STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The theme of the Chiefs' 2011 season was turmoil. Before the season even kicked off, first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin broke his thumb in a locker room fight with Thomas Jones, ultimately causing him to miss his first five career games. Then ACL's started giving out left and right. First, Tony Moeaki, their only receiving threat at tight end, tore his in the team's final preseason game. Then it was star safety Eric Berry in Week 1, followed the very next week by Jamaal Charles, the team's most dynamic offensive weapon. If that wasn't enough, Matt Cassel broke his right hand in Week 10, and after a 5-8 start, head coach Todd Haley was fired.
But that's when the bleeding stopped. The adversity toughened the Chiefs and they rallied around interim coach Romeo Crennel to somehow stop the undefeated Green Bay Packers' train with a shocking 19-14 win in Week 15. In three games under Crennel, they came within an overtime loss to Oakland of miraculously winning the AFC West, instead finishing 7-9 on the season.
Now for the third straight year, the Chiefs enter an offseason with coaching transitions in play. In part because of the impact of the Green Bay upset, Crennel gets a chance to stick around. With his prior experience as head coach of the Browns to call upon and the respect and admiration that the team's players have for him, he should be able to get the team back on track to compete for the division title, particularly if his trio of ACL stars recover smoothly. The addition of Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator was a necessary and savvy move after the Chiefs finished just 31st in points scored and 27th in total yards last year. Daboll's ability to elevate a run game and his prior relationship with free agent signee Peyton Hillis should go a long way towards boosting the team's offensive efficiency.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Chiefs are just a few pieces away from boasting a championship-caliber unit. Even without Berry, their best ball-hawk and playmaker, they still finished 11th and 12th respectively in yards and points allowed in 2011. They also struggled through the season with a pedestrian defensive line, but the addition of nimble giant Dontari Poe in the first round of the draft could cure that. Throw in Justin Houston's late season emergence as an impact edge rusher – and the presence of Tamba Hali opposite him – and you have the recipe for a highly potent pass rush. The foundation is there for Crennel, one of the league's best defensive minds, to mold this unit into something very special, something that could pave the way to another Chiefs' division title.
Peyton Hillis, RB (Browns)
A huge upgrade over Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle as the No. 2 back, Hillis should work as an excellent thunder complement to Charles' lightning out of the backfield.
Eric Winston, OT (Texans)
Winston steps in immediately as the starting right tackle and should be a big help for Jamaal Charles and Hillis as one of the league's better run-blocking tackles.
Brady Quinn, QB (Broncos)
Quinn made some noise last summer in Broncos camp, reportedly challenging Kyle Orton for the starting spot. This summer, he gets to chase Matt Cassel, who is coming off an awful year.
Kevin Boss, TE (Raiders)
Boss provides much needed depth with Tony Moeaki coming off a torn ACL and carrying serious durability concerns.
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis (Round 1, 11th overall)
A mammoth space-eater with quick feet, Poe should start immediately at the nose.
Devon Wylie, WR Fresno State (Round 4, 107th overall)
A speedy slot receiver with impact return skills, GM Scott Pioli is hoping he has found the next Wes Welker.
Kyle Orton, QB (Cowboys)
Orton finished 2011 strong and would have challenged Cassel for the starting gig if he had remained a Chief.
Brandon Carr, CB (Cowboys)
Pairing with Brandon Flowers, Carr gave Kansas City one of the league's better corner duos. In his absence, Stanford Routt will need to step up.
THE ACL TRIPLETS
A three-week stretch that devestated the Chiefs' 2011 campaign saw the ACL monster strike Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles. Now the progress of their recoveries is the most pivotal story line hanging over Arrowhead Stadium. If each can return to the form he displayed in 2010, Kansas City instantly becomes a team few will want to tangle with. Charles, the most dynamic playmaker of the group, could again be a vital cog in the offense if his speed and quick-twitch cutting ability returns after rehabbing his knee. If so, he and Peyton Hillis could be the best one-two punch at running back in the league and both might threaten 1,000 yards on the ground. Berry is also a crucial piece of the defense as a rangy ball hawk in the mold of Ed Reed. If healthy, he could transform the Chiefs' defense into an elite group and be a top-notch IDP himself. With Moeaki, the passing game could regain a versatility it lacked in 2011 as he can be a seam-stretching tight end who demands safety attention and causes headaches for opposing defenses. Kansas City will be deeper this season either way, but with these pieces back—all the way back—they could be a very scary team to face. But all the way back is a big “if.”
Matt Cassel got his start in the league backing up Tom Brady, and now he'll have to fend off another Brady to keep his starting job. While Brady Quinn certainly can't compare to Tom Terrific, he is still a gifted player who was brought in to compete for the job. And though Cassel will enter training camp as the presumptive starter, Quinn could create a quarterback controversy with a strong preseason. After a breakout 2010, Cassel's numbers dropped off considerably during his nine-game 2011 campaign, and Romeo Crennel has spent his first offseason as Kansas City's head man hinting at his disappointment with the position and hinting at a competition. If Cassel should struggle early, it could become the first shot of Quinn's career to run an offense with ample weapons.
THE BOWE EFFECT
This type of situation is generally nothing until it becomes something, but like the Vincent Jackson holdout in 2010, Dwayne Bowe has publicly voiced his refusal to sign his franchise tag. So unless the Chiefs give Bowe his desired extension, it remains possible that he will hold out for at least a portion of training camp, which could include preseason games. While a Jackson-esque holdout would be surprising under the current CBA, any holdout will open the door to more reps for Steve Breaston, Jonathan Baldwin and Devon Wylie, all of whom could see their value rise late in the drafting season.
RISING: Peyton Hillis was a bust in Cleveland in 2011, but now reunited with Brian Daboll, his coordinator from 2010, a bounce-back could be in the works.
DECLINING: Matt Cassel struggled mightily in 2011, ended the year with a broken hand and has a real chance to lose his job to Brady Quinn if he struggles early.
SLEEPER: Jonathan Baldwin is big, fast and can make the circus catch look routine. If he gets a better grasp of the offense, watch out.
SUPERSLEEPER: Devon Wylie doesn't need Acme rockets. With his own burners, this Wylie could actually catch the Road Runner.
Derrick Johnson, LB
With back-to-back seasons over 120 total tackles, there are few safer IDP's.
Eric Berry, S
If he can bounce back from a torn ACL, this do-it-all safety could be an elite playmaker.
Tamba Hali, LB
With Justin Houston providing another threat, Hali will see less double teams.
RotoWire Rank: 26