3 draft needs for the Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs didn’t do much in free agency this offseason, but fulfilled their biggest need by re-signing safety Eric Berry (19 stops and five interceptions last season) to a six-year, $78 million deal. Acquiring former Eagle Bennie Logan (17th and 33rd last year in run-stop percentage and pass-rush productivity, respectively) to take the place of longtime nose tackle Dontari Poe (70th and 33rd) for basically the same contract was a sage move, as was re-signing dime LB Daniel Sorenson (19 stops and three interceptions last season) to a modest deal.
With the departure of Sean Smith and Jamaal Charles the last two offseasons, as well as the lingering concerns over Derrick Johnson’s age and recovery from a second Achilles injury in three years, the Chiefs still have some things to figure out roster-wise. While one could argue that they have needs at inside linebacker, edge rusher and in the interior of the offensive line, here we discuss their three biggest needs as they go into this month’s draft, and provide possible means by which they fulfill these needs.
Need: Quarterback for 2018 and beyond
As I hinted at after their playoff loss to Pittsburgh, the Alex Smith era in Kansas City will probably last at least one more year. Even if Smith has brought respectability to the position unseen since the days of Trent Green, legitimate questions exist about whether he can bring a Super Bowl to the Chiefs. His grades since joining the Chiefs have been remarkably stable, despite an offense that has changed from one predominantly powered by the versatility of Jamaal Charles (and little else) to one stocked with talented players like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Jeremy Maclin, and Spencer Ware. The Chiefs have not drafted a quarterback in the first round since Todd Blackledge in 1983. Perhaps that time has come again.
Early-round target: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Picking at 27, the Chiefs will likely (barring a trade) be a long shot to land Mitchell Trubisky, our top-rated quarterback in the draft, and might have to make use of some of their remaining picks (four in the top 104) to move up for Mahomes. Of the top-end quarterbacks, Mahomes appears to be the antithesis of Smith – he was second in the nation in big-time throws a season ago, while ranking third in turnover-worthy plays (Smith has had the second-fewest turnover-worthy throws among starters the last four years). His athleticism would fit well in Andy Reid’s scheme, while his arm talent and anticipation in the pocket would be a welcomed addition to the Chiefs’ offense. Given the opportunity to sit behind a solid, but unspectacular, Smith on a good team with Super Bowl aspirations, it’s difficult to imagine a better landing spot for a prospect with a profile like Mahomes’.
Mid- or late-round target: Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech
If the Chiefs forgo picking a quarterback in the first round, there are still options that remain later on. Evans is an intriguing prospect in that his athleticism (he was our fifth-highest-graded quarterback in terms of running grades) provides the type of dual-threat that could thrive in the event that Smith is injured or ineffective in 2017 and beyond. While he only started for one year at Virginia Tech, he used that year to throw for more than 3,500 yards and almost 30 touchdowns – ranking eighth among power-five passers with a quarterback rating of 110.8 on passes traveling more than 20 yards (Smith ranked just 20th in the NFL on such passes in 2016, grading at 72.8). While the Chiefs have not had much (any, really) success in recent years picking quarterbacks later in the draft, Evans may be able to turn those fortunes around.
Need: Right cornerback
The Chiefs have been truly remarkable in their ability to hide deficiencies along their defense during the Andy Reid/Bob Sutton era. In 2014 they were able to make due without the services of Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry for much of the year, while in 2015 they dealt with injuries to Justin Houston during their 10-game winning streak to finish the regular season. Last season they somehow finished among the middle of the league in net yards per passing attempt allowed, despite a right cornerback spot that was not resolved until Terrance Mitchell took over in Week 13 and put together six weeks’ worth of positive play. Expecting a seventh-round guy they picked up off the street, with 428 career snaps to his name, to hold up for an entire season in 2017 would probably be foolish, especially given the strength of this year’s class at cornerback.
Early-round target: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
While Steven Nelson acclimated himself well to the slot position in 2016, adding a guy like Lewis – with experience both on the inside and the outside (and right cornerback, specifically) – would be a fantastic improvement to the Chiefs’ secondary. He excelled in the type of press-man coverage scheme the Chiefs regularly employ while in Ann Arbor, and his ball skills (six interceptions and 28 pass breakups the last three seasons) would team well with the playmaking Marcus Peters on the other side of Kansas City’s defense.
Mid- or late-round target: Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
Unlike quarterback, the Chiefs have had some success grabbing defensive backs in the middle of the draft, nabbing contributors in Phillip Gaines, Steven Nelson, and Eric Murray the last three years. In addition to being one of the better performers at his position a year ago (he had the 17th-best cumulative grade among 243 Power 5 cornerbacks), Jackson possesses the athleticism and special teams prowess the Chiefs value greatly. He was the highest-graded non-kicker in our first season of grading entire college special-teams units, finishing his career with eight total return touchdowns in three seasons. Like Lewis, most of his experience on the outside is at right cornerback, a position for which he would immediately compete if brought to Kansas City.
Need: Running back
When Reid took over in 2013, he built an offense around one of the few talented holdovers from the Todd Haley/Romeo Crennel era in Jamaal Charles. In 2013 Charles earned 36.7 percent of the Chiefs’ offensive yards and 46.3 percent of their offensive touchdowns. Three seasons’ worth of injuries to Charles and additions to the Kansas City offense later have left the club with Spencer Ware (1,368 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in 2016) and little else in the backfield. While Ware, whose 4.3 yards per carry and 2.8 yards per carry after contact were 15th and 10th among running backs with more than 450 snaps a year ago, can be an effective player, he demonstrated in 2016 that he’d probably be best sharing carries in a backfield by committee. Given the depth of talent in this seasons’ running back class, look for the Chiefs to address this need early and possibly often.
Early-round target: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
The Chiefs are an offense that likes to create confusion by putting wide receivers like Tyreek Hill and Albert Wilson in the backfield, while moving tight end Travis Kelce all over the formation. McCaffrey has the versatility to blend right into such a scheme, with the skillset to play both in the backfield and outside as a receiver. Despite this versatility, McCaffrey was able to force 43 missed tackles as a runner and 21 as a receiver in 2016, showing the ability to be an every-down running back if pressed into such a role as well. He earned both the highest receiving grade among running backs in 2015 and averaged a substantial 3.30 yards per attempt after contact as a rusher in 2016. Like Jackson, he was a plus player on special-teams units during his time at Stanford as well.
Mid- or late-round target: Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson
Gallman excelled as a runner in Clemson’s spread offense, grading positively in that department during our entire three-year sample of his play. In addition to breaking 153 tackles and accumulating 2034 yards after contact the last three years, Gallman did not allow a quarterback sack or hit in almost 400 pass blocking snaps the last two years. His size profile (6-foot, 215 pounds) would complement Ware’s (5-10, 227 pounds) in the Chiefs’ backfield, and his experience playing in big games and scoring at the stripe would fit in immediately with a championship-ready team in Kansas City that too often settles for three in lieu of seven or eight in the red zone.