Here’s a look at each position heading into 2015, and the group’s overall grade in 2014.
Alex Smith was about what the Chiefs expected this season. As the steward of coach Andy Reid’s offense, Smith generally did a good job taking care of the football and finished with a decent-enough stat line, completing 65.3 percent of his passes for 3,265 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. However, for most of the season, he also lived up to his reputation for being super-careful with the football, which cost the Chiefs at times. To be fair, a leaky offensive line and a below-average group of receivers had plenty to do with that. Regardless, if the Chiefs surround Smith with more talent this offseason — as general manager John Dorsey hinted at earlier this week — all eyes will be on Smith next season to take a few more shots and become a complete quarterback. Chiefs fans better hope he does — Smith’s four-year extension, which kicks in this year, will make it difficult to part ways anytime soon.
Backup Chase Daniel is valuable because of his professionalism. He fared well in his start against the Chargers in the season finale, proving he could potentially take the reins if Smith is injured again.
Running backs: A-
Star running back Jamaal Charles was again the Chiefs’ most dynamic offensive weapon, recording 246 touches for 1,324 yards and 14 touchdowns — the third most in the league — but it speaks to his brilliance that his performance this year did not match the transcendent season he had last year, when he finished third in voting for the NFL’s offensive player of the year. Considering his age, 28, and the myriad injuries he played through this season, it’s safe to wonder how many more elite seasons Charles has left. Fullback Anthony Sherman was snubbed from the Pro Bowl again, but he remains one of Dorsey’s best acquisitions. Sherman is a solid run blocker who gives the team some attitude and is also a crucial member of the Chiefs’ special-teams units.
The fact no receiver scored a single touchdown this season is embarrassing, but some of that is obviously on the quarterback and the play caller (Reid). Regardless, the grade for this group would have been an “F” had Albert Wilson and Jason Avant not come on the last month of the season. Wilson, a speedy rookie, gave the unit the downfield speed it lacked for most of the season once Donnie Avery suffered a core muscle injury. Wilson needs to tighten his route running and learn the playbook better, but he is promising. Meanwhile, Avant was signed as a free agent and immediately added a dash of professionalism to the group. Much was made about Dwayne Bowe’s commitment to training last offseason, but his stats (60 catches, 754 yards) are eerily similar to last year (57 catches, 673 yards). Youngsters Junior Hemingway, Frankie Hammond and A.J. Jenkins all failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity this fall, either because of injury or performance.
Tight ends: B
Travis Kelce recovered from the microfracture surgery that wiped out his rookie year to become one of the game’s best tight ends, with 67 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns. His combination of passion and athleticism make comparisons to Rob Gronkowski and Jeremy Shockey reasonable, but he needs to mature — which Reid told him, personally — and Kelce also needs to do a better job of holding on to the ball (three lost fumbles). By the end of the season, he overtook veteran Anthony Fasano as it relates to snaps. Fasano played in 15 games this season and had some nice moments as a receiver with 25 catches for 226 yards and four touchdowns, but largely served as a hit-or-miss blocker. Six-foot-seven Demetrius Harris is an interesting young player who largely served as a blocker before he suffered a season-ending injury midway through the season. The Chiefs’ three-tight-end sets were never the same.
Offensive line: D
This is a group that made a little traction in the running game, but the pass protection was far too spotty. With a career year, center Rodney Hudson was easily the unit’s best player. Left tackle Eric Fisher showed promise at times, but he also had some bad moments and can’t afford another year like this. If he does, people will absolutely start throwing around “bust” with impunity. Mike McGlynn gave the group some attitude and was a veteran influence next to Fisher, but on the whole, the left-guard position was a disaster after Jeff Allen was lost for the season in the opener. Right guard Zach Fulton is a big body who endured typical rookie struggles and started to wear down. Right tackle Ryan Harris competently replaced Donald Stephenson, who never made an impact after he was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs.
Defensive line: B-
This unit starts with nose tackle Dontari Poe, who was solid enough, but overall didn’t match his breakout sophomore season. He seemed to wear down toward the end of the year — either that, or he was playing hurt. Defensive end Allen Bailey was solid against the run and pass and was rewarded with a four-year extension. Defensive end Jaye Howard came on toward the end of season in his first year as a starter once run-stuffer Mike DeVito — who was still missed — went down in the season opener. End Vance Walker was productive in surprisingly little playing time, and the same can be said for fellow end Kevin Vickerson, a veteran who still has something left in the tank.
Outside linebackers: A
Tamba Hali and Justin Houston remain one of the league’s best pass-rushing duos. First-round pick Dee Ford showed promise toward the end of the season but still needs to improve his strength, technique and run defense. The Chiefs also worked in another youngster, Josh Martin, on occasion, and veteran Frank Zombo’s versatility and special-teams prowess was welcome. Provided Ford pans out, the long-term outlook for this position is good.
Inside linebackers: D
Veteran Derrick Johnson’s presence was missed, as the Chiefs finished 28th in run defense after finishing 22nd last season. His replacement, Josh Mauga, did an admirable job filling Johnson’s large shoes, but Mauga’s play seemed to tail off toward the end of the year as the dings and dents of the season set in. Veteran Joe Mays gave the unit a boost when he stepped in for James-Michael Johnson in November, but the unit, as a whole, was far too inconsistent against the run, as gap discipline and tackling were issues at times. The pass defense here was OK.
Sean Smith completed his best season as a pro after a rocky start to the offseason with his June DUI arrest. He was relegated to the second team in August but eventually won his starting job back and was easily the Chiefs’ best defender in the secondary. He played with passion and rarely allowed completions over his head, and would have been a worthy Pro Bowl selection. Jamell Fleming went from the practice squad to the starting lineup after Marcus Cooper was benched after the bye week. Both Fleming and third-round pick Phillip Gaines need to improve their technique, but both were impressive in spurts and have earned opportunities to be contributors next season. Nickel cornerback Chris Owens gave the group some needed fire but was never the same after suffering a knee injury in week five against San Francisco.
Husain Abdullah had a solid year as a starter. He played in the box, played deep and generally did a decent job filling the role three-time Pro Bowler Eric Berry played last year. Berry’s year was essentially wiped out by foot injuries and his diagnosis of lymphoma. Ron Parker stepped in and fared well against the pass, but his tackling needs to improve. Kurt Coleman had a nice year as the third safety. He showed a willingness to hit and also led the team in interceptions with three. By the way, the Chiefs’ lack of interceptions — six, tied for dead last in the league — dropped the grades for both secondary units.
Special teams: B-
A good, but not great, year for special-teams coach Dave Toub. Knile Davis had a kick-return touchdown, De’Anthony Thomas had a punt-return TD, and the Chiefs didn’t allow a return touchdown all year. Punter Dustin Colquitt had another excellent year, while kicker Cairo Santos shook off a rough start and converted 25 of 30 field goals. His work on kickoffs, however, leaves plenty to be desired. The Chiefs also allowed the Broncos to convert a fake punt and failed to convert one of their own.
The Chiefs’ 2-4 finish, not to mention embarrassing losses to Tennessee and Oakland, ding a grade that seemed destined to be an “A” midway through the season. Despite his occasional tendency to forget the run game, Reid got the most out of an offense that was flawed at two key positions: receiver and offensive line. And while the defense could have used more creativity, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton turned around a pass defense that was terrible toward the end of last season. It would have been really interesting to see what this unit could have accomplished if DeVito and Derrick Johnson didn’t get hurt. The special teams, under Toub, were solid enough.