Three moves the Chiefs should make to boost their chances of getting to the Super Bowl in 2019
Kansas City made it to the AFC Championship Game in January; here's what they need to do to reach the Super Bowl
The Chiefs were one game away from the Super Bowl before falling in overtime to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. The future remains bright, however, primarily because Patrick Mahomes is the NFL MVP after one full season as the starter and the offense is loaded with playmakers. If Kansas City can add a few missing pieces on the other side of the ball, it will annually be a realistic Super Bowl contender.
The offense was already good when coach Andy Reid decided in the offseason to elevate 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes to starter. And a unit that went from fourth in '17, according to Football Outsiders, finished as the most explosive offense in '18. Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns, completed some of the most physics-defying passes you could dream up, and Tyreek Hill was damn near unstoppable. Unfortunately, Hill's future remains uncertain, which explains why the Chiefs took Georgia speedster Mecole Hardman in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Meanwhile, the interior offensive line could use an upgrade and depth at running back is on the to-do list but isn't a priority. Otherwise, this offense is in really good shape.
The defense, however, was a different story. This was a recurring storyline throughout the regular season and it all came to head in the AFC Championship Game, when the Chiefs couldn't get off the field because they were equally incapable of stopping the run and the pass. The unit ranked 26th overall and was dead last in rush defense. And this explains why the last few months have been devoted to beefing up the defensive line (Frank Clark, Emmanuel Ogbah, Alex Okafor) as well as the secondary (Bashaud Breeland and Tyrann Mathieu in free agency and Juan Thornhill in the draft).
So what does a team that went 12-4 with a second-year quarterback do to improve their Super Bowl chances in 2019? Let's take a look.
1. Add another pass rusher
This offseason the Chiefs parted ways with Justin Houston and shipped Dee Ford to the 49ers. Those two players accounted for 22 sacks in 2018, and that on a defense that ranked 26th, according to Football Outsiders. To make up for the lost production, the Chiefs traded for Frank Clark and Emmanuel Ogbah, and signed Alex Okafor. And while Clark is one of the league's best pass rushers -- he had 13 sacks last season -- Ogbah had three and Okafor had four.
The hope is that 2018 second-round defensive end Breeland Speaks makes a jump in Year 2 (he had just 1.5 sacks as a rookie), and that an improved defensive line, which includes Khalen Saunders, the team's 2019 third-round pick, can also help improve the pass rush. But hope isn't a plan, as they say, and you can never have too many players to get after the quarterback. Which is why the Chiefs should consider bringing in some depth.
At this point in the proceedings the pickings are slim. The Seahawks signed Ziggy Ansah last week and he was the most proven pass rusher of those available. Even Shane Ray, the former Broncos first-rounder who struggled with injuries and consistency, recently inked a deal with the Ravens. That leaves Derrick Morgan, who is five years older than Ray. He's been able to stay on the field but the results weren't there last season for the Titans, where he managed a half-sack in 13 games. That said, his recent track record is much better than Ray's; Morgan had 7.5 sacks in '17 and 9.0 sacks in '16. It's not much, but it's something.
2. Add a tight end
In Travis Kelce the Chiefs have the NFL's best tight end. But there's not a lot behind him. In April the team signed Blake Bell, who had eight receptions last year and seven in the two years before that. The rest of the depth chart includes David Wells and Deon Yelder -- both 2018 undrafted free agents, both without an NFL reception -- and John Phillips, a veteran journeyman who had three catches last season in Arizona.
And while this offense doesn't need another weapon, it's worth considering if for no other reason than Kareem Hunt is gone and it's unclear what Tyreek Hill's future holds. Obviously, this offense runs through Mahomes but he needs experienced players around him to make Reid's offense run smoothly. It's almost June so there's not much to choose from; Jared Cook, Tyler Eifert and Austin Seferian-Jenkins have long been signed but of the remaining names, there are a couple who are capable downfield targets. One is 38-year-old Antonio Gates, who is expected to sign with the Chargers, if he does choose to play another season.
And that brings us to Lance Kendricks, the Rams' 2011 second-round pick who has never quite lived up to expectations. Still, he had one of his most productive seasons -- at least on a play-by-play basis -- with the Packers in 2018. Yes, he only had 19 receptions for 170 yards and a score, but he was 25th among all tight ends in value per play, just behind Eric Ebron and Zach Ertz. At 31, Kendricks is clearly neither Ebron nor Ertz, but he could be a complementary piece in the right system.
3. Add a running back
In the scheme of things, there is very little the Chiefs can do to improve on last year's squad, especially now, a week before June. But we were tasked with coming up ways Kansas City could get to a Super Bowl so here we are. And with that in mind, adding a veteran back should be somewhere on the to-do list, even if it's near the bottom. Damien Williams was a pleasant surprise last season -- he averaged 5.1 yards per carry (50 attempts) and 7.0 yards per reception (23 catches).
In February, Reid seemed pleased with what Williams brought to the offense.
"We were happy with how Damien played," he said at the time, via ChiefsWire.com. "He's a good football player. He stepped into big shoes, Kareem (Hunt) is a good football player."
But the coach conceded that the team would look to add depth too.
"And we look at every position to fill, but he's established himself now as a legitimate NFL player, and we feel good about that," Reid said.
The Chiefs signed Carlos Hyde to a one-year deal, and used a Day 3 pick on Utah State's Darwin Thompson. They also signed Washington State's James Washington, one of the best pass-catching backs in college last season, as an undrafted free agent. But Thompson and Williams are unproven as blockers and while Damien Williams graded out well in that area, according to Pro Football Focus, Hyde was among the worst in the league. One option: Jay Ajayi, who is just 25 years old even though it feels like he's a 10-year vet.
Ajayi was a 2015 fifth-rounder out of Boise State who spent the first 2.5 years of his career in Miami and the last 1.5 in Philly. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry over the final games of the 2017 season -- after he was traded to the Eagles -- but he suffered a torn ACL last October and appeared in just four games. He's still just seven months out from his injury, which means he likely won't be cleared to play until later this summer, but Ajayi could be a cheap, young, established option in Kansas City's backfield.
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