This is the last Minutes of 2016, and by the accepted rules of the Internet we’re all supposed to come up with year-end lists, but I break rules all the time, so here is a next-year list.
Here, ranked, the 10 local sports folk with the most going on in 2017:
1. Eric Hosmer. The Royals’ best hitter wasn’t nearly as good in 2016 as his 25 homers and 104 RBIs suggest. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season, and his ability to lead the championship core for one last season could be the difference of $50 million or so on his next contract.
2. Alex Smith. Everything is on the table now. If he plays like he’s capable, he could be the first Chiefs quarterback since Joe Montana to play in an AFC Championship Game, or even the only one besides Len Dawson to play in a Super Bowl. If he plays like he’s played too often this season, he could be someone else’s quarterback next season.
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3. Tyreek Hill. A legitimate star, somehow, the fifth-round pick serving a suspended sentence for a stomach-turning crime. He’s been the story of the Chiefs this year, and the team needs him to continue his humility and production.
4. Josh Jackson. A better basketball player if inferior athlete and pro prospect when compared to Andrew Wiggins’ freshman year, Jackson is off to a terrific start. He should be a top-three NBA pick, and if Wiggins will always be the comparison, Jackson can be remembered for having a better freshman season if he performs in the NCAA Tournament.
5. Bruce Weber. He’s coaching for his job. K-State is much better than last year, and not as good as its 11-1 record. He could be fired, or be negotiating a new contract. A guess on how this ends: 22-12, fifth place in the Big 12, a second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed, and a contract extension that will annoy a loud section of the fan base.
6. Barry Odom. One more disappointing season won’t cost his job like Weber, but it will dig a hole he’d have a heck of a time getting out of. It could mean the difference in how long Odom can recruit to the new south end zone project.
7. Jesse Ertz. He’s been better than he’s probably given credit for this year, and assuming Bill Snyder returns in the fall we’ll hear a lot about the old man’s record with a returning quarterback. The list of quarterbacks to win 10 or more games for Snyder: Matt Miller, Michael Bishop, Jonathan Beasley, Ell Roberson and Collin Klein.
8. Danny Duffy. He will probably sign a contract extension worth many tens of millions of dollars in 2017, which is always a nice place to start. He has been the Royals’ best starting pitcher in two of the last three seasons, and aside from trying to win in this One Last Ride 2017 season, he can choose to stick around and join Sal Perez as the faces of the next run (if there’s a next run).
9. Peter Vermes. There is an argument for Vermes as the best coach in Kansas City sports*, and this will be perhaps his most challenging year yet. Sporting will likely look a lot different in 2017 than the team we’ve come to know, and Vermes is the one making the decisions.
* For me, he’d be behind Bill Snyder and Bill Self, but ahead of Andy Reid.
10. Andy Reid. No matter how this ends — playoff run or playoff choke — it will be Reid’s team and his blame or credit. A combination of bad luck (this will likely be the second year in a row they have the NFL’s best non-division-winning record) and key mistakes (most notably Alex Smith’s interceptions in the end zone) will likely keep them from a first-round bye, and the Chiefs’ ability to play out of that will determine whether the last four years of building have succeeded or not.
Honorable mention: Drew Lock, Kim Anderson, Sheahon Zenger, Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson, Marcus Peters, Alex Gordon, whoever the poor sap is who becomes the next Chiefs drafted quarterback.
Yes, and it’s not close, and it’s also not a particularly high bar to clear — sort of like wondering where you can find the best cheeseburger served by a sushi restaurant.
My first year covering the team was 2010, and that team gave Thomas Jones 245 carries. From top to bottom, by receiving yards: Dwayne Bowe, Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles, Chris Chambers, Dexter McCluster, Terrance Copper and Verran Tucker.
I don’t know what position we’re calling Tyreek Hill now, but if he’s a receiver, he’s the most athletic receiver the Chiefs have had since I’ve been covering them, and Chris Conley may be second*.
* Him or Jon Baldwin, I would think.
Even if you don’t count Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs have at least three players who qualify as freak athletes, even by the NFL’s warped standards: Hill, Travis Kelce and Dontari Poe. Chris Jones probably qualifies, too.
Alex Smith is a better athlete than people give him credit for. Derrick Johnson, if we still count him, has exceptional quickness. De’Anthony Thomas’ agility is terrific. Eric Berry is an underrated combination of strength and movement.
Hill is the one who most changes the dynamic of the team, because there can’t be many franchises in the league that’ve so completely and consistently lacked speed over the years as the Chiefs.
Absolutes like this do not exist as much as we all like to pretend, but it’s hard to imagine the Chiefs improving upon last year’s loss in the divisional round without that athleticism (and gimmicks!) showing up.
This is about Poe, obviously, but I want to make this point: the athleticism is real.
He’s 6-3 and 346 pounds, but if he was 6-1 and 190 pounds he would still be a better athlete than anyone who is likely to be in your next pickup basketball game.
The other night, I went into the Chiefs locker room with essentially two goals: get the name of the play, and ask guys the most athletic thing they’ve seen Poe do.
I kind of wish I didn’t find out the name of the play, because Tebow Pop Pass is a big ol’ letdown, but the answers about Poe’s athleticism were interesting. He wasn’t much help — “I don’t think about it like that, man, I just do it,” he said — but his reaction when I asked if he could dunk was funny.
“Course,” he said. “Dunking’s easy. I’ve been dunking since, like, the 10th grade.”
Demetrius Harris compared Poe to Big Baby, Glen Davis, the basketball star. After Hungry Pig Right, when Andy Reid complimented Poe’s hands, a player told me, “no joke, he might have the softest hands in here, for real.”
It’s easy to forget now, but Poe scored his first professional touchdown by taking a handoff in San Diego and leaping over the pile at the line of scrimmage, and if there is justice in the world that play was called When Pigs Fly.
But the best story I heard came from a few different guys, actually, and apparently this has happened more than once: Poe, in practice, releasing from his blocker to chase a running back out of the backfield on a pass play, turning around and making a clean interception.
Pause for a moment and imagine what that must look like.
It’s easy to get caught up by Poe’s size, and he is an enormous human being, but even if he was undersized for his position he could probably find regular work with his athleticism.
He really is a freak.
Can I opt out of this question? Not because the Chiefs are or aren’t classless, but because I don’t think such a thing exists for how an NFL team calls plays?
I have the same reaction to this question if you told me a friend called the Chiefs a maple tree.
What does this even mean?
If you accept the premise that an NFL team can be classy or classless based on play calling, then, sure, you can call the Chiefs classless for that one. That’s fair. Because — and I wrote this that night — it was a middle finger at anyone who called the Chiefs conservative, or at the Broncos, or at both. And I believe it had elements of both.
I’ve heard people “defend” the decision to call for a jump pass from the nose guard by pointing out the Broncos called timeout with 1:52 left, but I’d like to point out two things.
First, the Chiefs sent Dontari Poe onto the field before the two minute warning, but time ran out.
Second, what the hell are we talking about?
This isn’t high school football. The players involved don’t have homeroom on Monday. The coaches aren’t also gym teachers. Professional sports is entertainment, and that was as entertaining as professional sports can be. Also, these athletes are paid, and they’re paid to stop the other side.
It’s not up to Andy Reid or any other coach to stop his own team, and the next time the Chiefs give up a superfluous touchdown in a blowout loss — and there will be a next time — they better not complain either.
A Broncos fan and Chiefs fan getting into an argument about which of their teams plays without class is like an argument on “Real Housewives.” There will be no winners. These teams both play like pirates* against each other, which is an improvement, because it used to be that the Broncos played like pirates and the Chiefs played like whatever you call the people who get dominated by pirates.
* I’m stealing Terez’s word here.
There is no classy, no classless, only a winner and a loser. For a long, long time, the winner was always the Broncos. Lately, the winner has usually been the Chiefs, and I draw a direct correlation between them finally standing up and punching back.
You guys. There is nothing humble about this brag. Your boy wrote the Chiefs needed to embrace the gimmick, and the Chiefs had their nose guard throw a touchdown pass.
This must be what Sully felt like.
The average age of an NFL player is a shade less than 27 years old, so if we use that as the line of demarcation, here are the Chiefs’ best 10 “young” players:
1. Justin Houston, 27
2. Marcus Peters, 23
3. Travis Kelce, 27
4. Tyreek Hill, 22
5. Chris Jones, 22
6. Dontari Poe, 26
7. Dee Ford, 25
8. Mitch Schwartz, 27
9. Spencer Ware, 25
10. Mitch Morse, 24
Not included on this list: Allen Bailey, Parker Ehinger and Eric Fisher, among others.
The difference in the Royals’ core of four or five years ago is the baseball group essentially came through together, all at once, the front office consciously or otherwise always referring to it as “a wave.”
I guess I knew this, but I’m not sure I consciously realized it until writing that story from Ned Yost’s farm, but from Yost taking over as manager in May 2010 to the end of his first full season here are the players who made their big league or Royals debuts:
Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Sal Perez, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Danny Duffy and Jarrod Dyson.
The economics of the two leagues could not be much different, and it’s more important in baseball for a group to come through at the same time, which is part of why what the Royals are now trying to do is akin to walking a tightrope through a thunderstorm while holding a hungry lion above your head.
So the comparison isn’t clean, but I understand where you’re coming from there.
The advantage the Chiefs have is that the NFL’s pay structure makes it much more plausible for them to keep their good young players than it does the Royals.
Even though the Chiefs may have a very difficult decision this offseason between Eric Berry and Dontari Poe.
Absolutely, if you’ll allow me a few qualifiers: it’s more applicable in the NFL, and personal accountability still matters, so it’s not like you’re doomed if you go to a certain team and you’re not given success if you go to a different team.
It’s all earned, and it’s all done inside a bigger context.
Just to use the Chiefs as an example, there are defensive players here who didn’t get their best shot at success under Dick Vermeil, just as Priest Holmes undoubtedly benefited from the system and stars around him.
If you want to stay current, prospects in the draft have to hope they’re not selected by the Browns, but Joe Thomas is good enough that he’s considered among the best tackles in the world.
This is a little different, and it may distract from the point, but I’ll say it anyway: Kevin Durant is one of the best five basketball players on the planet, no matter what team he’s on, but put him in that cocoon of highlights in Golden State and he is shooting the best percentage of his career, with more rebounds and fewer turnovers than ever before.
There’s a metaphor for life in here somewhere. We’re all products of our environment, on some level. I am proud to admit up front I had a head start on many because of two amazing and loving and supportive parents, but I still could’ve screwed it all up*.
* I heard your joke there, and honestly, it wasn’t bad.
We can all think of people who’ve been given bad breaks and overcome them, or been gifted advantages and thrown them away.
I don’t know if this is where you’re coming from, but Alex Smith’s NFL career began in about as bad a situation as possible, other than a big ol’ fat paycheck. The 49ers were dysfunctional, churning through failed coach after failed coach, and he even missed significant time because a doctor botched what should’ve been a routine surgery.
When Jim Harbaugh got there, and brought some competence — some weird competence, but still — Smith played much better.
He won 19 of 50 starts, and threw 53 interceptions and 51 touchdowns in six years for the bad coaches. He went 19-5-1, beat Drew Brees in a playoff shootout, and came without a bonkers series of mistakes he had nothing to do with from making the Super Bowl with Jim Harbaugh.
Now, obviously, if you had beer with some of those coaches from before they might say Smith held them back. And as good as the 49ers were with Harbaugh and Smith, they actually did go to the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick.
But, still. I don’t know how anyone could deny a correlation here.
Well, let’s pump the brakes a little bit here.
Travis Kelce is one of my favorite football players. I like his talent, but I love how he plays, cocky in all the right ways, but still seems to maintain a recognition that he’s just a football player in other ways.
But, come on. Kelce is having the best season of his career. He has 84 catches for 1,117 yards and four touchdowns. He’s become a much better blocker, and has a diverse skill set that’s a terrific match for both Andy Reid and Alex Smith.
But Rob Gronkowski has caught at least 10 touchdowns in every season in which he’s played more than eight games. He has 1,124 yards or more in three seasons, and 10 touchdowns or more in five.
I understand the concern about Gronkowski’s injuries, but even if he doesn’t play another game here are the two men’s career stats:
Kelce has 223 catches for 2,854 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Gronkowski has 405 catches for 6,095 yards and 68 touchdowns.
They’re essentially the same age, too. I know this was Gronkowski’s seventh season, and only Kelce’s fourth, but they were born five months apart.
I do believe this can be answered by the point I often make about what happens when you follow one team.
The Packers are probably the most famous example of this in 2016. They lost four straight, dropping to 4-6, with questions about whether Aaron Rodgers was done, and now they’ve won five straight, including 106 points in their last three wins over the Seahawks, Bears and Vikings, and people are wondering if they’re the best team in the NFC.
The Steelers can relate. One week, they lost to the Eagles 34-3. The next week, they beat the Chiefs 43-14. They beat the Jets 31-13, then lost the next week 30-15 to the Dolphins. They were 4-5, within spitting distance of a lost season, but have now won six in a row and are among the AFC’s most dangerous teams.
NFL games really are often decided on a razor’s edge, among a collection of four or five plays, and the difference between those plays going for big gains or big interception returns can turn scores or general feelings from games into lies.
Speaking of the Steelers...
Well, this is actually the second time I’ve answered this question. The first I did off the top of my head, choosing the Patriots, because they’re the Patriots, and reverse engineering my answer from there.
And I want to be clear that the Chiefs would be a deserved underdog against the Patriots. Probably by five points. Maybe six. They would be playing a road game against the franchise of the 21st century with the lesser quarterback and head coach. That’s less than ideal.
But then I thought about it more, and the answer is the Steelers, and I want to be clear that this is not about what happened on the night of Oct. 2. I actually believe the Chiefs would have more to use from that humiliating loss than the Steelers, and that there is an argument the Chiefs would have a better chance against the Steelers because of that loss than if they had simply not played each other this season.
But the Steelers are a terrible matchup for the Chiefs. Just brutal. Todd Haley, I assume, would design a game plan in which Antonio Brown would be going against cornerbacks other than Marcus Peters. Ben Roethlisberger would negate much of the Chiefs’ pass rush, forcing Alex Smith to score a lot of points against a team that’s ninth in points against, and that’s not a great position for the Chiefs.
The Steelers don’t turn the ball over much, and would have Le’Veon Bell running against a suspect run defense without Derrick Johnson.
My mind would change a little if that game was at Arrowhead, largely because it would also mean the Chiefs would be coming off a bye, but the Steelers are in many ways what a team would look like if it was built to beat these Chiefs.
Neither situation would be great. But I actually think the Chiefs are a better matchup against the Patriots — who would likely be without Gronkowski, struggle to run the ball, and recently scored just 16 points against the Broncos.
I understand where you’re coming from, and I agree that it’s not a total coincidence that Dee Ford had 10 sacks in 10 games with Houston out, and zero since Houston’s return. Ford was better on Sunday rushing from that left side, with Houston again out with an injury, but I think a few points are important here:
▪ The best game any Chiefs edge rusher has had this season was Houston at Denver, and it’s not particularly close.
▪ Houston, if at or near full health, is the Chiefs’ best edge rusher (and, I would argue, their best defender and overall player) and as such he should be the one you work around.
▪ Even if Ford is “diminished” going against the left tackle, he’s still talented enough to demand attention from the offense, and provide the occasional pressure, which is the most important thing.
I’m hoping to have time this week to watch some games, including Sunday’s, and this is part of my list*.
* I also want to test a theory that Alex Smith was very good on Sunday, and is generally playing much better now than earlier in the season (which is noteworthy, because he wasn’t as good in the second half last year as the first).
But, the most important thing here is Houston’s health. Reid was ominous the other day when asked if Houston could miss the playoffs.
“I think we just take it day by day and we just see,” Reid said. “He felt a little bit better (Sunday) than he did the day before. He felt like things were getting better. I think that’s what we’re going on here.”
Reid, like most football coaches, is purposefully vague to the point of inviting misinterpretation, but with that caveat, it’s interesting that he said they’re going on how Houston feels.
That’s how it should be, of course, but if that’s an indication that the doctors think he’s fine but Houston is holding back a bit, it either means he’s being cautious with an eye at the playoffs (good) or he isn’t confident in his knee (less good).
