AFC West Preview: Kansas City Chiefs

Source: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

This is the third article of a three-part series previewing the 2021 AFC West landscape. You can find the Denver Broncos season preview here, and the Los Angeles Chargers preview here.

Kansas City Chiefs

Head Coach: Andy Reid

2020 Record: 14-2, lost Super Bowl LV against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-9

Offseason Recap

After a devastating loss in the Super Bowl to Tom Brady’s Buccaneers, the Kansas City Chiefs set out a reload their roster for another title run. The Chiefs offensive line was a trainwreck in the Super Bowl after it was depleted with injuries throughout the season.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered by LT Eric Fisher in the AFC Championship Game, which resulted in the Chiefs starting a brand new offensive line combination against a vicious Bucs defense in the Super Bowl.

The first major move of the Chiefs offseason was the acquisition of LG Joe Thuney on the first day of free agency. The Chiefs and Thuney agreed to a massive five-year, $80 million contract that made Thuney the highest paid guard in the league.

Thuney spent the first four seasons of his career blocking for Tom Brady in New Englad and won two Super Bowls. Calling him an upgrade to the Chiefs interior offensive line is an understatement.

A week before the NFL draft, the Chiefs traded their first-round pick in a pick swap for disgruntled Baltimore RT Orlando Brown Jr. Brown wanted to play LT, but was blocked on the Ravens roster by All-Pro LT Ronnie Stanley. Brown is only 25 years-old and is now the Chiefs franchise LT.

In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Chiefs selected now-starting center Creed Humphrey with the 63rd overall pick and found a starting RG in the sixth round with the selection of Trey Smith. Smith fell in the draft because of injury concerns, but beat out every returning Chiefs linemen for a starting spot this offseason.

Finally, the Chiefs will start 2020 third-round pick Lucas Niang at RT after he opted out of the 2020 season. If you’re counting along with me, that’s five new offensive line starters for the reigning AFC champions.

Season Preview

– Offense

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes might be the second-most well-known NFL player in the world at this point, only behind his 44-year-old rival Tom Brady. There’s no real need to break down his dazzling arm talent and highlight reel playmaking ability. I think it’s safe to say he’s considered the best QB in the league by the majority of the public.

Andy Reid’s Chiefs offense is taking a completely different philosophical approach in 2021 than we’ve ever seen. For the first time since Mahomes took over as the starter, the Chiefs didn’t prioritize adding an offensive weapon to add to their arsenal.

Reports indicated that Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster turned down a better offer from the Chiefs to return to the Steelers. But even then, the Chiefs showed restraint by not overpaying for talent available on the market, a bad habit of Reid and GM Brett Veach that has potentially set their dynasty back.

Instead, the Chiefs will utilize a very narrow target tree. TE Travis Kelce is the best tight end in football and is the focal point of the passing attack. WR Tyreek Hill is one of the best receivers in the league hands down. After that, Mahomes will distribute targets to whoever seizes the role as the #3 option.

I’m a believer and apologist for third-year WR Mecole Hardman. Hardman has made numerous clutch plays for the Chiefs. One could argue that Hardman saved the Chiefs 2019 Super Bowl season. The Chiefs were trailing 24-0 with 10:54 remaining in the second quarter of the divisional round against the Texans. Hardman ripped off a 58 yard kickoff return that electrified the team and set up a touchdown. It would be the first 7 points of an unreal 51-7 run to close out the game.

Hardman has a massive opportunity to become the WR2 that the Chiefs drafted him to be. Hardman came in to the league at a very young age and is still only 23 years-old. WR Sammy Watkins is now a Baltimore Raven. The Chiefs didn’t add a single pass catcher of note this offseason, and Hardman is regularly listed as the WR2 on the Chiefs depth chart.

Another potential breakout candidate is second-year RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Many expected “CEH” to be the top rookie running back of the 2020 draft class. He failed to live up to those lofty expectations. But Edwards-Helaire was a prolific pass-catching back in college and only caught 36 passes his rookie year. I expect much higher utilization through the air, and wide running lanes behind his beefed up offensive line.

– Defense

It’s evolution, not revolution, for the Chiefs defense. Steve Spagnuolo has been a remarkable defensive coordinator since taking the Chiefs job. The Chiefs defense features stars SS Tyrann Mathieu and DL Chris Jones, two of the best at their respective positions.

DE Frank Clark is the Chiefs primary pass-rusher, but the roles will shift along the defensive line in 2021. The Chiefs made an underrated signing of former-Seahawk DT Jarran Reed, who will see a ton of snaps in the interior. This will allow Chris Jones to line up all across the defensive front and create more 1-on-1 matchups for the Pro-Bowler.

Second-round pick LB Nick Bolton will have a big role as a rookie. LB Anthony Hitchens has been underwhelming for many years now, and Bolton is the future core LB for this team. The Chiefs are hoping Bolton and second-year LB Willie Gay will make them younger, faster, and stronger on defense.

CB Bashaud Breeland signed with the Vikings, leaving more work to be done for rookie standout CB L’Jarius Sneed. The Chiefs have been bargain shopping at CB ever since they traded CB Marcus Peters all those years ago. Sneed, Charvarius Ward, Mike Hughes, DeAndre Baker, and Rashad Fenton are a hodge podge group. But Spagnuolo has gotten a lot out of unproven corners for the Chiefs.

– 2021 Prediction

The Chiefs are heavy favorites to win the division. Further, they are strong contenders for the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Chiefs have hosted three straight AFC Championship Games and are 2-1 during that span.

I won’t make a playoff prediction for the Chiefs, but expect to see them playing January football. Very few teams across the entire NFL are in the same class as the Chiefs. I do question the depth on defense and at the offensive skill positions, but Mahomes and Reid elevate their team so much that it’s hard to be too concerned.

2021 could very well be the season of the Chiefs hosting a fourth straight AFCCG and winning a second Super Bowl in the Mahomes era. But bad injury luck or a lack of timely plays could see this team upset in the first round of the playoffs. But expect a strong season assuming no major injuries.

2021 Projection: 14-3, 1st in AFC West

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