Initial 2014 Post-Draft Depth Chart for Kansas City Chiefs
Three months of seemingly endless predictions, analyses and high hopes culminated from Thursday, May 8 until Saturday, May 10 at New York's Radio City Music Hall. The holy grail of the NFL offseason, the draft did little to disappoint in 2014.
For Kansas City, the lion's share of attempts to predict which route it would take on draft day proved to be futile. Its most-pressing needs—WR, FS and OL—weren't addressed until late, if at all. It might not have been the intention heading into Thursday, but it was a byproduct of general manager John Dorsey's draft philosophy nonetheless.
The announcement of Auburn DE Dee Ford with its 23rd overall selection initially went over about as well as an amateur musician's first performance at the Apollo.
Considering that much of Chiefs Nation didn't know a whole lot about Ford, the general feeling following the pick was that of extreme confusion. That confusion soon morphed into frustration, and, as more info slowly trickled out, that frustration gradually turned into acceptance.
Yes, K.C. fans were briefly encased in a claustrophobia-inducing glass case of emotion.
Though, past the first round, most of the Chiefs' selections were met with general approval from its fanbase. Third- and fourth-round picks Phillip Gaines and De'Anthony Thomas conceivably can provide an impact as rookies. Fifth-round selection Aaron Murray could earn his value down the road as well.
So what, if any, effects will Kansas City's draft class have on its 2014 depth chart? Here's a quick glance.
Starter: Alex Smith
Backups: Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray
One of the more intriguing questions raised by Kansas City's draft, is what exactly the acquisition of Aaron Murray means for the quarterback position.
The Chiefs will head into training camp with four QBs—the chance that they retain all four on their 53-man roster is nonexistent. Alex Smith's status as starter isn't jeopardized, and K.C. didn't give Chase Daniel $10 million to serve as a third-stringer.
As of now, the battle appears to be between Tyler Bray and Murray for the implied developmental quarterback position. Winner receives a roster spot, loser is either designated to the practice squad or released.
Murray is surely an interesting and exciting pick for Kansas City, but he's still not a 100 percent guarantee to survive final cuts. For Bray, he has the talent—he was once regarded as a possible first-round selection prior to a damaging junior season at the University of Tennessee.
He also impressed in his lone NFL preseason, prompting Yahoo!'s Jeremy Sickel to suggest he may be pushing to unseat Daniel as the Chiefs' No. 2. Bray owns the raw tools to be a successful signal-caller, it's simply a matter of his maturity catching up with his potential.
Murray is a high-percentage passer—which is exactly what head coach Andy Reid desires in his field general. He's an all-too-common example of a top prospect who slips dramatically in the draft following an ill-timed injury.
But, he claims that he's recovered from the torn ACL that prematurely ended his collegiate career this past November. His impressive collection of SEC all-time records (completions, passing yards, TD passes, and total offense) suggests that, barring further health issues, Murray could be looked back upon as one of the major steals of the 2014 draft.
He's a tad on the short side for an NFL QB (6'1"), but possesses above-average awareness in the pocket, and can effectively scramble if needed. He's similar to Smith in the sense that he's not necessarily a running QB but can exploit defenses with his legs should the opportunity present itself.
Bray is actually a year younger than Murray, but, both are youthful quarterbacks, ripe with potential.
Bray, a member of the Chiefs' active roster for more than six games in 2013, is ineligible for the practice squad in 2014 and would have to be released should he find himself the odd man out. Murray, however, could feasibly receive a practice squad designation—albeit, with the risk of having him scooped up by another squad.
Admittedly, not the likeliest of scenarios.
Another increasingly viable alternative, though, is to cut Daniel prior to the beginning of the season. He's due $2.35 million this year, and is set to make around $3.75 million in 2015. It would eliminate the risk of losing Murray, speed up the development of Bray and provide additional cap room for each of the next two seasons.
Of the realistic options here for Kansas City, it's maybe the most logical of them all.
Starters: (RB) Jamaal Charles, (FB) Anthony Sherman
Backups: (RB) Knile Davis, (UT) De'Anthony Thomas
What exactly De'Anthony Thomas' role will be within Reid's offense is difficult to place a finger on. The knee-jerk, obvious assumption is that he'll be used in a Dexter McCluster-like role, contributing a bit in several facets: running the ball, catching Smith's trademark dump-and-runs and returning kickoffs and punts.
With Jamaal Charles and the budding Knile Davis holding things down in the backfield, Thomas shouldn't see too many snaps here in his rookie season. Sure, he may garner a few looks each game, but his worth will initially be on special teams and, in a lesser capacity, as a slot receiver.
