By: Weston Mills, who you can follow on twitter here @Wmills94
Estimated Read time: 13 minutes
10 days until the NFL Draft. 36 days until OTAs. 57 days until Mini-Camp. Roughly 95 days until training camp. 115 days until the pre-season. And 147 days until the season kicks off. Who is counting though, am I right? Even though it may technically be the off-season it feels like the NFL does a better job than any other major sports league of staying relevant 24/7, regardless of what Colin’s NBA playoff article says. As soon as the season ended it felt like we were already talking about free agency. As soon as the free agency period died down, we were talking about the NFL combine. Now that the combine is over all we can talk about is the Draft. Say what you want about the NFL (and there is a lot you could say) but their ability to keep us talking about them is unparalleled. On that note, why don’t we further my point by talking about the Kansas City Chiefs off-season and make some predictions about the upcoming draft.
As devastated as I was by Eric Fisher’s “holding” penalty (I could do an entire post on this penalty alone), that ended what I truly thought might be the Chiefs first Super Bowl appearance since 1970, I found myself feeling a great sense of optimism for 2017. Kansas City went 12-4, in 2016, and won the AFC West while having Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, Jaye Howard, Allen Bailey, Parker Ehinger, Justin March-Lillard and Josh Maugu (all starters) on the IR. Let me repeat that. They had SEVEN starters on IR last year and went 12-4 and won the AFC West. Oh, and by the way, multiple weeks missed by Justin Houston, Jeremy Maclin and Phillip Gaines. It requires an outstanding amount of depth and talent to be hit by the injury bug the way Chiefs were and still be competitive, let alone win the AFC West. At this point you might be thinking, “I thought this section was titled ‘2017 Roster’ why is he yammering on about 2016?” It’s a fair question but it brings me to my first topic: key additions.
2017 Key Additions:
First and foremost, Kansas City will be returning five of the seven starters that missed all or most of 2016 due to injury. Derrick Johnson, Justin March-Lillard, Jaye Howard and/or Allen Bailey (Chris Jones has probably earned one of the starting DE spots) will all immediately step back in to their starting roles on a defense that finished 7th in the NFL in points allowed per game (19.4). Presumably, Parker Ehinger will step back in to the stating role at left guard that he won back in the 2016 training camp. I know these players might not be “additions” in the traditional sense but they are all players that were not otherwise available in 2016 and now will be playing significant minutes in 2017.
Aside from the players the Chiefs will be returning from the IR, the Chiefs did what the Chiefs always do in free agency, very little. Arguably the biggest splash the Chiefs made was with the signing of Nose Tackle Bennie Logan who played with the Eagles in 2016. Logan is known for being very solid run stuffer who will help to improve a defense that ranked 26th against the run. Pro Football Focus listed Logan as a Top 10 “sleeper free agent”. Logan should immediately fill the meteor size hole left by the Hungry Pig, Dontari Poe, at Nose Tackle. However, the Chiefs will be absolutely loaded on the defensive line with the return of Howard and Bailey, the addition of Logan, and the emergence of Chris Jones and Rakeem Nunez-Roches (who has quickly become my favorite player to watch). Bob Sutton has great flexibility to craft up some creative fronts and schemes for these boys.
