Breaking Down the Kansas City Chiefs Roster After the 2014 Draft
The Kansas City Chiefs roster is hardly etched in stone, but now that the 2014 draft is just another page in the NFL's history book, ticket holders can now (more or less) gauge their expectations come Week 1.
Let's take a step backward.
Roughly two months ago, free agency robbed the Chiefs of some of their most valuable assets and made away like a tiptoeing thief in the night, all the while Kansas City's front office dangled a "DO NOT DISTURB" sign on the door while John Dorsey hibernated.
Or maybe not.
While Twitter flooded with "Why are we not going after anyone? Why are we so cheap? Ugh, typical Chiefs" rhetoric, Dorsey and Co. were branching out and planting a set of eyes on every college, flag and powderpuff football game this side of the hemisphere.
Proof, you ask?
Within the past 72 hours, the most buzz-worthy name on Kansas City Twitter has been a sixth-round Canadian offensive lineman. A rookie whose Scrabble subway of a name, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, still gives me a complex because I sound like an Italian Brad Pitt ("Bonjourno!") when trying to pronounce it.
Judging by Kansas City's draft, Dorsey did his due diligence. (If that's not a vocal warmup, it should be.)
Fortunately for Chiefs fans, on paper, it looks like Dorsey's eagle-eyed evaluating paid off.
Starter: Alex Smith
Reserves: Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray
Andy Reid already has a quarterback. He drafts another one. The sky is blue.
This much I can assure you: If Smith's extension is inked, it's not going to be until midseason. The Chiefs will want to see how he performs throughout his second year, particularly against the NFC West, and take into account how Bray and Murray are developing.
While their skill sets lie on the polar opposite ends of the quarterback spectrum, Bray and Murray both have starting potential. But make no mistake, neither will be prepared for the role any time soon.
Daniel, on the other hand, isn't winning anyone a Super Bowl. Can he fill in and add a few wins over teams whose fans have to illegally stream games due to blackout? Sure. But throughout the 2013 preseason, the rookie Bray outplayed him.
And if you're one of his apologists, I wouldn't advise pointing to the Week 17 game versus San Diego. The Chargers allowed eight yards per passing attempt last season—only one team, St. Louis, allowed more. Daniel deserves credit for the performance, but that defense was a special kind of awful.
Per Spotrac, the Chiefs would generate $1.4 million in cap space by parting ways with Daniel and save $4.8 million entering next season.
Murray is an ideal fit for Reid's offense. He's not going anywhere.
In all likelihood, Daniel, at some point during the preseason, will be booking a one-way flight.
Starters: Jamaal Charles, Anthony Sherman (FB)
Reserves: Knile Davis, Cyrus Gray, Joe McKnight, Charcandrick West
Everyone who's anyone knows who Charles is. If the man accidentally tossed his sweat towel in someone's face, at least three out of 10 Kansas Citians would have it immortalized in a cryogenic chamber.
Sherman, meanwhile, was Pro Football Focus' (PFF) No. 1 fullback (subscription required) of 2013. He's a red-eyed blocking bull(dozer) who, relevant to pass-catching, owns surprisingly secure hands.
When the above two are paired on the field together, Kansas City's backfield is far and away the most effective in the league.
Davis is the next stage in human evolution. At last year's combine, he weighed 227 pounds, ran a 4.37 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 31 times.
As a rookie, Charles' backup showed flashes of greatness early and often. However, Davis still has to continue to improve his ball security before coaches wholeheartedly trust him.
Gray is a "jack of all trades, master of none" rusher who will enter 2014 on the roster bubble.
Knight, meanwhile, is somewhat of an enigma, as his most feasible shot at making the team is through his return skills. Now that the Chiefs have a variety of options at the position(s), his days might be numbered.
West is a recently signed undrafted free agent (UDFA), and if I had to bank on one obscure name to crack the 53-man roster, he would get my vote. Regardless of inferior competition, West runs like a Marshawn Lynch protege with a Skittles rainbow across the goal line.