Clearly, Charles will still receive the lion's share of carries—though, look for Davis to expand on his role from last season as well. If his recovery from his broken leg progresses as anticipated, he'll be back to form as early as OTAs.
That simply leaves the question of what the future holds for Cyrus Gray. He sneaked onto the final roster in 2013, but he shouldn't be so fortunate this time around. He hasn't done much to impress during his two years in Kansas City and became expendable with the addition of Thomas.
Don't expect to see Gray sporting a Chiefs uniform beyond the 2014 preseason.
Starters: (WR1) Dwayne Bowe, (WR2) A.J. Jenkins, (SWR) Weston Dressler
Backups: Donnie Avery, De'Anthony Thomas, Kyle Williams
If there were ever a shining example of exactly how much mock drafts are simply random shots in the dark, the Chiefs choosing to pass on a wideout with both their first- and third-round selection is it.
Kansas City already owned one of the NFL's least impressive receiving corps in 2013, and that was prior to losing McCluster to free agency. Clearly lacking any big-play threats not named Charles, most pundits predicted that the Chiefs' front office would target a top receiver to provide the offensive spark that they so glaringly lacked.
Well, outside of the enigmatic Thomas in the fourth round, Kansas City appeared to go out of its way not to address the need. In the third round, it took cornerback Phillip Gaines in lieu of Donte Moncrief and Bruce Ellington. In the fifth, it was Murray over Robert Herron and Jared Abbrederis.
To most, it seemed a curious strategy—but, it clearly indicates that Dorsey and Reid aren't nearly as concerned about the position as the fanbase seems to be. And whether that disconnect is because of the progression of A.J. Jenkins, the addition of Weston Dressler, or both, remains to be seen.
Thomas should garner a fair amount of touches out of the slot, but his route-running isn't yet refined enough to serve as a reliable option on a week-to-week basis. The Kansas City Star notes that "he is a perfect replacement for McCluster and probably an upgrade." Long-term, this is true, but a significant impact shouldn't be anticipated in his rookie season.
Anthony is considered somewhat of a poor man's Tavon Austin, and Austin's lackluster rookie campaign is a testament to the adjustment period required for these athletes sans a "true" NFL position. A similar learning curve for Anthony should be expected.
By default, the Chiefs' failure to add a receiver capable of starting Week 1 now makes former-CFL star Weston Dressler a favorite to start. As B/R's Brett Gering notes, it's often difficult to project players from the CFL will transition to the NFL, as the rules of the former are designed to benefit wideouts.
But, if it's a smooth jump over to the American gridiron, his highlight tape suggests he could provide an immediate impact in Kansas City. If not, then fifth-year man Kyle Williams—4.43 40-yard-dash time—would presumably get the next crack at filling the void.
The battle for slot wideout is poised to be one of the more interesting storylines to follow this preseason.
Lastly, for Jenkins, 2014 has been rumored to be his make-or-break year ever since the final seconds ticked off the clock in the Chiefs' 45-44 AFC Wild Card loss.
While it's not a foregone conclusion that responsibilities as the number two wide receiver won't again be Donnie Avery's, his inconsistent 2013 campaign has certainly opened the door for competition. His straight-line speed is among the league's best, but he's below average in nearly all other aspects of his game.
Barring a disastrous preseason—which isn't extremely farfetched—Jenkins should have the opportunity to prove himself worthy of the first-round pick that was spent on him two years ago. Whether or not he capitalizes on that opportunity will determine his future.
Starter: Travis Kelce
Backups: Anthony Fasano, Sean McGrath
Kansas City didn't appear to actively pursue any tight ends over the weekend, which may indicate that concern surrounding Travis Kelce's knee is diminishing.
Kelce underwent micro-fracture surgery this past October—a procedure that has produced varying effects on athletes over its history. He hasn't suffered any reported setbacks in his recovery, and, at only 24 years old, he's in a favorable position to return to pre-surgery form.
But even if he does, Anthony Fasano may still have a puncher's chance at starting duties—his competence as a blocker is the single area in which he possesses an edge on Kelce.
But, as a receiver, he's proven to be nothing more than average throughout his eight-year career. He's not particularly fast and doesn't provide any type of notable prowess in the red zone.
Kelce has shown promise as a blocker as well, and his hulking 6'5", 260-pound frame is too enticing to simply leave on the sideline.
Assuming he can stay off of the IR, he's set to earn the majority of time at TE in 2014. Fasano will pilfer some snaps—the majority of which should fall on running plays—and Sean McGrath's status as a fan favorite should keep him on the Chiefs' active roster.
