How Far Could the Chiefs Fall in 2022?March 25, 2022
It takes only one offseason to change the complexion of the NFL hierarchy, and the Kansas City Chiefs will drop in power rankings and projections for the 2022 season.
As the Chiefs make moves to compensate for the loss of wideout Tyreek Hill, whom the club traded to the Miami Dolphins in a blockbuster deal, they also have a growing problem on the defensive side of the ball. The unit has already lost starting cornerback Charvarius Ward to the San Francisco 49ers and three-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu remains a free agent.
Kansas City will miss Hill for obvious reasons. He's arguably the most explosive receiver in the game with a combination of blazing speed, sticky hands, great leaping ability and incredible body control when he goes up for the ball. Matched up with mobile big-armed quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the wideout nicknamed Cheetah kept defensive coordinators on edge:
If you look at the highlight package, you'll notice Hill had a big punt return against the Buffalo Bills in an AFC divisional matchup in January. Because of his vision and sudden change of direction, he's a unique playmaker with the ball in his hands. The six-year veteran has logged 93 carries for 719 yards and six touchdowns in addition to 479 receptions for 6,630 yards and 56 touchdowns.
Unfortunately for Kansas City, Hill chose to chase big money once contract talks with the club stalled, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, saw an opportunity to raise the price level for his client after the Las Vegas Raiders acquired wide receiver Davante Adams from the Green Bay Packers and signed him to a record-setting five-year, $140 million contract.
On The Joe Rose Show with Zach Krantz on AM 560 Sports in Miami, Rosenhaus discussed the pace of contract talks with the Chiefs and how the Raiders' move impacted his expectations for Hill.
"At the end of the season, I started a conversation with the Chiefs on a new contract extension, and it really was heading in the direction of slowly but surely working out a new deal for Tyreek. And then the Davante Adams trade got done, and Adams got a record-setting contract. And I immediately reviewed that contract, and I spoke to the Chiefs and had a very positive conversation with them that this should be the market for Tyreek. And if it wasn't, then the right thing to do would be for everyone to benefit, which would be for the team to have an unprecedented trade and for Tyreek to go to a team that would be willing to make him the highest-paid receiver."
Soon after the Chiefs permitted Hill to seek a trade, the front office shipped him to Miami, which leaves JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Marquez Valdes-Scantling atop the depth chart at wide receiver.
All three wideouts have obvious strengths. As a bigger target (6'1", 215 lbs), Smith-Schuster offers inside-out versatility. Hardman has 4.33-second 40-yard dash speed. Valdes-Scantling averaged a league-leading 20.9 yards per catch in 2020.
However, none of those receivers put the fear in defensive backs as Hill does. Compared to the dynamic wideout's 13.8 yards-per-catch career mark, Smith-Schuster averages 11.9 yards per reception. Hardman has the speed, but he's still developing consistency in a bigger role, logging career highs in catches (59) and receiving yards (693) in 17 games (eight starts) in 2021. Valdes-Scantling must work on his efficiency with a 49.8 percent career catch rate.
Because of Hill's departure, tight end Travis Kelce could see more attention in the middle of the field. Kansas City has lost the electric playmaker in its passing attack who forced opposing teams to bracket or double-team him.
While the Chiefs will put up points with a league and Super Bowl MVP in Mahomes, they'll need more help from the defense, which helped the team rebound from a 3-4 start last season. Kansas City allowed 17 points or fewer points in six consecutive games between Weeks 8 and 14, recording 16 takeaways in that stretch.
In 2021, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo fielded a unit that bent but didn't break, ranking eighth in scoring while giving up the sixth-most yards. Now, the front office must replace Ward on the boundary, and it seems as though the team signed safety Justin Reid to fill Mathieu's spot alongside Juan Thornhill.
As it currently stands, Kansas City will lose a pair of starting defensive backs who logged five interceptions and 16 pass breakups combined last season. Reid isn't a reliable defender in the box or in the slot because he's missed at least 14.3 percent of his tackle attempts over the past two seasons—a whiff in the open field could cost the Chiefs a ton of yards. Without Mathieu, the defense loses some of its versatility and a leader (three-year team captain):
Furthermore, the front office hasn't addressed a leaky run defense that gave up the second-most yards per rush attempt (4.8) in 2021. The Chiefs lost defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who signed with the Green Bay Packers, and retained Derrick Nnadi, who played 40 percent of the snaps last season. They need upgrades who can complement edge-rusher Frank Clark and defensive tackle Chris Jones, which would also clear budding linebackers Nick Bolton and Willie Gay to make more downhill plays from the second level.
With the Los Angeles Chargers acquiring edge-rusher Khalil Mack and cornerback J.C. Jackson, the Denver Broncos trading for quarterback Russell Wilson and the Raiders making moves for Adams and Chandler Jones, the Chiefs will see several new Pro Bowl and All-Pro players in the division next season. Kansas City cannot expect to beat its division rivals with an average pass-catching group and a defense with a glaring hole and limited flexibility on the back end.
General manager Brett Veach has to either put $26.2 million in cap space to good use—perhaps pursue two-time All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore—or hit on multiple draft picks to cover the losses and weaknesses on both sides of the ball. Kansas City has five top-100 draft selections this year.
Despite those concerns, the Chiefs can hang on to one advantage in the AFC West. Clearly, they have the best head coach in the division with Andy Reid, who's well established with a sterling resume.
In Los Angeles, second-year head coach Brandon Staley had a good roster and fell short of the playoffs with a 9-8 record last season. Denver hired a first-timer in Nathaniel Hackett this offseason. With the Raiders, Josh McDaniels gets a second chance as a head coach after a disappointing 11-17 run with the Broncos between 2009 and 2010.
Reid is the only head coach in NFL history to lead two different franchises to four consecutive conference championships (Philadelphia Eagles and Chiefs). He's also fifth all-time in wins (252) and has a Super Bowl ring.
Reid has earned the benefit of the doubt. Even before Mahomes took over the starting job, he led the team to a couple of division titles (in 2016 and '17) with quarterback Alex Smith. In 2017 and 2018, the Chiefs fielded a mediocre-to-below-average defense that ranked 15th and 24th in scoring, respectively, and near the bottom in yards allowed (28th and 31st).
Because of who's calling the shots in Kansas City, we shouldn't remove the Chiefs from the playoff picture just yet. Though the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders look much better on paper one week into the new league year, their head coaches have to put it all together on the field. Reid has done that in almost every year with the Chiefs, leading the club to postseason appearances in eight of the last nine seasons.
The Chiefs' AFC West rivals have undoubtedly closed the gap, and one of those teams could snap their six-year streak as division champions, but with Reid and Mahomes joined at the hip and enough speed and big-play ability at receiver to keep the offense explosive, Kansas City still has a playoff-caliber squad.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.