Receiving and pass-protection will ultimately determine his fate, but whenever he touched the ball in college, he lent validity to Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson.
Locks: Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, De'Anthony Thomas, A.J. Jenkins, Junior Hemingway
Bubble: Weston Dressler, Albert Wilson, Kyle Williams, Frankie Hammond, Darryl Surgent, Jerrell Jackson, Fred Williams
Bowe's future in Kansas City is looking slightly sunnier than it was prior to May 8. Being that the Chiefs didn't draft a potential No. 1 receiver (nor No. 2, for that matter), he remains the only consistent threat on the outside. (He's overpaid! He's not a true No. 1! Off with his head! Freedom! I know. I get it.)
Looking forward, No. 82 looks anything but expendable, even when considering that Kansas City can gain $3.5 million in cap room by releasing next offseason.
I'll spare the rant on Avery, but his skill set epitomizes "one-dimensional." He's a vertical threat, but his hands, blocking and route-running border on subpar.
Thomas is officially listed as a running back, but the Chiefs didn't draft him to battle Knile Davis for the scraps of snaps left by Jamaal Charles.
Thomas is Dexter McCluster's replacement and has experience in the slot, thought he'll need to sharpen his breaks and general route-running. Having said that, when he cradles the ball, his game-breaking speed is bound to pop at least one ego like a water balloon.
If Jenkins successfully digests the playbook and consistently avoids jamming, he can easily supplant Avery as the No. 2 wideout. However, his track record doesn't inspire any confidence that said dethronement will unfold.
Despite being a big-bodied receiver, Hemingway has split time on the inside and outside. This year will likely determine is potential ceiling.
The shifty trio of Dressler, Wilson and Williams will be pitted against one another for the final spot (assuming Andy Reid retains a sixth wideout).
Locks: Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce
Bubble: Sean McGrath, Richard Gordon, Demetrius Harris
Coming off of an injury-riddled, subpar year (by his standards), Fasano will look to return to vintage form in 2014. He's one of the better in-line blocking tight ends in the league, and he's a serviceable pass-catcher.
That being said, he's not going to rack up many yards after the catch.
Kelce, whose injury forbid him from a single regular-season snap in 2013, will slowly but surely become the starting tight end at some point.
He's an ill-intentioned blocker that drives through the whistle, and while he's far from a burner, his speed is somewhat deceptive. Kelce's hands can waver between average and respectable.
McGrath will likely occupy the third spot.
Last year, he initially got off to a scorching start, but his production receded as the season unfolded. He doesn't excel in any particular facet of the game, but he's serviceable in all.
Harris, the basketball convert, is a name to watch.
The second-year project showed flashes throughout training camp last season, but he never truly found his feet as the season progressed.
Depending on his development, he could challenge McGrath for the No. 3 slot as the offseason progresses.
Locks: Eric Fisher, Jeff Allen, Rodney Hudson, Rishaw Johnson, Donald Stephenson, Zach Fulton, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
Bubble: Eric Kush, Rokevious Watkins, Ricky Henry, Otis Hudson, R.J. Dill, Colin Kelly, Chandler Burden
No one welcomes the idea of drafting an offensive lineman until Week 1 rolls around and their quarterback looks like he's running with Pamplonan bulls.
Don't kid yourself; losing Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah will affect this team (and not for the better).
That's not to say the collective unit can't evolve into a strength down the line. And while I can't pinpoint when "down the line" actually is, I know you'll be buying a new calendar before then (assuming those still exist).
Fisher is obviously the most vital cog. Reverting back to his natural position, left tackle, should help rectify some of last season's deficiencies, and he punctuated the year with a laudable five-game stretch. But he needs to prove that he can a) stay healthy and b) kick his habit of overextending and allowing pass-rushers to swim or rip by him (particularly on the inside).
He has drool-worthy tangibles, but those are moot points until he learns who to properly utilize them.
As The Kansas City Star's Terez Paylor reported, Allen and Stephenson worked out with former Pro Bowler and Blocking Buddha LeCharles Bentley, whose mind is an encyclopedia of offensive line knowledge.
