT), Jeff Linkenbach (OT/G), Rokevious Watkins (G), Ricky Henry (G), Chandler Burden (G), Eric Kush (C)
Every other unit on the Chiefs roster sprouts at least some semblance of consistency—not this one. Barring injuries, the offensive line will make or break Kansas City's playoff aspirations.
Andy Reid told The Kansas City Star's Terez Paylor that Fisher will revert to his natural position at left tackle, adding, "That’s where he played in college, although Donald Stephenson played there for me and I know he can do that too, but I think I’m going to start off with Eric at left and keep Donald at right and then we roll."
Far too often last season, Fisher was caught leaning into edge-rushers with his head down, which often resulted in defenders exploiting his momentum before gliding past him via swim or rip moves. Over the course of the year, though, he slowly but surely kicked the habit, finishing the regular season on a strong note by allowing just one sack and two quarterback hits in his final five contests.
Paylor also reported that Allen and Stephenson are spending this offseason with former Pro Bowler LeCharles Bentley, following Geoff Schwartz's footsteps from a year ago. If you know anything about Bentley's training center O-Line Performance, that news should help comfort concerns regarding the front five.
Allen needs to improve his upper-body strength and explosiveness, as linemen regularly gain pad leverage and beat him off the snap, particularly on rushing downs.
Like the aforementioned Allen, Stephenson played poorly in the first half of 2013 but began changing course during the season's latter stages. However, his best performances surfaced at the opposite end of the line when playing left tackle.
Hudson is a relatively reliable pass-blocker with solid technique, but average power limits his effectiveness in the ground game. Due to that, he encounters problems (in both facets) when blocking some of the more robust, premier nose tackles. Said problems are infrequent, though.
Johnson is the X-factor. Make no mistake: Of the Chiefs linemen not named "Fisher," Johnson might bear the best physical skill set for Reid's system. He showcases Hulk-like power, and his arms are long enough to make Stretch Armstrong blush.
But if the 313-pounder continues (successfully) acclimating to the offense and suppresses off-field hiccups, Johnson exhibits enough talent to become a staple in the starting five.
Notable Number: Zero
The amount of penalties called on Fisher after Week 7.
Starter: Dontari Poe
Backups: Cory Grissom, Jaye Howard
When I watch Poe on film, there are times when I wonder if he uncovered the next stage of evolution.
He's a gargantuan one-man wrecking ball who hunts passers like they're 200-plus-pound pork chops. And due to freakish athleticism and formidable strength, he's bound to become a perennial Pro Bowler, corralling countless quarterbacks and humbling many an ego along the way.
Grissom is a powerful 316-pounder who, when driving with his legs, can penetrate opposing backfields, and he showcases sufficient quickness to clog lanes as a two-gap lineman. The nose tackle constantly hustles regardless of his proximity to the ball-carrier.
Having said that, Grissom's fundamentals occasionally regress, and injuries have detoured his development at the pro level.
Howard saw limited action last year, serving as a quick but raw situational pass-rusher.
Notable Number: 1,004
The amount of snaps that Poe participated in, topping all defensive tackles.
Starters: Vance Walker, Mike DeVito
Backups: Allen Bailey, Mike Catapano, Dominique Hamilton, Risean Broussard, Chas Alecxih
Inking Walker is, bar none, the best free-agent signing of Kansas City's 2014 offseason. He instantly upgrades the pass rush, and his average salary is $1.66 million less than Tyson Jackson's. (Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli is hellbent on proving his "genius" in selecting Jackson No. 3 overall by bringing the veteran DE to Atlanta—fall on the sword already, sir.)
Walker's arsenal features an array of pass-rushing moves, and in terms of run support, he's talented enough to offset Jackson's departure.
The deceptively explosive DeVito is a run-stuffing road block, but he's usually rendered an afterthought on passing downs.
Bailey, who is entering a contract year, is vastly undervalued. In three years, he has developed into a viable run supporter—though his undersized frame could stand another offseason in the weight room—and potent pass-rusher.
Being that he can seamlessly swing between right and left end, Bailey's snap count is destined to rise.
Catapano is a second-year project who rotated as a situational rusher last season. He's a contact-craving former Ivy Leaguer who shoots out of a four-point stance. Catapano is, if nothing else, unique.
However, he desperately needs to pack on pounds if defensive coordinator Bob Sutton plans to keep him at defensive end. Otherwise, the Chiefs might experiment with him at "Jack" linebacker (spelling Tamba Hali).
Notable Number: Seven
Bailey's number of quarterback hurries in his first start of 2013 (Week 12 vs. San diego).
Starters: Tamba Hali (OLB), Derrick Johnson (ILB), Joe Mays (ILB), Justin Houston (OLB)
Backups: Frank Zombo (OLB), Dezman Moses (OLB), Josh Martin (OLB), Ridge Wilson (OLB), Alonzo Highsmith (OLB), Nico Johnson (ILB), James-Michael Johnson (ILB)
If the Chiefs cut any household stars, Dwayne Bowe probably headlines the list. However, Hali might be just beneath him.
The logic stems from his age—not his performance. Midway through the 2014 season, Kansas City's nightmarish edge-rusher will turn 31—the same age as Jared Allen—which doesn’t bode well when considering the team’s 2016 class of big-name free agents.
None of this, however, is to say that this is Hali’s last season in Kansas City. If his 2014 productivity resides in the neighborhood of what he authored a year ago, he’ll likely return in 2015.
