Actions speak louder than words. This is especially true in the NFL, where tight-lipped teams fear giving their opponents even the smallest advantage. For fans, seeking insight into their franchise’s point of view, the draft and the practice squad offer much clearer pictures of Chiefs priorities than any mumbled platitudes from press conferences. Through a careful examination of Chiefs’ moves, we can get a pretty good guess of what they thought, before the draft, and what they think now.
Chiefs Draft Patrick Mahomes: While a variety of positions have been taken on this move, I’m not seeking to debate the wisdom of this choice, merely explain the reasoning behind it. Chiefs looked at Alex Smith and saw a QB who wasn’t worth a second contract. This is not as much a knock on Smith, as a statement about where the QB market is. QBs like Matt Stafford and Derrick Carr, who’ve been good, but haven’t won anything of significance, are netting huge deals, around $25M a year. Smith’s record, with the Chiefs, would have given him a lot of leverage in contract negotiations, especially if Chiefs didn’t have a viable option behind him, which they didn’t. Even if Chiefs had expected Smith to be as good as he has been, which nobody saw coming, they would have still had major reason for concern. Chiefs are near the bottom of the league in cap space and Smith, this year, is making $16.9M. He’s scheduled to make over $20M next year, and, on an extended contract, would like earn even more than that. Chiefs decided that they needed a viable starter behind Smith, and the only way to get one, in time to know whether they needed to extend Smith, was to trade up and get one this year.
Chiefs Draft Tanoh Kpassagnon: Chiefs fans weren’t just surprised by the spelling of this pick, they were a bit confused by it. Chiefs had already drafted a guy who wasn’t going to start this year, then turned around, and drafted another developmental prospect. What this pick reveals, is that Chiefs knew they had a pass rush problem. Quality edge rushers are hard to come by. If you look at the guys who get 10+ sacks a year, they’re almost all first round picks. Once the Chiefs had made the decision to draft Mahomes, they knew they wouldn’t be touching a polished pass rusher till 2019. Rather than settle for a guy who could be just ok now, they decided to gamble on Kpassagnon who has the physical traits to be something special, but needs some development. Physical freaks, like TK, tend to go in the top 15 picks, if they’re ready to play. Chiefs decided to go for a high risk/high reward investment over a safer investment in a Frank Zombo type player. Chiefs were basically going to either go pass rusher or QB in the first. From a salary cap standpoint, they made the judgment that Alex Smith was more likely to break the bank than Dee Ford.
Chiefs Draft Kareem Hunt: With their first two picks dedicated to guys who may not play right away, Chiefs needed to hit their third pick out of the park. Statistically, Smith plays much better when Chiefs run the ball more, so Dorsey selected Kareem Hunt. This was one of those rare picks where they were able to secure the best player available, at a position of need, who was also an instant starter. This was basically Chiefs lone “this year” pick. Maybe this shows confidence by the Chiefs in their depth (or perhaps arrogance), or maybe it shows that Chiefs didn’t really view this roster as a championship team. Either way, fans will question if Dorsey and company could have done more to win now.
Chiefs Draft Jehu Chesson: With Wilson a FA next year, and the loss of Maclin, Chiefs felt the need to invest a pick in a WR. Chesson offered a solid STs player from a West Coast Offense, who could be ready to step in, in case of emergency. This was mostly a pick for the future, with slight insurance for the present. Chiefs clearly felt good about their starting WRs, but wanted to add more depth.
Chiefs Draft Ukeme Eligwe: ILB was an obvious area of need for the Chiefs. Dorsey didn’t seem to place a high priority on the position though, as he never spent more than a 4th round pick on an ILB. This year was no exception, as Eligwe came in the 5th round. While he hasn’t seen the field, except on STs, Chiefs seem to think highly of him. It’ll be interesting to see, now that Veach has taken over, if Chiefs continue to draft ILBs in the bottom half of the draft, or if they’re willing to spend some serious capital to get more talent on the run defense.
Chiefs Draft Leon McQuay III: This was kind of a weird pick, as Chiefs initially tried him at CB and then shifted him back to safety. Perhaps scouts thought he could transition to CB, but coaches disagreed. Based on pre-draft evaluations, it seems like Chiefs reached on McQuay and this was a pick to fill a need. Since Chiefs looked stacked at S, before Eric Berry went down, I’m guessing that McQuay was supposed to turn into an outside CB. The fact that this really didn’t seem to be a good fit is concerning, because it makes you wonder if coaches and scouts weren’t on the same page. Perhaps this was one of the communication problems that Dorsey had. It wasn’t the first CB he’d drafted that the defensive coaches couldn’t find a spot for.
