The Update: Kansas City Chiefs 2017 Preview

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The Update: Kansas City Chiefs 2017 Preview

Justis Mosqueda
In an effort to break the two-paragraph preview trend of national writers, Setting the Edge has dedicated themselves to previewing all 32 teams in the NFL in a series called “The Update”, which will focus on:

  1. Where a team stands from a decision-maker standpoint
  2. Where teams were efficient and inefficient last year by using percentile radar charts
  3. Who the moving parts between the 2016 and 2017 seasons were
  4. Where a team is trending heading into the 2017 regular season

Justis Mosqueda will be writing the team previews while Charles McDonald posts film breakdowns based on the writing. After posts on entire divisions are finished, they will discuss teams on division-specific Setting the Edge podcasts which you can find on SoundCloud and iTunes. Five stars only. Tell a friend.

The Kansas City Chiefs went 12-4 last season. I’m not sure how. Though these previews, we’ve been able to get a definitive look at exactly where NFL teams are great to poor at. For most playoff teams, the picture is extremely clear. They are usually dominant on at least one side of the ball, or at least have one amazing unit, like an offensive line or secondary.

The Chiefs don’t really fit that mold. We use four prongs to measure efficiency on the ground (yards per carry, run percentage, TFL percentage and fumble percentage) and in the air (completion percentage, interception percentage, yards per completion and sack percentage), on both sides of the ball. Of those 16 measurements, Kansas City was only above average in 8 of them. Par for the course.

In passing offense, they fell short in yards per completion. In rushing offense, they fell short in yards per carry and TFL percentage. In passing defense, they fell short in yards per completion and sack percentage. In run defense, they fell short in yards per carry, run percentage and TFL percentage. There was no unit where you could make the case that the Chiefs were definitively good in last year. Based on these efficiency models, they were probably best in passing offense, even though the team thought so much of their starting quarterback Alex Smith this offseason that they decided to draft Patrick Mahomes II out of Texas Tech in the first round, even going as far as to package picks to move up to nab him.

It has been factually proven that close games are coin flips. If your team wins a lot of single-score games in one year, they are certain to regress in record the next season. If your team losses a lot of single-score games in one year, they are certain to progress in record the next season. Playing nine single-score games in 2016, you would expect that the Chiefs would have finished with 4.5 wins, but the team finished 6-3. Did they get a bit lucky? Sure, but the difference between 12-4 and 10-6 is minimal when playoff results decide your draft position.

What’s more surprising is Kansas City’s 6-1 record in multi-score games. Only four teams in the NFL won at least six multi-score games while also recording one or fewer multi-score losses on the year: the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, the Super Bowl runner up Atlanta Falcons, the NFC one seed Dallas Cowboys and the Chiefs. All of the numbers say that we should measure the talent of teams by their record in multi-score games, not single-score coin flips. Kansas City’s efficiency on the field simply has a large split between how the team actually performs on a week-to-week basis.

If you’re going to make a case for a coach getting the most out of his players, Andy Reid is probably who you want to point to. Since joining the Chiefs in 2013, Reid’s team’s have gone 27-8 in multi-score games. If you treat single-score games like ties or coin flips, which you should, he has a projected win percentage of 64.84 percent over his four-year stint in Kansas City, better than any current stint in the league other the New England’s Bill Belichick.

Reid has been on the ass end of some jokes recently, as his extension in Kansas City was immediately followed with the termination of former general manager John Dorsey’s contract. Dorsey was eventually replaced by Brett Veach, who has been with Reid since his Philadelphia Eagles days, where he was even Reid’s personal assistant from 2007 to 2009.

The Chiefs are more efficient as a team than as individuals or even individual units. If that falls on someone’s shoulders, it has to be Reid’s. Even if Reid did go for the power grab, is it wrong to not trust him? It seems like he has things figured out.

Offense:

Backs: If you’re anything close to a fan of NFL football, you already know the playing-style of Smith. The former first overall pick quarterback is risk-adverse as can come, with the “game manager” label perpetually hanging over his head. The stats reflect that. The Chiefs were 7th in completion percentage and 8th in interception percentage last year, but were 24th in yards per completion.

As a 33-year-old going into Year 13 of his NFL career, he is who he is. He might be able to sneak into the Pro Bowl for a week-long vacation, but he’s not going to get you to the Super Bowl. Mahomes on the other hand, the flashy toy that Chiefs fans know is under the tree, but aren’t allowed to open until Christmas morning, is the polar opposite.

Mahomes’ father was an MLB pitcher, and Mahomes can look like he’s going against his genetics by playing the sport of football at times. Coming out of an Air Raid offense, he was the best backyard passing in college football that we’ve seen since Johnny Manziel, and his playing style, including his arm strength, has brought on plenty of comparisons ranging from Matthew Stafford to Brett Favre. At some point, he’s going to be the guy. His ceiling under Reid, one of the few quarterback whisperers who actually has the resume of someone who should be called a quarterback whisperer, is much higher than what they have with Smith.

On the ground, the backfield does overshoot what their offensive line gives them. The Chiefs finished 8th in fumble percentage, 13th in run percentage, 16th in yards per carry and 19th in TFL percentage last year, but some of those numbers were inflated by the contribution of rookie receiver Tyreek Hill as a motion man. Kansas City’s two most-played running backs return in Spencer Ware (214 carries, 4.3 yards per carry) and Charcandrick West (88 carries, 3.3 yards per carry), but anyone with optimistic expectations for this backfield has to include fourth-round rookie back Kareem Hunt of Toledo in their thesis.

There’s no promise that this team is any better in 2017 at quarterback or running back, but there’s hope.