Meanwhile, the front office will do everything within its power to extend Houston. Hali’s partner in crime can make a case for the most well-rounded outside linebacker in the league, and yet he just celebrated his 25th birthday in January.
Derrick Johnson is actually a year older than Hali, but his price tag is a fraction of his pass-rushing peer’s. Though his game isn’t quite as all-encompassing as Houston’s, the three-time Pro Bowler can fulfill any task he’s assigned, and he might be the best run-blitzer in today’s game.
Joe Mays was recruited to do two things: thump lead blockers and cramp running room. He’s a two-down linebacker who personifies “nasty,” routinely thwacking any soul brave enough to invade his territory. The veteran is slightly less agile than Jordan, but he’s also a hair taller and roughly 15 pounds heavier.
More than a few pairs of eyes will track Nico Johnson’s development, as the 2013 rookie lined up for just 17 snaps last season.
Notable Number: One
Derrick Johnson's PFF ranking in pass-rushing productivity among inside linebackers.
Starters: Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith
Backups: Marcus Cooper, Chris Owens, Ron Parker, Vernon Kearney, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Kevin Rutland
If you wonder just how valuable Flowers is to Kansas City’s secondary, look no further than last season’s Wild-Card Round collapse. No. 24 smothered T.Y. Hilton like a wet blanket, while Indianapolis’ burner tallied career-highs in receptions and yards versus a medley of other Chiefs defenders.
Flowers was a top-five corner from 2009-2012, but for whatever reason (injury, new system, etc.), his consistency slipped last season. Don’t expect history to repeat itself.
Smith is devastatingly effective when securing jams at the line of scrimmage. Conversely, if he whiffs, his receiver is destined to add another highlight to the scrapbook, which emphasizes why the Chiefs need a fleet-footed free safety.
Cooper’s rookie season was wildly erratic. On some Sundays, he looked like a lockdown prodigy. On others, he looked like a rookie with one year of pre-draft cornerback experience, including a midseason stretch in which Cooper allowed three consecutive 100-plus-yard receiving efforts on his watch.
The club’s rookie of the year was targeted at least three times in 13 games last year. In six of those games, opponents snatched fewer than half of their targets when facing Cooper. In six other contests, however, receivers snagged more than half. In the one remaining game, the ratio settled at an even 50 percent.
Once again: erratic.
Assuming he hits the weight room and refines his footwork (specifically his backpedal), Cooper will make strides this offseason.
The newly signed Owens is a speedy, instinctual slot corner—something the team sorely lacked last year.
Parker, meanwhile, was a periodic playmaker and special teams ace throughout 2013. The 26-year-old shined in his only start (Week 17 at San Diego), holding receivers to just two catches on seven targets.
Notable Number: 15
Hilton's total receiving yardage when facing Flowers on Wild Card Weekend (2 REC, 1 INT).
Starters: Eric Berry (SS), Sanders Commings (FS)
Backups: Husain Abdullah, Malcom Bronson, Jerron McMillian
If you question Berry's value, Google "Acuvue." For reasons unknown (to anyone with the gift of sight), there are still smatterings of critics who stamp the "overrated" tag onto the three-time Pro Bowler.
And make no mistake: Two of those Pro Bowls were undeserved, but last season's nod was anything but.
Rebounding from ACL surgery, Berry struggled throughout the first half of 2012, which is primarily why he ultimately ranked as PFF's No. 43 overall safety.
However, last year, with a healthy offseason under his belt, there were instances in which he single-handedly dominated drives. Berry flipped the switched and eventually tied (T.J. Ward) as PFF's No. 3 overall safety.
Despite being tested more frequently than any other player at his position (63 attempts), opposing quarterbacks collectively compiled a 64.8 passer rating when targeting No. 29.
Commings, whose rookie season was spoiled by a broken collarbone, will raise eyebrows in 2014. He's a physical cornerback convert who has innate ball-hawking skills hardwired into his brain.
And I'll continue to reiterate this: At 223 pounds—seven pounds less than linebacker Akeem Jordan—Commings ran an official 4.41 40 time.
Please be seated, cynics.
Abdullah, an underutilized "tweener," is capable of hugging the line in press-man, roaming the box in zone or safeguarding as a Cover 2 safety.
Notable Number: 10
Berry's number of quarterback hurries, leading all NFL safeties.
Starters: Ryan Succop (K), Dustin Colquitt (P) Thomas Gafford (LS)
Historically, Succop has been all but automatic on field-goal attempts under 40 yards, slicing uprights on 74 of 82 (90 percent) such kicks.
The same can't be said about longer distances, as his consistency tends to waver from year to year. For instance, he misfired on three of his four 50-plus-yard attempts in 2013; he converted all five from that range throughout the previous two seasons.
Colquitt is a pinpoint sniper who generally gives his team the upperhand in the field-position battle. As of today, his hefty $3.8 million cap hit (2014) slates him at No. 2 among punters. However, a season ago, he tied for the league lead with 38 punts inside of the opponent's 20-yard line, which refutes any notion that he's overpaid.
Gafford, Colquitt's longtime feeder of footballs, has built an effortless rapport with the former Pro Bowler, functioning as one of the league's most sure-handed long snappers.
Notable Number: $2.2 million
The difference between the scheduled salaries of Colquitt ($3.8 million) and Justin Houston ($1.6 million), who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.