Depth-wise, it's a respectable bunch, but make no mistake, Kelce is Kansas City's man here.
Starters: (LT) Eric Fisher, (LG) Jeff Linkenbach, (C) Rodney Hudson, (RG) Rishaw Johnson, (RT) Donald Stephenson
Backups: (G) Jeff Allen, (G) Zach Fulton, (G) Otis Hudson, (T) Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, (T) R.J. Dill, (C) Eric Kush
Prior to the first round kicking off at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, several questions swirled regarding Kansas City's offensive line for 2014.
Fast-forward three days, and approximately zero of those questions have been answered.
Despite losing three offensive linemen through free agency, Dorsey and Co. didn't find the unit a pressing enough need to spend higher than a sixth-round selection on it. The Chiefs took a late flyer on two offensive linemen, OG Zach Fulton and OT Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, with picks No. 193 and 200, respectively.
Duvernay-Tardif raised his stock through an impressive pro day, producing measurables that NFL.com's Gil Brandt noted were "as good as any offensive lineman [at the combine], including Taylor Lewan." A product of Canadian football (and its slightly skewed rulebook,) he may endure a rough transition to the NFL—he likely isn't a candidate to see significant playing time in his first couple of seasons.
Though, with Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson—two of the brighter spots on the O-line—projected to start as tackles, K.C. probably won't be looking for him to.
As for Fulton, he adds much-desired depth at guard. It's hands down the most vulnerable position on the line, and the former Volunteer could factor into the team's plans down the road.
What exactly it is that Rishaw Johnson brings to the table at right guard is still relatively unknown. He went undrafted in 2012, eventually finding his way onto the Seattle Seahawks' practice squad. He mosied into K.C. in 2013, earning a late spot on the active roster and starting in its reserve-infested matchup against San Diego in Week 17.
Reid has already stated that the big man will get first shot at right guard, but think of it as more of an extended, in-game tryout.
On the left, Jeff Allen may be walking on egg shells.
He has seriously underperformed in his first two seasons for the Chiefs, grading out as their worst lineman in both years. Limited cap space was used to acquire Jeff Linkenbach in free agency, and if Allen can't figure it out quickly, his starting status is likely at stake.
Starters: (LE) Vance Walker, (NT) Dontari Poe, (RE) Mike DeVito
Backups: (DE) Allen Bailey, (DE) Mike Catapano, (DT) Cory Grissom, (DT) Jaye Howard
While first-round pick Dee Ford played defensive end at Auburn, many experts, and more importantly, the Chiefs organization, envision him as 3-4 outside linebacker. So, for now, the projected starting defensive line of Vance Walker, Dontari Poe and Mike DeVito appears to remain intact.
Walker and Devito, while not elite, provide a stable presence on each end, while the still-improving Dontari Poe will hold down in the middle. It's not a particularly intimidating unit, but it should be effective enough to move on from 2013's disappointing performance against the run.
DeVito and Poe have shown to be most potent as run-stoppers. Walker, who's more inclined as a pass-rusher, must improve in this respect if he intends to keep Allen Bailey off of his heels for playing time.
Kansas City is fairly comfortable with its group here. Mike Catapano—a tweener DE/LB—is waiting for his chance as well, meaning it's likely to see some healthy competition for snaps throughout the 2014 season.
Starters: (LOLB) Justin Houston, (LILB) Joe Mays, (RILB) Derrick Johnson, (ROLB) Tamba Hali
Backups: (OLB) Dee Ford, (OLB) Frank Zombo, (ILB) Nico Johnson, (ILB) James-Michael Johnson
Ford was initially an upsetting pick for much of Chiefs Nation for a couple of reasons: A) He's not a receiver, and B) he may not contribute much in 2014.
Kansas City selected the confident pass-rusher out of Auburn with the idea that his future lies as an outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's 3-4. Right now, it's a position that's already occupied by Pro-Bowlers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
The 2013 first-team All-SEC selection will have a year to soak in the intricacies of the NFL game, while preparing to presumably take Hali's spot in 2015. Though, that's not to say he won't see the field at all in his rookie season.
Following Ford's selection, Reid stated that:
Well, we're going to teach him how to play outside linebacker. He doesn't have the snaps at outside linebacker, a little like Tamba, when Tamba came out. That's not where he's had the majority of all of his snaps, he's been a rush defensive end. He's somebody that you can work in there immediately in a third-down, nickel situation and as you know, a percentage of our snaps end up leaning towards our nickel defense.