Hudson is the most reliable of the group. He lacks the lower-body strength to be regularly effective in the ground game, but he's one of the better pass-blocking centers in the league.
Johnson doubles as 313-pounds' worth of question mark. Like Fisher, his measurements and physical capabilities are ideal, but debatable devotion and off-field issues have stigmatized his past.
Hinging on their progress (and that of the starters ahead of them), Fulton and Duvernay-Tardif may see a share of regular-season snaps.
Fulton, a "This is my bike, punk!" steamroller in the ground game, will need to polish his pass-protection before receiving any consideration, though.
Duvernay-Tardif, an freakishly athletic specimen with ironclad toughness, will be asked to improve his technique, specifically his footwork.
Locks: Vance Walker, Dontari Poe, Mike DeVito, Allen Bailey, Mike Catapano
Bubble: Jaye Howard, Risean Broussard, Cory Grissom, Dominique Hamilton, Chas Alecxih
I'm pretty sure that Poe is one of the X-Men.
He's been in the league two years, and still, every time that he lines up, I find myself asking how a 340-pound, Hulk-like human runs like an ostrich. (Seriously, whoever handles the bookings for Sports Science needs to get on the ball.)
And yet, Kansas City's miniature minotaur won't even turn 24 years old until August. Good luck with that, centers.
Walker will succeed Tyson Jackson. Although, the former has yet to play in a 3-4 alignment, he has built his reputation on efficient run-stopping and reliable pass-rushing.
DeVito is a run-counter road block, though he'll never be expected to supply quarterback pressure. (However, in his first press conference of 2014, per KCChiefs.com, DeVito did claim that he has become more health-conscious and improved his diet.)
Bailey is entering a contract year, and he has continually shown progress throughout each of his three seasons, evolving from a situational edge-rusher to a well-rounded defensive end whose talent demands opportunities.
Second-year workout warrior Catapano should be relatively immune from any cuts, but if he wants to see his minutes increase, he needs to develop into more than a niche pass-rusher. Whether he works on his footwork and transitions to outside linebacker or remains at defensive end and bulks up his body, he needs to pick a path.
Locks: Justin Houstin, Joe Mays, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Dee Ford, Frank Zombo
Bubble: Nico Johnson, James-Michael Johnson, Dezman Moses, Ben Johnson, Jordan Campbell, Josh Martin, Alonzo Highsmith
Prior to the draft, one could argue that the Chiefs hosted the best linebacker corps in football. The addition of Ford all but cements the argument.
Despite being somewhat undersized, Kansas City's No. 1 pick more than compensates with striking strength, accompanied by a brutal one- and two-arm bull rush. His edge-rushing arsenal also features the all-important dip-and-rip that Hali successfully utilizes.
Ford does, however, need to shore up his run defense, and before he potentially replaces Hali, Ford needs to prove that he isn't a liability if asked to drop into zone.
Hali will confront the most uncertain year of his professional career. He'll turn 31 years old (November) by season's end, and his seeming successor is on the back burner, nipping at his heels.
Furthermore, the team can free up $9 million in cap space by severing ties with Hali next offseason.
Brushing that aside, the veteran linebacker authored one of the most productive seasons of his career in 2013 (11 sacks, four forced fumbles, an interception and two touchdowns), finishing as PFF's No. 6 (subscription required) overall 3-4 outside linebacker.
Kansas City's two-time Pro Bowler is the most well-rounded 3-4 outside linebacker that the game has to offer. His pass-rushing attracts the spotlight, but his coverage and run support are just as sound.
Veteran Derrick Johnson, the veteran mind behind the linebacker operation, is exhibiting no signs of slowing down either, as he ranked as PFF's No. 3 overall inside linebacker a year ago.
Zombo and Nico Johnson will, in all likelihood, eventually secure roster sports, though they're not insusceptible to demotions.
Special teams play will dictate the pecking order for the others.
Locks: Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith, Marcus Cooper, Phillip Gaines
Bubble: Chris Owens, Ron Parker, David Van Dyke, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Kevin Rutland, Vernon Kearney
PFF graded Flowers as a top-seven corner throughout each year between 2009 and 2012. Last year, his consistency veered off course.
