Kansas City Chiefs:
In 2016, more than any other season I can recall, key questions kept going unresolved as the year progressed. What will WR Chris Conley’s role in the 2016 offense be? Will he have a breakout year? I kept waiting for it to happen but it never did. After all, at 6-foot-3 inches tall, he’s the same height as the Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones — who the Falcons traded up for and selected 6th overall in the 2011 draft — and Conley might even be more gifted athletically (Conley had a better 40 time, jumped higher and further and had more reps at 225 lbs. while Jones was better at the 3-cone drill the 20-yard and 40-yard shuttles). Still, in Jones 2nd season he has 79 catches for 1,198 yards receiving. Conley had 44 receptions for 530 yards. The questions remain with a player who has Conley’s gifts… is it the system that’s holding him back? The quarterback? Something else?
Kansas City’s other unanswered questions swelled as the year passed. Will the LT Eric Fisher make strides to meet expectations of a first round pick? Would the defense be able to stop the run without the presence of Mike DeVito… then injuries to Josh Mauga… then Allen Bailey… then Justin March-Lillard… then Jaye Howard… and then Derrick Johnson? Of course, that question was answered but no one liked the answer. Would TE Demetrius Harris take another step forward or at least learn to hold on the ball when it hits him in the hands? Another — asked and answered — question. Would anyone be able to replace Sean Smith at cornerback? Will Tamba Hali ever be more than just a part-time role player again in his career? Will WR Albert Wilson ever be seen for what he is? Would someone upstairs please yank that guy’s contract! Please notice… that last sentence was not a question.
Now, the Kansas City Chiefs have lost a critical piece of their front office in Chris Ballard, who has signed to be the new general manager of the Indianapolis Colts. Ballard, who served as the Chiefs Director of Player Personnel, has been rightfully credited with the assisting in the remaking of the Chiefs roster in the past four seasons. It raises the question: how much was Ballard’s influence responsible for the improvement in the team? Example: Chris Ballard visited Oakland prior to the draft and informed John Dorsey that Marcus Peters would not be a problem player. Peters, of course, has been nothing short of sensational… making the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons. Ballard’s departure represents more than “one” position to fill. With the rumor that Ballard would like to hire the Chiefs special team coach Dave Toub as the head coach, the Colts will be set with a great team at the top of the organization but it leaves the Chiefs with work to do, holes to fill and questions to be answered.
The team finished the season with a growing list of questions when they weren’t able to beat the Steelers at home and advance to the AFC Conference championship final against the New England Patriots. Can Andy Reid properly prepare a team for a playoff game? Can QB Alex Smith raise his level of play to take the Chiefs all the way? Will the team ever fix their offensive line so it can dominate instead of being dominated every time the playoffs roll around?
Last night in the Pro Bowl, LB/ST player D.J. Alexander led all defenders in tackles. Will Alexander be given the opportunity to start at ILB next year or are the Chiefs going to go out and find an ILB in the draft or free agency?
Yes, this team is still loaded at several positions and drafted well in the past few years but have to answer these questions:
- Will ILB Derrick Johnson be able to come back and contribute at the same Pro Bowl level he’s used to contributing?
- Will RB Jamaal Charles be able to come back and contribute at the same Pro Bowl level he’s used to contributing?
- Will Josh Mauga be able to come back?
- Will Allen Bailey be able to come back?
- Will Parker Ehinger be able to come back?
- Will Jaye Howard be able to come back?
- Will Justin March-Lillard be able to come back?
Also, where has Phillip Gaines gone? He was supposed to be that answer piece for the exit of Seam Smith. Does defensive coordinator Bob Sutton now see CB Terrance Mitchell as the answer at corner, across the defensive backfield from Marcus Peters? If Eric Berry leaves this offseason the defensive backfield will once again be in disarray.
On offense, many fans are hoping that something will be done about the Guard positions. Whether or not LG Parker Ehinger makes a full return or not, he needed an offseason in the weight room. Now, we want to know if his body can hold up under the grind of a 20-plus game season (4 preseasonn games and 16 regular season contests). If the Chiefs intend to correct what ails them on offense it has to begin with the offensive line and if it is the offensive line then it has to begin with the Guard-play. So, will the Chiefs be active in free agency and the draft at bringing in “higher” quality guards than they have. Ehinger was drafted last year and was a 4th rounder, 105th overall (and some think that was too high for him). Right Guard Laurent Duverany-Tardif was drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 draft and was 200th overall. So, will the Chiefs invest a 1st, 2nd or 3rd round pick on and interior lineman? They should have two third round draft picks because of a compensatory pick hopefully coming for Sean Smith.
If you were paying attention to the Pro Bowl then you’re aware that the Dallas Cowboys had three offensive linemen in the NFL’s all-star event. Why should we think about that? Because… the first year that Andy Reid and the Chiefs got together they hosted the Cowboys at Arrowhead Stadium and one of the features of that game was… the Cowboys had one of the worst offensive lines in the league. So, it is possible to build your organization around your OL and in the case of the Cowboys, they now have one of the best offenses in the league featuring two rookies, one at QB in Dak Prescott and one at RB in Ezekiel Elliott (both of whom also made the Pro Bowl… gee, I wonder why they made it?).
Sure, the Chiefs have more questions to answer, like, who will share the backfield with Spencer Ware? Jamaal Charles, or a newbie? One of the biggest questions I always have is, which second-year players will take a big step forward. It’s always fun to see who will be doing that when training camp rolls around. However, training camp is a long way off and for now, we’ll just have to be content asking questions. There sure seems to be a lot of them.