Other than Bennie Logan, the Chiefs did not make much noise during Free Agency. Other notable additions were RB CJ Spiller, TE Gavin Escobar, and FS Marqueston Huff. (Side note: I am pretty certain Gavin Escobar is the son of Jared Allen or at least a long lost brother.). Of the three, I am the most excited about CJ Spiller. I’ve heard a lot of chatter that Chiefs’ fans do not think this was a good signing. I keep hearing that Spiller is a bust, washed up, etc., etc. While these things might be true, this signing is an absolute no-brainer for the Chiefs. This move has literally no risk and an enormous amount of potential. The Chiefs signed Spiller to a 1-year $980K contract with none of that money guaranteed. By point of reference, our kicker makes double that! No offense to Cairo. In 2012, Spiller ran for 1,244 yards and had 459 receiving yards on top of that. Yes, that was in 2012 but if he can give us half of that production it will make him a great pair for Spencer Ware. If he can’t, then we cut him and lose NOTHING. Why would Andy Reid and John Dorsey not take a chance on a guy who runs (or ran) a 4.37 40? (Side note #2: C.J.’s real name is Clifford. I think he should re-brand as Clifford Spiller so people will forget about the guy who has been a flop over the past 3 seasons. Also, I am pretty confident that he would be the only RB in the league named Clifford.) Anyway, my point is simple. This move has huge potential with absolutely no risk. *Tips cap at John Dorsey*
My last “key addition”…… Eric Freakin’ Berry. Now, I know you are thinking “he can’t be a key addition if he was already on the team.” Well, I agree with you but the Chiefs locked up EB for, presumably, the entirety of his career. How could I not mention that? Berry was an unrestricted free agent and had openly said he was not going to play under the franchise tag this year. This was huge. I mean $78 million dollars huge. I mean 6 years, $78 million, $40 million guaranteed huge! OK, you get it but EB deserves every single dollar and I am incredibly excited that he should now retire a Chief.
2017 Key Losses
While Kansas City may not have made a big splash in free agency, they did make some noise within Chiefs Kingdom by letting a couple of fan favorites leave. Most Chiefs fans know at this point that the Chiefs’ all-time leading rusher, Jamaal Charles, will no longer be in the Red and Yellow. It’s hard for me to even imagine Jamaal in another jersey. Unfortunately, injuries have derailed his past two seasons and it was time for Kansas City to move on. The Chiefs are committed to the development of Spencer Ware and I anticipate this position being targeted in the draft as well. Before I tear up about Jamaal, let’s just take a moment and reminisce of the glory days.
Additionally, a lot of Chiefs’ fans were disappointed that we lost Donatri Poe but letting him go was the right move. Poe signed a 1-year 8 million dollar deal with the Atlanta Falcons. While Poe has been the anchor of our defensive line, that was $8 million that Kansas City did not have to spend. According to Spotrac, Kansas City has an estimated cap space of $4 million and will need most of that to sign their upcoming draft picks. The choice came down to Poe or Berry. They could not afford both. The Chiefs could have franchised Poe this year but still would have needed to clear cap space for 2017. With the depth at defensive line, they can replace Poe internally without losing much production. I anticipate we will see a combination of Bennie Logan, Jaye Howard, and Chris Jones playing NT, depending on down and distance. As mentioned before our defensive line has a tremendous amount of explosiveness and flexibility. Sutton will be able to utilize different combinations of defensive lineman and make offenses react to numerous fronts. Poe was probably the only player on our 2016 d-line who did not have much flexibility (not counting his raw talent at QB and WR). I hate to see the Hungry Pig leave but this was the right move.
While Poe and Charles are the most notable significant losses from 2016, there are a couple other names of note. Backup QB Nick Foles was released in March. This was expected as the Chiefs needed the cap space. I think this also indicates two things: (1) the Chiefs will be targeting a QB in the draft (see below) and (2) they have some confidence in the progression of Tyler Bray. Also of note, the Chiefs let Josh Mauga walk in free agency. He started 16 games in 2014 and 14 games in 2015 at inside linebacker before being placed on the IR in 2016. The Chiefs really like Justin March-Lillard and Ramik Wilson so this is no surprise. However, this is also a position that the Chiefs are targeting in the draft. On that note….
2017 NFL Draft
We are closing in on the most exciting television show of name calling, aside from the Price is Right (Bob Barker version only), the NFL Draft. As usual, the mock drafts are out of control. Hell, you can already read 2018 NFL Mock Drafts. These things are incredibly hard to project because to accurately predict pick number 27 (the Chiefs current pick) you have to be able to correctly predict pick 1 – 26. If one team trades up in the draft and takes a player you had slotted to a different team it can create a domino effect following. With that being said, lets breakdown the possibilities for the Chiefs 2017 NFL Draft.
