2016 cheat sheet: Kansas City Chiefs
To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
The 2015 Kansas City Chiefs rode a historic winning streak to finish 11-5 overall and second in the AFC West for the third year in a row. In 2016, the AFC West is wide open, and Andy Reid’s squad possesses the kind of high-end talent on offense, defense, and special teams to challenge for their first division title since 2010. However, question marks are abundant regarding said high-end talent. Will Justin Houston return from his knee injury to produce as one of the best pass-rushers in the league once again? How does Jamaal Charles return from the second major knee surgery of his career? Can Alex Smith and Jeremy Maclin build on a positive run of play that helped the Chiefs’ offense curb the loss of Charles last season? Will Travis Kelce return to his 2014 form, where he was the third-highest graded tight end in the league? Positive answers to these questions will go a long way towards moving the Chiefs into the upper echelon of the AFC this season and beyond.
Three biggest things to know
1. Kansas City’s defense was one of the league’s best in 2015, but questions abound.
The Chiefs owned PFF’s sixth-ranked defense last season, and third-ranked against the run. However, three of the team’s top four defenders—Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston—missed all of training camp because of holdouts and injuries. How the trio acclimates to the start of the season will have a big impact in determining whether or not the Chiefs get off to a quicker start in 2016 than they did in 2015.
2. Jamaal Charles returns from his second-career ACL surgery.
Jamaal Charles was off to a relatively slow start (for him) in 2015 before he tore his ACL against the Bears in Week 5, generating an elusive rating, breakaway percentage, and yards per route run that failed to crack the top 30 among qualifying running backs. Both Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West had their moments, but it appears that Charles will be leaned on once again in 2016. If he can return to his 2014 form (where he finished sixth and 11th in elusive rating and breakaway percentage, respectively) the Chiefs’ backfield will be a strength heading into 2016.
3. The Chiefs’ secondary lost half of its contributors from 2015.
Even with Eric Berry back from his holdout, the Chiefs lost safeties Tyvon Branch and Husain Abdullah and cornerback Sean Smith from a defensive backfield that played more dime than any team in the league last season. This puts a lot of pressure on Berry and 2015 first-rounder Marcus Peters to improve on their already-impressive 2015 seasons. Youthful reinforcements were acquired in the draft, but as of now, the Chiefs plan to go into the season with holdovers Phillip Gaines (169 snaps played in 2015) and Steven Nelson (62) as their second and third cornerbacks.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: DT Chris Jones (Round 2, pick No. 37, Mississippi State), CB KeiVarae Russell (Round 3, pick No. 74, Notre Dame), OL Parker Ehinger (Round 4, pick No. 105, Cincinnati)
Signed in free agency: RT Mitchell Schwartz (Browns), WR Rod Streater (Raiders), QB Nick Foles (Rams)
Left via free agency: CB Sean Smith (Raiders), G Jeff Allen (Texans), S Tyvon Branch (Cardinals), CB/S Husain Abdullah (Retired), DT Mike DeVito (Retired)
Cut: G Ben Grubbs
Rookie to watch
Parker Ehinger, G (Round 4, pick No. 105 overall pick, University of Cincinnati)
Currently listed as the Chiefs’ starting left guard, Ehinger steps into a position of great need for the Chiefs, having lost starters Jeff Allen and Ben Grubbs this past offseason. Having started at both tackle and guard positions for the Bearcats, he offers versatility and size (6-foot-6, 310 pounds) to a line that has struggled at times throughout the Andy Reid era. Ehinger graded positively both as a run blocker and as a pass protector in both 2014 and 2015, finishing 13th among guards in pass-blocking efficiency in 2014.
Highest-graded player of 2015
Justin Houston, OLB, 90.2 overall grade
Justin Houston, recovering from an ACL surgery undergone this offseason, is one of the best pass-rushers in the league when healthy. Last season, he finished second to Pernell McPhee among 3-4 outside linebackers in pass-rushing productivity, amassing a positive overall grade in every game he played. While the secondary is the most-pressing question for the Chiefs this coming year, these concerns can be mitigated by Houston returning to the form that saw him rack up 53 sacks, 29 quarterback hits, and 175 quarterback hurries over the last four seasons.
Breakout player watch
Chris Jones, DT
Jones joins an already-impressive defensive line, with the potential to be the unit’s best player in a relatively short time. Hailed as a steal in the second round, Jones earned the second-highest pass-rush grade among college interior linemen a year ago, and has continued this type of production as a pro. His development has the potential to significantly alter the approach the Chiefs take in re-signing 2012 first-rounder and 2017 free-agent nose tackle Dontari Poe.
Dime defense (2015 season grades shown)
Offense with three receivers (2015 season grades shown)