It’s rare to see a team win their division (and double-digit games), and kick off their offseason by trading away their quarterback who was named to the Pro Bowl each of the last two years.
But that’s exactly what Kansas City did this winter. Why? Think of it as one small step backwards, in order to take two big steps forward.
Quarterback: Even with quarterback Alex Smith finishing with career-highs in passing yards (4,042) and touchdown passes (26) last year, the Chiefs decided “the future is now,” trading away Smith and ushering in the Patrick Mahomes era for good. Mahomes looked okay in his one start last year, throwing for 284 yards in a win against Denver in Week 17 (albeit with no touchdown passes). But what Kansas City really wants is for Mahomes to use his abundant arm strength and start challenging defenses vertically, in a way that Smith never could consistently do. Mahomes will likely struggle early — the word out of OTA’s is that he’s been somewhat erratic — but he’s in a great situation, as far as a coach and staff that can cultivate him properly.
Running Back: The 6th running back taken in the 2017 NFL Draft entered training camp as something of an afterthought, but by the end of the season, rookie running back Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing yards, finishing with 1,327 yards on the ground. He might’ve been the most valuable player in fantasy football over the first half of last season, accumulating over 1,000 combined yards from scrimmage and six total touchdowns. Even down the stretch in December, Kansas City was giving him more than 20 carries per game on average, confirming that he’s now the focal point of this offense. Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West might allow Hunt to get a breather every now and then, but likely won’t contribute any more than that.
Wide Receiver: One of the big reasons why the Chiefs decided to go with a quarterback who can challenge defenses vertically is because of the weapons they had — and added — on offense. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill might be the fastest receiver in football, showing an ability to absolutely torch one-on-one coverage by defenses. Opposite of Hill, Kansas City added Sammy Watkins. While Watkins is now on his third team in three years, he still possesses one of the most dangerous combinations of size and speed, and has always been a fantastic deep threat receiver. Even though he only caught 39 passes last year, eight of them were for touchdowns. Outside of fourth-year player Chris Conley, who will likely start off in the slot but played in only five games last year, the rest of the Chiefs’ depth chart at the position is rather thin.
Tight end: You can easily argue that the Chiefs have the most valuable tight end in the NFL, not named Rob Gronkowski. Kelce tied Gronkowski and Zach Ertz for the 2nd-most touchdown passes caught by a tight end, but actually led the NFL in catches by a tight end (83). The ability of the Chiefs’ receivers to spread out the defense and make them respect their vertical speed will open up so much room for Kelce to patrol the middle of the field and catch a ton of passes on seam routes. Expect him to serve as Mahomes “safety blanket,” much in the same manner as he did for Alex Smith.