Before we dive into my prediction, we first need to identify the Chiefs draft strategy and positions of target. It is well known that Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey strongly believes in drafting the best available player on the draft board and acquiring talent for the roster regardless of the position. Of course that isn’t always going to be true as there were a lot links to the Chiefs and known Pirate, Paxton Lynch last year. Paxton at that time would not have been the best available. It was also rumored that if Johnny Manziel had been on the board for them in 2015, the Chiefs would have drafted him. You might remember that Cleveland took him one pick before the Chiefs selected Dee Ford. Thanks Cleveland! Andy Reid loves developing quarterbacks and I definitely think the Chiefs take a QB this year. It will be a matter of when not if. I would also anticipate that the Chiefs look to address RB, ILB, OLB, OG, and CB. I think the strongest possibilities for the first round pick would be cornerback or quarterback. Obviously, drafting the QB to replace Alex Smith in 2018 or 2019 will warrant an early pick but also pairing a corner with Marcus Peter is going to be important part of improving the defense in the more immediate future. OK, now on to the pick…
… And with the 27th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft the Kansas City Chiefs select:
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech University
This is it Chiefs Kingdom. This is the year. Your Kansas City Chiefs are finally drafting a first round quarterback since Todd Blackledge in 1983, who they selected before Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. Whoops! The Chiefs have been linked to QBs in the past two drafts and this year they finally pull the trigger. Anyways, back to Mahomes. This guy is a stud! He is 6’2 225lbs and has a cannon of an arm. In his Junior Year at Texas Tech (he came out a year early), Mahomes threw for 5,052 total yards, 41 TDs, and 10 INTs while completing 65.7 pct of his passes. After watching Alex Smith for so long, it might surprise Chiefs fans to know that quarterbacks are allowed to throw passes further than 10 yards downfield. During the combine, Mahomes had passes clocked at 60 mph which is tied for the fastest ever recorded at the combine. Fun fact: he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 2014 MLB Draft and his dad spent 11 years in the MLB. Ok, you get it, the dude has a laser-rocket arm.
So why is he still on the board at 27? He played at Texas Tech. Texas Tech runs a spread offense that does not translate very well to the NFL. However, Andy Reid is known for grooming young quarterbacks. Pair that with the fact that any quarterback Kansas City drafts will sit for a year (maybe two) and learn behind Alex Smith, it creates a great fit between Mahomes and the Chiefs. Mahomes will be a project in his transition to a pro-style offense and that has diminished his draft value but it will not be a great concern for the Chiefs. If my prediction is correct and the Chiefs select Mahomes, I will go a little further in-depth to his skill set and fit within the Chiefs offense.
In the event that I am wrong (ridiculous thought I know) and the Chiefs do not draft Mahomes, what are some other possibilities? Two names that keep getting floated around are RB Christian McCaffery (Stanford) and QB DeShaun Watson (Clemson). The reason I am not predicting either of them to the Chiefs is simply due to availability. I think both of these guys are going to be drafted well before the Chiefs pick.
Personally, I think DeShaun Watson would be the absolute best case scenario for the Chiefs and I would actually like to see the Chiefs move up in the draft and select him. He is a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s offense and the guy is just a winner (32-3 at Clemson). However, every year it seems like teams get antsy and a few QB’s come off the board significantly earlier than most of us expected and I anticipate the same with Watson. This is also my concern about projecting Mahomes to KC at 27. The same goes for McCaffery, who’s draft stock has been on the rise and could end up going top-15. One other route I think the Chiefs may go is cornerback. Specifically, Gareon Conley (Ohio State) or Quincy Wilson (Florida) could be the pick. Dorsey loves SEC guys so don’t be surprised if Kansas City goes with Wilson over Conley if they are both on the board. While it is a significant need for the Chiefs, I do not see them taking an inside linebacker with their first pick. They just don’t value the position enough to use a 1st round pick on an ILB.
Well there it is, the Chiefs off-season summarized as succinctly as possible along with a prediction for the draft. It may be 147 days until the season kicks off but only 10 days until we will all be talking about the NFL again.