The Andy Reid-led Kansas City Chiefs are once again going largely unnoticed heading into an NFL season.
Reid is no stranger to being overlooked as a legitimate championship contender as a head coach. After falling short of glory numerous times in his career during seasons in which his teams were good for almost two decades now, one could even say that the 58-year-old has grown accustomed to it.
That said, if the Chiefs’ roster is any indicator, 2016 might be the year that the coach and his team finally break through. Roster-ogling noted, three factors stood out after watching the tape of this squad’s preseason games.
It’s time for Dee Ford to step up
The Chiefs’ 2014 first-round pick, Dee Ford, is vital to this team’s chances in 2016. Ford, who started five games last year, no longer has anyone to find solace behind on the Chiefs roster.
Tamba Hali has been operating on a pair of balky knees for years. The 33-year-old has come to a point in his career where he will not be used as an every-down player, but rather as a specialist in pass-rushing situations.
Hali’s fellow quarterback nightmare, Justin Houston, had ACL surgery on a bum knee in the offseason as well. The Chiefs subsequently placed the 27-year-old on the PUP list; meaning he won’t be back until at least game seven of the regular season — and possibly later.
The safety net is now officially gone for Ford, who did manage a career-high four sacks in 2015. Despite the decent sack total, Ford was regularly exposed against the run and even graded out with an atrocious Pro Football Focus (subscription) pass-rush grade of 43.6. All told, his overall PFF grade of 41.0 ranked him 102nd in the NFL at his position.
The Auburn product worked extensively on his hip flexibility (taking up yoga), as well as expanding his pass-rushing repertoire during the offseason. However, for his team to be successful, Ford’s production must mirror the work he’s put in.
Otherwise, Ford will find himself on the fast-track to being labeled a bust. And the Chiefs will once again find themselves falling short of their championship aspirations.
Alex Smith is poised for a career year
Even with the acquisition of Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs were once again limited at the wide receiver position in 2015.
In spite of this reality, Smith somehow managed to finish the season ranked tenth-best in the NFL in quarterback rating (95.4), eighth-best in QBR (66.5), tenth-best in adjusted yards per pass attempt (AYPA) at 7.6 yards per, and put up the fourth-best interception rate at 1.5 percent in the NFL, per Pro Football Reference.
Not only does Smith now have Maclin and stud tight end Travis Kelce to throw to, but the Chiefs will field one of the most talented wide receiver corps in the NFL this year.
Sure, names like Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, Tyreek Hill, De’Anthony Thomas and Demarcus Robinson may not jump off the page to the casual fan — but the cadre of targets is indeed a very dynamic bunch.
Jamaal Charles turns 30-years-old in December and is coming off of his second major knee injury. Thus, expect the Chiefs to curb the running back’s usage and look to the air more; and with the way Smith was throwing the ball this preseason — fans shouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the 31-year-old puts up the best year of his career.
The Chiefs are incredibly deep on offense
In a concept completely foreign to Kansas City fans for a long time, the Chiefs were so deep on offense this preseason, that they had to let several talented players go.
Among the casualties, receiver and return man Frankie Hammond was released. The team also traded wide receiver Rod Streater to the San Francisco 49ers due to Hill, Robinson, Wilson and Conley securing roster spots via their play in the season’s tuneup period.
At running back, the Chiefs cut Darrin Reaves despite him seeing more reps than any other running back on the roster. And last, but certainly not least, the Chiefs had an abundance at the most important position in the game — quarterback — which left them in the awkward position of releasing both Aaron Murray and Kevin Hogan to trim the roster to 53.
Lack of fanfare aside, the Chiefs have indeed built themselves an extremely dangerous squad.
Will Reeve is a podcaster and national NFL and NBA Columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He also is a contributor for the Rams Wire of the USA Today Sports Media Group. ESPN Radio, NBC Sports Radio, Sirius XM Radio and many others have featured his work and Will himself on their programs. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook.