STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Chiefs entered the 2013 campaign coming off a franchise worst 2-14 effort. Though expectations were understandably modest out of the gate, under new coach Andy Reid, the team took the league by storm, beginning the season with nine straight wins. Though the Chiefs lost five of their last seven games, the team's 11-5 record was good enough to land a playoff slot. The keys to the turnaround were the acquisition of Alex Smith, who provided stability at quarterback, as well as the outstanding play of star running back Jamaal Charles and an improved defense.
However, outside of Charles, who scored 19 total touchdowns, the team's offense lacked consistency. The Chiefs finished 21st in the league with 337.2 total yards per game, including 24th via the pass by recording a pedestrian 208.8 passing yards per contest. On the other hand, the defense fared far better, giving up just 19.1 points per outing, while recording 47 sacks and forcing 36 turnovers. The latter figure doubled the amount given away by the offense, resulting in the second-best differential in the league behind Seattle.
In the upcoming campaign, the Chiefs will feature a thinned-out pass-catching corps due to the offseason loss of Dexter McCluster, who caught 53 passes last year and provided a dependable option on punt returns. As a possible replacement, the organization used a 2014 fourth-round pick on the versatile De'Anthony Thomas. Meanwhile, the explosive Charles returns healthy after getting his bell rung in the team's playoff loss to the Colts and will once again be backed up by the bruising Knile Davis, who is bouncing back from a leg injury that he sustained in the same game. Along with the aforementioned jaunts to the end zone, Charles caught a team-high 70 passes in 2013, and the Chiefs will need more production from others in that department in order to diversify their offense. The team's current wide receiver group is headed by Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins and Junior Hemingway. As such, the Chiefs may lean on their trio of tight ends – Anthony Fasano, Sean McGrath and Travis Kelce – to bring a much-needed boost to the passing game.
Defensively, the Chiefs boast one of the league's top outside linebacker duos in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, who combined for 22 sacks last season. To add to their pass-rushing riches, the team selected linebacker Dee Ford in the first round of this year's draft. Meanwhile, 2012's top pick, Dontari Poe, capably mans the nose tackle slot. In the secondary, the Chiefs were unable to hold onto safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps, but they re-signed Husain Abdullah to help fill the void. Moreover, the team still rosters key cogs in cornerback Sean Smith and safety Eric Berry, while cornerback Phillip Gaines was scooped up the third round of the draft.
De'Anthony Thomas – RB, Oregon (Round 4, 124th Overall)
Has the versatility to help fill the void created by the departure of Dexter McCluster.
Aaron Murray – QB, Georgia (Round 5, 163rd Overall)
Could make a case to be the QB of the future if the team fails to extend Alex Smith's deal.
Joe Mays – LB, Texans
The veteran linebacker may start inside and emerge as a volume tackler.
Dee Ford – LB, Auburn (Round 1, 23rd Overall)
The pass-rushing specialist provides long-term support for Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
Vance Walker – DE, Raiders
The veteran should work as a DE, helping to replace Tyson Jackson.
Dexter McCluster – WR/RB, Titans
His loss could be largely offset by the addition of De'Anthony Thomas.
Branden Albert – OT, Dolphins
The Pro Bowler's exit leaves the Chiefs looking for answers on the offensive line.
Tyson Jackson – DE, Falcons
The Chiefs opted not to re-sign the former first-round pick after five solid seasons.
A BACKUP PLAN
In his first campaign with the Chiefs, quarterback Alex Smith put together his finest season as a pro in 2013, passing for 3,313 yards and throwing 23 touchdowns. He is, however, scheduled to become a free agent in 2015, and with contract talks stalling, the Chiefs invested in an insurance policy in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, namely Aaron Murray, who is bouncing back from an ACL injury. Murray lacks ideal size, but he was productive in college and once his knee is up to speed, he'll provide the Chiefs with a quarterback to develop within Andy Reid's system. If contract negotiations with Smith fall through and the Chiefs decide to let the veteran hit the open market, Murray could conceivably find himself vying with the likes of Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray to be the team's No. 1 signal-caller as soon as next year.
The Chiefs' rushing attack averaged 128.5 yards a game last season, thanks in large part to the efforts of star running back Jamaal Charles and a solid performance from the offensive line. Charles notched a career-high 12 touchdowns on the ground, while gaining 1,287 rushing yards in his first year working under coach Andy Reid. Meanwhile, rookie Knile Davis emerged as the clear backup behind Charles. He rushed for a combined 148 yards on 45 carries and three rushing touchdowns when given added opportunities in Week 17 and the Chiefs' playoff loss to the Colts. The Chiefs' offensive line was hit hard by free agency after the season. Guards Jon Asamoah, Geoff Schwartz and Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert all signed elsewhere this offseason. To help patch the holes in the offensive line, the Chiefs signed Jeff Linkenbach, whose versatility and starting experience should add much needed O-line depth, and second-year player Eric Fisher will move back to his more natural position of left tackle.
TIME TO STEP UP
Last March, Dwayne Bowe signed a lucrative five-year $56 million deal with the Chiefs. He responded by hauling in a modest total of 57 receptions on 103 targets for 673 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games. Bowe, however, wasn't the only underachiever in the Chiefs' passing game. Outside of running back Jamaal Charles, not a single player on the team's offense had more than the above-mentioned 57 receptions, and only two players (Bowe and Dexter McCluster) had more than 50 receptions on the season. With a little improvement from Bowe and fellow wideouts Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins, along with the potential emergence of tight end Travis Kelce and draftee De'Anthony Thomas, the Chiefs' attack could field enough steady options to resuscitate the team's passing game in 2014.
Rising: Assuming he bounces back from knee woes, Travis Kelce could thrive in a Chiefs' passing attack that makes a living off of short-to-intermediate routes.
Declining: Although Anthony Fasano is the best blocking tight end on the roster, his fantasy upside may be hampered by the potential emergence of Kelce.
Sleeper: With Dexter McCluster gone, De'Anthony Thomas should fill in, not just as a returner, but also as an occasional slot receiver due to his big-play ability.
Supersleeper: The Chiefs failed to add any significant players at wide receiver, giving A.J. Jenkins – a 2012 first-rounder – an opportunity to finally emerge as a factor.
Tamba Hali - LB
The elite pass rusher has recorded 32 sacks over the past three seasons.
Justin Houston - LB
Missed five games last season, but still managed to rack up 11 sacks.
Eric Berry - S
A turnover machine who ranks as one of the NFL's top playmakers at his position.
RotoWire Rank: 7