Pass-Catchers: If you asked the fantasy football crowd about Kansas City’s receivers, I’m not sure they can name another soul on the depth chart other than Hill, who between carrying the ball, running routes and blocking was still only the fourth most-played receiver on the 2016 Chiefs team. Chris Conley (44 receptions, 12.0 yards per reception) and Albert Wilson (31 receptions, 9.0 yards per reception) return with more 2016 reps under their belt than Hill (61 receptions, 9.7 yards per reception), according to Football Outsiders. When Hill was on the field last year, the offense ran through him.

The loss of Jeremy Maclin, who was released this offseason and signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Buffalo Bills, leaves some unanswered questions about who will be the team’s two starting outside receivers. Conley, Wilson, Hill and fourth-round pick Jehu Chesson of Michigan are all in the mix, but there is not a single proven outside commodity in that group.

At tight end, the depth chart is easy. It’s Travis Kelce (85 receptions, 13.2 yards per reception) and “other.” If Hill does stick outside, there’s an easy path to see how his 9.7 yards per reception will actually improve in Year 2. Hill and Kelce could be how the team breaks out of finishing in the bottom fourth of the league in yards per completion last year.

Linemen: On the offensive line, the team is fairly locked into tackle Eric Fisher, tackle Mitchell Schwartz, center Mitch Morse and guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Still, the team finished 15th in sack percentage and 19th in TFL percentage, which is right in that purgatory range.

Expect competition at guard opposite of “LDT,” which will be mostly composed of linemen with little to no NFL experience. We won’t have an answer for who the fifth man on the Chiefs’ line is until the preseason.

Defense:

Line of Scrimmage: Despite some salary cap questions, the Chiefs did a fairly solid job at keeping their team together this offseason. As far as 2016 contributors, the team only lost two players who we on the field at least 25 percent of the team’s snaps on their side of the ball: Maclin on offense and defensive tackle Dontari Poe on defense. The nose tackle signed a one-year deal worth $8 million with the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, reuniting him with former Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli.

The Chiefs found their own “prove it” deal nose tackle in Bennie Logan, who also signed a one-year, $8 million deal after leaving the Philadelphia Eagles, where former Kansas City offensive coordinator Doug Pederson was the head coach in 2016.

After treading water, the team only returns two significant defensive linemen from last year in rising star Chris Jones, a 2016 second-round pick, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches. The lack of depth on the defensive line means that unit will likely have a high pitch count for those three names, but the first line of the depth chart isn’t an issue.

On the edge, there’s the trio of Justin Houston, Tambi Hali and Dee Ford. Houston currently ranks 12th among active NFL pass-rushers in career sacks, but his sacks per game statistic is how he blows his peers out of the water. In 75 career games, he has 60 sacks. That ratio can only be beat by 2 players on that list of the NFL’s 12 current top career pass-rushers: Houston defensive end J.J. Watt ( 76 sacks in 83 games) and Denver outside linebacker Von Miller (73.5 sacks in 88 games). When healthy, Houston is one of the most dominant pass-rushers in the league. The problem is he missed 11 games last season, a year in which the Chiefs finished 31st in sack percentage, despite Ford, a former first-round pick, recording his “breakout” double-digit sack season.

Backs: To say that that Kansas City’s run defense was good last year would be a flat out lie. In 2016, they were 11th in fumble percentage, 19th in run percentage, 20th in TFL percentage and 24th in yards per carry. Some of that has to do with their defensive line, but but some of that has to do with their linebacker unit. Despite a playoff blip by Ramik Wilson, the tandem of he and the aging Derrick Johnson made up the team’s off the ball linebacker duo that hurt the team last year.

The addition of fifth-round pick Ukeme Eligwe will add some competition to the mix, but don’t go into 2017 expecting much from the 2017 Chiefs linebackers. It could be one of the team’s biggest needs heading into the 2018 free agency period and/or draft.

In the back end of the defense, the team allows few passes to be completed (4th in completion percentage) and has plenty of ball skills (4th in interception percentage.) When teams do complete passes though, they go for long (24th in completion percentage.) It’s possible that the Kansas City’s ball skills in 2016 single-handedly dissuaded teams from attacking them deep, which helps explain why a 12-4 team would have the 18th run percentage.

All of the names from the 2016 team return. At cornerback, it’s Marcus Peters, Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson. At safety, it’s Ron Parker, Eric Berry and Daniel Sorensen. For the boom-bust secondary to keep the pass defense from being “exposed” this year, they’ll need to get their hands on the ball as often as they did in 2016.

2017 Prediction: I’m not sure what unit on the field that you can point at and say “Kansas City is good at this,” but the same case could have been made of the 2016 team that went 6-1 in multi-score games. Maybe, with a health Justin Houston, a still functional Tamba Hali, a “broken out” Dee Ford and with Chris Jones on the cusp of his own breakout, you can say that the team should be able to get after the quarterback, but they finished 31st in sack percentage last year, despite finishing 4th in completion percentage defensively.

If you gave me even odds on the Chiefs making or not making the playoffs, I think I would take them not making the playoffs. Playing the NFC East, which according to Las Vegas is one of the three most-competitive divisions in football, plus the AFC West, which very well might cannibalize itself to a single fourth seed playoff spot, it’s hard to imagine that this team makes it through those 10 games in good playoff standing.

If you do believe in this Kansas City team, the Andy Reid factor has to come into the equation. Reid out-coaching everyone not named Bill Belichick would be bullet point number one for me, if I had to make a case for this team making the playoffs. Reid out-quarterback whispering everyone would be bullet point number two.

Video Breakdown: Kansas City Chiefs Passing Game by Charles McDonald