They went through this week-by-week thing last year, with awful results, so this is absolutely worth concern. If he doesn’t play this week, it might even be worth more than that.
Yeah, I think they’re going to be pretty quiet.
I believe the big news this offseason — and if I had to bet, I’d bet it happens sometime during spring training — will be a long-term contract for Danny Duffy. Makes too much sense, for both sides.
Any trade rumor you hear or read involving Duffy, Eric Hosmer, Yordano Ventura, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas or any other other major piece should be taken with skepticism. I’m a firm believer than nobody, on any team, should ever be “un-tradeable,” but I believe the Royals are rightly taking the stance that they would have to be blown away by an offer for one of those guys.
But I want to make another point here, something we’ll probably expand on soon. What the Royals are trying to do here is the hardest thing in sports. Simultaneously winning and building is difficult for any team, even the Dodgers or Yankees, and for a team of the Royals’ means it’s damn near impossible.
I respect the Royals’ ambition in trying to do this, but disagree with the logic behind it, as long as David Glass is unwilling to further expand the payroll. If they’re out of it in July, they will have a lot of pieces that contenders could be interested in, so it’s not exactly an all-in stance here, but that would be a lot of moving parts.
This is all setting up for an emotional season.
So, if you read the fine print, it says West Virginia has a 75 percent chance to win at least a share of the conference title, which is the highest in the conference. “Share” is a key word here, because in theory it means that Kansas and Baylor could have up to a 74 percent chance of winning at least a share of the conference title.
Anyway, I think a few things here, some specific to this projection, others not:
▪ Before the season started, I felt fairly certain that Kansas would win the Big 12 outright, and perhaps by two or three games. That’s changed somewhat, mostly because West Virginia and Baylor look better than expected.
▪ ESPN’s BPI is a JV version of KenPom’s rankings, and KenPom has No. 6 Kansas slightly ahead of No. 7 West Virginia and No. 9 Baylor.
▪ West Virginia is the rest of the league’s best chance to end Kansas’ annoying 12-year run of conference titles, in part because it’s entirely possible they will win all of their home games. We could get super nerdy, and into matchups, and point out that KU’s backcourt should make it a relatively good matchup for West Virginia’s pressure, but the point is going undefeated at home is a huge part of getting to the 14 or so wins it will likely take for (at least a share of) a league title.
▪ I still think Kansas is the best team, with the best coach, and the best homecourt advantage. Maybe their margin for error is lessened with Udoka Azubuike’s injury, because he was going to be their best inside scoring threat, but it was also likely that Landen Lucas was going to beat him out for the majority of the minutes at the 5.
▪ I also think that even if you believe West Virginia or Baylor is better than Kansas — an entirely reasonable stance — it’s still a leap between than and believing anyone other than Kansas is the favorite for the Big 12 title.
▪ I believe Kansas’ conference streak will end next year, not this year, because Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, Josh Jackson, Svi Mykhailiuk are all either certainly or probably gone next year. Self will have another good recruiting class, and Azubuike still has a chance to be the best big Self has had at KU other than Joel Embiid, and Malik Newman will be better than many expect, but still. Next year they’ll be vulnerable.
▪ I’ve probably thought that same thing — “next year they’ll be vulnerable” — three or four times over the last 12 years.
Which brings us to...
I don’t think so. I believe in Spencer Ware (and Tyreek Hill), and think the Chiefs should be able to find inside backers and running backs without using a high draft pick. I am firmly on Team Best Player Available, for every team, in every year, but that’s a boring answer so here is what I believe the Chiefs should be targeting:
▪ A quarterback. It’s time. Not necessarily to start next year, though they should at least be open to that. Either way, if the right guy is available, the Chiefs should take him.
▪ Offensive line. Specifically a physical guard. They need some muscle up front.
▪ Cornerback. Terrance Mitchell is intriguing, and Steve Nelson and Phil Gaines have had moments, but you can’t have too many of these guys behind Marcus Peters.
▪ Wide receiver. I’m a little concerned about Jeremy Maclin.
Those are the big ones, to me, though this list changes depending on what happens with Dontari Poe and Eric Berry.