Practice Squad WRs: When evaluating the PS, it’s important to remember that these are also members of the scout team. Scout teams try to duplicate the opposing defense or offense that the Chiefs starters will face. While Chiefs are carrying 3 WRs right now, they’ve also been missing two starters. Many NFL teams run three and four WR sets most of the time, so Chiefs need enough WRs on the scout team to duplicate that. That being said, WR still seems to have been a major focus of the Chiefs this off-season, and the type of WRs Chiefs are pursing this year, is a bit different then in the past. Chiefs seem to be mostly interested in bigger WRs with good hands. This could be in preparation for Mahomes, or simply show that Chiefs feel they have greater needs for outside WRs than slot WRs. That makes sense, because Hill, DAT and Wilson are all good in the slot, if they need them there. Both of Chiefs starting outside WRs, right now, are only in their second year.
Practice Squad RB George Atkinson: Atkinson shows what Chiefs value in their bottom of the roster RBs: kick return ability. Atkinson is pretty much a slower Knile Davis, who might be slightly better as a RB. While fans may be concerned about Chiefs RB depth, Chiefs are evidently not that worried, as they are only carrying a single PS back, in Atkinson, who is mostly a KR or short yardage back.
Chiefs Practice Squad TE Orson Charles: Charles did double duty, in the off-season, as a TE and FB. He represents more of an emergency depth option than a serious investment in the position. Travis and Harris have been slow to develop, but Chiefs seem content to stick with them, for now. Don’t expect major changes at TE any time soon.
Chiefs Practice Squad OL: Chiefs have had two OL, at times, on the practice squad, but cut down to one to add CB Will Redmond. Damien Mama is the lone OL on the PS and plays OG or C. The fact that Chiefs are willing to roll with no OTs on the PS, shows they like their depth at T. Fisher has been ok, Schwartz is elite and Witzmann is a solid option to swing to either spot. Erving hasn’t looked great thus far, but Chiefs continue to develop him, and he has some upside. If Chiefs have to make a roster cut, later on, it could come from their OL group, but keeping extra bodies there is wise. NFL teams are desperate for any kind of help on the OL, and even Chiefs’ worst lineman, Jordan Devey, probably wouldn’t clear waivers right now.
Chiefs Practice Squad Secondary: Everyone knows Chiefs have problems in the secondary. So do they, as they are keeping two CBs, in Keith Reaser and Will Redmond. Both of those guys are smaller CBs, and might be better suited to play nickle than on the outside. If I had to put one outside, I’d put Redmond there. He’s a good coverage player with solid instincts. He’s a willing tackler, even if he doesn’t always have the lead in his shorts to bring guys down. He looks like this year’s candidate for the Marcus Cooper/Jamell Flemming/Terrance Mitchell treatment. Leon McQuay appears to be the lone safety on the PS, but Chiefs could also be giving him some looks at outside CB. Wherever they plan on playing him, they need to unleash the strength and conditioning coach on him first, dude tackles like Cairo Santos.
Chiefs Practice Squad DT Rickey Hatley: Chiefs unfortunately lost Daniel Ross right before they had to cut Roy Miller (good riddance). After that, they signed Cam Thomas to the main roster, and Rickey Hatley to the PS. Chiefs have shown an increased interest in bigger DL, because of Sutton’s two DL sets. They’re also searching for a permanent answer at NT after losing Poe and signing Logan as a stop-gap.
A few things about the team have come into focus. Chiefs could foresee some of their issues, like ILB, but others, like CB, have caught them by surprise. Being excited about the practice squad is usually a bad thing, because it means you don’t trust your starters. The one position I would say that Chiefs are still in denial about is TE. It’s clear to fans that the #2 and #3 options aren’t good enough, but Chiefs aren’t searching very hard for replacements. It’s good to see that Chiefs invested in the pass rush, but championship hopes could rest on TK developing faster than we have any right to expect him to. Chiefs have some decent depth on the OL, but they need to put together their best group and get them healthy. Alex Smith can’t do a lot without a viable run game, and Chiefs don’t have much behind Hunt. It’s all on the OL to provide him with better opportunities. Inexperience at WR has hurt Chiefs a lot, in recent weeks, the return of Albert Wilson could actually be a lot bigger than people realize.
Bonus Thought: Any time I get cocky and predict a decisive win, Chiefs seem to forget to show up. This week, for reverse psychology purposes, I will say that I’m very nervous to face the Giants. A team who has nothing to lose, but still has done nothing BUT lose, except to the hapless Denver Broncos. Giants might be terrible against the rest of the NFL, but they are dangerous in the AFC West. Reid and Sutton need to bring their A game in this one. Go Chiefs.
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