Was that an indictment on his skill set (as it pertains to the current defense)? Or, was it a byproduct of curse-jar-filling deep safety play? As ESPN's Louis Riddick notes, despite the injuries, mind-boggling safety play served as the crux of Kansas City's wild-card implosion.
Were it not 4 some of the worst safety-play in the history of organized football, Alex Smith leads the #Chiefs to a playoff victory in '13.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) May 12, 2014
Like Tamba Hali, Flowers' contract bloated contract places him on the hot seat this season, as the Chiefs can gain $7.5 million in releasing or trading him after 2014. If he reverts back to performing like one of the best corners in the league, though, the front office won't be quick to pound the eject button.
Smith and Cooper are equally erratic—gray area be damned.
Both allowed opponents to snatch fewer than 54 percent (subscription) of their targets. The flip side? The two also allowed over 15 yards per reception (subscription), with targets torching Cooper for an eye-opening 17.9 yards per catch (subscription).
Smith excels at jamming, but he lacks the straight-line speed to recover if wideouts gain a step on him. At times, receivers also cause him to lose balance via feints while releasing. Cooper, on the other hand, needs to fine-tune his footwork and camp out in the weight room.
Kansas City's third-rounder, Gaines, isn't garnering the attention that he deserves—come this fall, that's bound to change.
He's a lengthy corner with a wealth of press-man experience and top-tier and impressive coverage skills (though his hands are average). Gaines won't stockpile interceptions any time soon, but he constantly makes plays on passes and defends them at the last second.
Chris Owens projects as the primary slot corner, but Flowers will also regularly slide inside.
Ron Parker also crafted an underrated season, both on on special teams and in coverage.
UDFA David Van Dyke has all the necessary tools to make a name for himself in the NFL. Due to inexperience, he should be a favorite for the practice squad, but he's a prospect worth keeping tabs on.
Locks: Eric Berry, Sanders Commings, Husain Abdullah
Bubble: Daniel Sorenson, Malcolm Bronson, Jerron McMillian
As long as the "locks" remain healthy—and given their history, that's anything but a promise—Kansas City doesn't have a need at safety, despite what local uproars would lead you to believe.
Let's start with this: Berry isn't nearly as bad in coverage as local loudmouths claim.
Yes, Cujo, due to recovering from an ACL tear, he struggled throughout the first half of 2012. A year later? Not so much.
According to Pro Football Focus, Berry was targeted more than any safety in the league last season (63 attempts) but limited opponents to 37 receptions (58.7 percent, subscription required). Furthermore, wideouts averaged just 9.4 yards per reception, while opposing quarterbacks combined for a meager 64.8 passer rating.
Overall, PFF graded him as the No. 3 safety in the NFL (tying with T.J. Ward).
Commings, meanwhile, is roughly 12 pounds heavier than Berry, and his 4.41 40 time from a season ago would've topped all safeties at the 2014 combine.
He's a surprisingly speedy, bone-bruising cornerback convert with impressive awareness and ball skills.
in 2014, Abdullah will enjoy more opportunities, playing time that is long overdue. While he's filled in as a free safety, his primarily role is that of a nickelback.
If Sorenson hopes to succeed, he needs to be utilized in a role that's similar to Abdullah's. The UDFA doesn't possess the necessary closing speed to be an effective single-high safety in the NFL.
Locks: Dustin Colquitt, Ryan Succop, Thomas Gafford
Year in and year out, Gafford has proven to be one of the league's best long snappers (which is like being the smartest Here Comes Honey Boo Boo personality).
Succop will undoubtedly square off against offseason competition, but he's nearly certain to open Week 1 as Kansas City's kicker.
Throughout 2014, only one punter, Mike Scifres, will account for a larger cap hit than Colquitt ($3.8 million). While doling out that kind of a money to a punter seems borderline certifiable, 37 of Colquitt's punts landed inside of the opposing 20-yard line, which tied for first in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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