The 2015 Kansas City Chiefs finished the season with the seventh-highest overall grade in the NFL (+126.9), with an 11-game winning streak ensuring the third winning season (out of three) for head coach Andy Reid since his arrival in 2013. 2015 free agent pick up Jeremy Maclin helped make up for the season-ending injury to star running back Jamaal Charles, giving the Chiefs one bright spot on an offense which struggled through much of the season (-72.3 total grade, 23rd in the league).
The defense, however, was one of the league’s most menacing, led by the constant pressure of edge rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali and the steadiness of the inspirational safety Eric Berry. Kansas City’s special teams continue to impress, grading as the league’s third-best collective unit in 2015.
Below is a compilation of Kansas City’s 2016 offseason transactions, including free-agency moves and draft picks:
Overall grade: C+
Free agency and trades
Key additions: T Mitchell Schwartz (86.6), WR Rod Streater (66.9), Stevie Brown (NA)
Key retentions: ILB Derrick Johnson (87.4), OLB Tamba Hali (87.6), DE Jaye Howard (81.6), Frank Zombo (52.7)
Key losses: G Jeff Allen (85.5), G Ben Grubbs (70.9), CB Sean Smith (83.8), S/CB Husain Abdullah (80.2), DT Mike DeVito (74.2), QB Chase Daniel (59.3), S Tyvon Branch (78.2), T Donald Stephenson (34.5)
The Chiefs had a daunting task in free agency, with an offensive line that needed improvement and defensive contributors Berry, Hali, Johnson, Howard, DeVito, Abdullah and Branch all pending free agents. While they were able to acquire the sixth-highest graded tackle from 2015 (Schwartz) from Cleveland, the losses of Allen and Grubbs leave incumbents Zach Fulton and Larry Duvernay-Tardif as the presumptive starting guards. Neither Fulton nor Duvernay-Tardif were impressive in their 1,244 collective snaps last season, with backup option Jah Reid performing even worse playing tackle last season — his 92.9 pass blocking efficiency was 13th-worst among qualifying players.
On defense, Kansas City was able to retain long-time stars in Berry at safety, and Johnson and Hali at linebacker, as well as the emerging Howard at defensive end. Johnson played fantastically in his return from injury in 2015, allowing a league-low 0.56 yards per coverage snap and a QB rating of just a 68.1 on throws into his coverage. Hali bounced back from (by his standards) a subpar 2014 by finishing third among 3-4 outside linebackers in total pressures (72) and ninth in pass rush productivity (11.8). His presence in 2016 is even more crucial to the Chiefs defense, given the uncertainty surrounding Houston’s recovery from offseason knee surgery and the slow development of 2014 first-round pick Dee Ford (46.3) – his presumptive heir apparent. Howard, who was the highest-graded player along the Chief’s defensive line last season, helps offset the loss of DeVito, who along with Abdullah and Branch represented depth players for whom the Chiefs have relied heavily during Reid’s tenure, with a total of seven straight positively-graded seasons among them.
The loss of Smith — the second-highest graded cornerback in coverage in 2014 and a nice complement to the much-heralded Marcus Peters (73.3) in 2015 — will certainly stress secondary depth. While nothing was done to address the position in free agency, Kansas City was aggressive at the position in the 2016 NFL draft.
2016 NFL draft
Round 2, pick 37 (from JAX via BLT): Chris Jones, DT, Miss. St.
Round 3, pick 74 (from TB): Keivarae Russell, CB, Notre Dame
Round 4, pick 105 (from SF): Parker Ehinger, G, Cincinnati
Round 4, pick 106 (from CHI via TB): Eric Murray, CB, Minnesota
Round 4, pick 126 Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida
Round 5, pick 162 (from SEA) Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
Round 5, pick 165 Tyreek Hill, RB, West Alabama
Round 6, pick 178 (from DAL via SF) D. J. White, CB, Georgia Tech
Round 6, pick 203 Dadi Lhomme Nicolas, OLB, Virginia Tech
Despite trading out of the first round entirely, the Chiefs ended up with a first-round talent in the profoundly-disruptive Jones, who earned the second-highest pass rush grade amongst college interior linemen a year ago, as well and the second-highest pass rush productivity. At 6-5 and 308 pounds, Jones was also respectable against the run, with a run stop percentage of 8.3 finishing 18th among interior linemen in 2015. The Chiefs will look to Jones to not only contribute in 2016, but provide much-needed insurance in the event that Dontari Poe (77.8) leaves via free agency after 2016.
The selections of Russell, Murray and White help in the effort to offset the loss of Smith. While Russell allowed the 13th-most yards per coverage snap among qualifying collegiate cornerbacks in 2015, he did fare better press coverage, which the Chiefs prefer to zone coverage. Murray was much stingier in coverage in 2015, allowing just 0.88 yards per coverage snap, with just a 63.1 QB rating in his coverage (with no touchdowns allowed). White, like Russell and Murray, doesn’t come close to Smith’s length (6-3’), but like Smith he was better in 2014 than he was in 2015. All three should compete with former starter Marcus Cooper and the recuperating Phillip Gaines for playing time alongside Peters.
Ehinger, a tackle at Cincinnati, figures to compete for playing time at guard in 2016. He received a positive grade as both a pass blocker and a run blocker in both 2014 and 2015 for the Bearcats.
After three winning seasons in a row and a remarkable finish to the 2015 season, the perennially second-place Kansas City Chiefs will look to dethrone the five-time AFC West (and defending Super Bowl) champion Denver Broncos in 2016. To keep pace with much-improved Oakland Raiders, Kansas City will need to re-assimilate the recovering Jamaal Charles by finding an offensive line combination that will be sturdier than a season ago. Offensive coordinator Doug Peterson moved on to coach the Eagles in the offseason, leaving longtime Reid assistant Brad Childress and former quarterback coach Matt Nagy to co-coordinate the offense. They’ll look for a bounce-back year from tight end Travis Kelce (who went from the third-highest graded TE in 2014 to 55th a year ago), which should help the passing game, while a healthy D’Anthony Thomas promises to add some juice in the slot and bolster an already solid special teams group.
While defense figures to continue to be the Chiefs’ calling card, the loss of Smith is a bit troubling, as they were a much different team when he served a three-game suspension to open 2015. An improvement in the second year for Peters, coupled with a positive contribution from at least one of the cornerbacks from the draft, would go a long way to complement the steady pressure expected from Houston and Hali, and help the Chiefs achieve their goals in 2016.