He brings a new dimension to an already top-of-the-line K.C. pass rush that has a resounding effect on the rest of its defense. Chiefs' fans will get a glimpse of what the future will look like at OLB in 2014, but they'll likely have to wait an additional year for the feature presentation.
At inside linebacker, keep an eye on second-year man Nico Johnson.
Kansas City's fourth-round pick out of Alabama last year, Johnson could clash with offseason acquisition Joe Mays for snaps at left inside LB. Mays enters the preseason with the position as his to lose, but don't be surprised if Johnson winds up seeing more time than anticipated.
Starters: (CB) Brandon Flowers, (CB) Sean Smith, (FS) Sanders Commings, (SS) Eric Berry
Backups: (CB) Marcus Cooper, (CB) Phillip Gaines, (CB) Chris Owens, (S) Husain Abdullah, (S) Jerron McMillian
Following the theme of early-round surprises, K.C. grabbed Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines with its third-round selection. The secondary had long been thought to be a major focal point for the Chiefs in this draft, but most assumed that focus would fall on the safety position, not corner.
Against two receivers or fewer, there wasn't much of an issue with starters Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith in 2013.
Flowers struggled with consistency at times, but his efforts were still enough to earn a Pro-Bowl bid. Smith wasn't exactly a slouch on the other side of the field either, proving to be a solid pick-up in his first year in Kansas City.
But, it was only a matter of time until AFC offensive coordinators realized that the Chiefs' lacked any capable CBs outside of their first two.
As the year progressed, three-receiver sets became an increasingly common inconvenience for Kansas City. Rookie Marcus Cooper initially lined up at nickel in these formations—he was swiftly identified as the unit's weak link, clearly ill-prepared for a starting role in his first season.
Cooper is a converted wideout who should return much improved after accumulating a season's worth of in-game experience at the position. As bad as he was at times, he could be just that good at others. If he can find a reasonable balance play with more consistency, he should have the inside track for Kansas City's third corner slot.
In these nickel formations, look for Cooper to cover the outside, while Flowers moves inward to handle the slot.
Gaines may see work in a Ron Parker-type capacity, but he won't be thrown into the fire before he's ready, as Cooper was last season.
Things seem to be on the upswing at cornerback, but, as it was before the draft, the most concerning area within the secondary remains at free safety.
The Chiefs' injury-prone fifth-round draft pick in 2013, Sanders Commings, is a popular choice to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Kendrick Lewis. He has prototypical safety size and athleticism, while boasting the mitts of a wideout.
But, he's also never seen a meaningful NFL snap, didn't play the position in college, and has drawn some concerns regarding his character. His effectiveness as the lone deep man in Sutton's Cover 1 hasn't yet been measured, and how he complements Pro Bowl strong safety Eric Berry remains to be seen.
Not adding competition to push Sanders' progression and possibly challenge him for a job is a questionable approach at best.
Husain Abdullah was one of only two Kansas City free agents that Dorsey chose to bring back this offseason, but his status as primarily a role player is more or less again cemented for 2014.
He was impressive in a limited role last season and should see a healthy amount of time at free safety as well—but it won't be as a starter. Barring any unforeseen developments, Commings should enter the season as Sutton's No. 1.
Starters: (K) Ryan Succop, (P) Dustin Colquitt, (KR1) De'Anthony Thomas, (KR2) Joe McKnight, (PR) De'Anthony Thomas
While it may take time for Thomas to carve out a niche within Reid's offense, he should provide immediate assistance on special teams. He's among the most electrifying athletes in recent memory and has a knack for sniffing out the seam on returns.
His acceleration out of an idle position is unmatched, likely making him a candidate to handle both kick and punt return duties. He served mostly as a kick returner at Oregon, but proved more than capable as a punt returner—17.1 yards per return—in limited opportunities as well.
It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which a squad loses its All-Pro punt returner and its special teams unit improves, but Kansas City may have done just that with the addition of Thomas.
And that doesn't necessarily spell the end for fellow offseason acquisition Joe McKnight, either.
Knile Davis may see his special teams role disappear after the potential he displayed as a running back in his rookie season. He comprised one half of the NFL's best kick return tandem in 2013, but his broken leg doesn't bode well for his future as a return man.
He's set to see a bigger load in the backfield, and voluntarily increasing the risk of re-injury would be foolish, particularly with an equally capable, former All-Pro returner on the roster. McKnight's special teams prowess alone makes him a candidate to make it past final cuts.
Behind he and Anthony, the Chiefs appear primed to own one of the NFL's most dangerous special teams units again in 2014.