Analysis

3 underlying weaknesses the Chiefs must fix before next season

As the 2019 season comes to an end, the Kansas City Chiefs have once again found themselves atop of the AFC West and considered to be one of the front runners to make it to the Super Bowl. This is certainly a team with tremendous talent from top to bottom and it could be difficult to spot any flaws in the roster. However, no team is perfect and there are some areas that could use an upgrade. The Chiefs have three positions currently that need to be improved upon before the start of the 2020 season.

Running Back

Running the football has not been a strong suit for the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs. Last season, the team’s best ball carrier Kareem Hunt was caught on camera kicking a woman and then was promptly released from the team. His backup Damien Williams stepped in nicely and did enough at the end of last season to be the presumed 2019 starter. But then, after the preseason ended, the Chiefs signed newly released running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy had a history with Andy Reid from their days together in Philadelphia. In week one, McCoy had 81 yards on 10 carries while Damien Williams only had 26 yards on 13 carries. It was fair to say that the intention was for the two backs to split carries, but McCoy was showing that he should be the feature back. However, McCoy started to decline from that first week some and had a lot of ball security issues. Then, Damien Williams got hurt and so did Darrel Williams, so the team had to resign Spencer Ware. However, Ware got hurt as well. Rookie Darwin Thompson showed some flashes in garbage time for a couple of games, but it was clear that he wasn’t ready to be the feature back. Fortunately, after all the injuries and inconsistency, Damien Williams came back to the team and is starting to look like the back that we saw at the end of last season.

Going into the 2020 season, the Chiefs could use a little more stability at the running back position. McCoy and Ware are free agents this year and I do not think either will be on the roster come next fall. Damien Williams is a guy that can be a feature back, but he will be entering the final year of his two-year deal. A potential free-agent option that I would like to see would be Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry. Henry is a monster and could provide a change of pace running style from what Williams offers. Plus, the Chiefs defense wouldn’t have to try to tackle him anymore. What’s that old saying? If you can’t beat em, join em. Henry is in the final year of his contract in Tennessee and there are rumors that he could get the franchise tag, but if he were allowed to test free agency, I’d love to see him in red.

If the Chiefs were to upgrade the running back position via the draft, I would like to see them get Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. This season Taylor rushed for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns on 320 carries. He added 42 catches for 407 yards and five touchdowns. At 5’11” and 214 pounds, he reminds me of Kareem Hunt and would probably be a feature back like Hunt was. The Chiefs will be drafting at the bottom of the first round, so Taylor may not be around by then, but he would be a nice addition.

Linebacker

Much like running the football was a weakness, stopping the run was as well. I understand that that doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of the linebackers, but when the team’s top two tacklers are a safety (Tyrann Mathieu) and a cornerback (Charvarius Ward), then maybe there is an issue with the linebackers. Tackling, gap assignments and their overall size has been a concern with this group of linebackers. Guys like Ben Niemann and Dorian O’Daniel are too undersized to stop the run but they are decent in coverage, especially O’Daniel. Reggie Ragland plays a limited role because he is a strong side linebacker who only sees the field against heavier offensive personnel. Ragland is a bigger guy who is pretty good against the run, but you wouldn’t want him to do too much in coverage. Damian Wilson and Anthony Hitchens are the other starting linebackers. While Wilson shows flashes at times, Hitchens seems like he is usually a step behind. Being the MIKE linebacker, Hitchens does have more reads and responsibilities, but this is why it is critical for him to be quicker. This team misses prime Derrick Johnson for sure.

In 2020, an upgrade at the MIKE linebacker spot could come through free agency with the addition of Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert. This season, Schobert racked up 133 tackles, broke up nine passes and had a career-high four interceptions. And that’s with Cleveland! Imagine what he could do working with Steve Spagnuolo. Schobert is in his final year with Cleveland and the assumption is that he will not be returning. He would be an excellent fit in Spagnuolo’s defense and athleticism and football IQ would help make the group around him better as well.

If the Chiefs were to try and upgrade the linebackers through the draft, I would like to see them grab Oklahoma linebacker, Kenneth Murray. Murray is an exceptional talent at 6’2” 240 pounds. This season, Murray had 102 tackles with four sacks and led Oklahoma to a top 25 defense before getting smashed by LSU in the Peach Bowl. He is raw and may take time to adjust at the pro level, but he is an athletic freak that has an unbelievable ceiling. I would like to see what Spagnuolo could get out of him.

Cornerback

I really didn’t think I was going to put a cornerback on here, especially with the way this group has been playing as of late. However, Morris Claiborne, Bashaud Breeland, Keith Reaser, and Kendall Fuller are all free agents after this season and I wouldn’t necessarily call Charvarius Ward a shutdown, number-one cornerback. In fact, it was only a couple months ago that the Chiefs were heavy players in the Jalen Ramsey sweepstakes. I think that Brett Veach still feels that it is a need and probably one of high priority.

As far as free agents go in the 2020 season, it would be very interesting to see Denver Broncos’ cornerback, and former KU alum, Chris Harris come to town. In an interview with Rich Eisen on the Rich Eisen Show, Harris said Kansas City was the toughest team he faced all season and then went on to speak glowingly about the team.

“Their offense is dynamic…,” Harris said.  “It’s like a track team.”

Eisen went on to ask Harris about the possibility of playing in Kansas City in 2020. “I’m listening to everybody,” Harris said. “I’m listening to everybody for sure. Kansas, I went to school there so that’s like another home for me, too. [I’ve got] a big following there. So I’m definitely looking at everybody, man. But like you said, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be a good fit.” 

Harris will be 31 by the start of the 2020 season and is probably on the decline in his career, but I still think that he has a couple of good years left in the tank. He could be someone that could step in and perform at a high level while also be a mentor to Ward and the other younger defensive backs.

Now if the Chiefs are looking to draft a cornerback, I like C.J. Henderson out of Florida. He is a tall, athletic cornerback that can go stride for stride with vertical receivers but also has smooth hips that help him transition with ease. He reminds me a lot of Marcus Peters. Henderson’s downfall is that he struggles in run support, also a lot like Peters. Henderson is an amazing talent so it could be unlikely that he drops to the Chiefs, but this is a player that I would not mind seeing Brett Veach trade up for if he had to.

I highlighted three areas that could improve next season but in all honesty, this team is so much better as a whole than the majority of the teams in this league. All teams have their issues and most of them will have those issues going into next season. The Chiefs will still be the favorite in the West and probably the AFC, so I’m not too concerned. It’s definitely a great time to be a Chiefs fan.

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