Shawn’s Staturday: The Chiefs’ three strongest cores

With the first week of training camp wrapped up there are questions regarding which group of Chiefs is the most solid heading into the 2021 season. According to the statistics, these are the best cores in the KC locker room…

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Shawn’s Staturdays! After a brief hiatus, I’m back to tell you what the stats say about the Chiefs, their players, their coaches, and their season. So without further ado, here we go!

The Chiefs are looking to secure their third straight trip to the Super Bowl after losing their last attempt against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But what do they need to fix the most? More importantly, what don’t they need to fix?

Patrick Mahomes and the quarterback room is the most obvious choice and, for that reason, has been left off this list (for the most part). But also the real strength of this team may not be entirely in the hands of #15, there are plenty of insanely talented players at key positions for Kansas City and head coach Andy Reid knows he needed to solidify those positions for this upcoming championship run.

That means every other position is on the table, including the restructured offensive line and smaller running back room. With that being said let’s dive right into what the Chiefs are doing exceedingly well in…

3. Wide Receiver

The receiving core of Kansas City has been a shining light for almost all of Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach, but this year will look much different for Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense. Why? There’s a new #2 in town and there could just be a huge breakout star in the making.

Losing Sammy Watkins to Baltimore (1-year/$6 million deal) was not a surprise, nor was it that huge of a hit in hindsight, but it did mean that the Chiefs’ pass-catchers not named Travis Kelce would all be much smaller than the typical NFL receiver core.

With the average Chiefs receiver being almost one inch (71.52 in) lower than that of the average NFL receiver’s height (72.40 in) the speed they bring to the field will be intensified more than it has been the past few years amongst the “Legion of Zoom.”

It all starts with Mecole Hardman, who has been getting hammered by the media world for the better part of a year for his inability to be ascend higher than just the fast return-man. His drops and fumbles at key moments in games have led to frustration in #ChiefsKingdom but his time spent catching passes rather than punts will likely be highlighted much more often this upcoming season due to Watkins’ absence.

If Hardman can continue to get more targets like he did in his second season (62–21 more than his rookie season) and continues to catch more of those targets (66.1%–2.7% higher than his rookie season) then the Chiefs offense can spread the opposing defenses more than they ever have.

This should allow some new blood to shred the middle of the field, like 5th-round pick (181st overall) Cornell Powell and former Kansas State star Byron Pringle. Not to mention the up-and-coming tight end Noah Gray, a rookie out of Duke, who is already turning heads and gaining traction among the rest of the pass-catchers.

If health issues don’t arise amongst Kelce or Hill then the receiver position in Kansas City should be able to thrive more than they ever have in the Mahomes era, and that’s saying a lot.

2. Cornerback / Safety

It’s obvious that the Chiefs defensive secondary is one of the best due to the leadership of Tyrann Mathieu, but tag along the the raw skill of last year’s breakout rookie L’Jarius Sneed (3 INTS, 2 SKs, 7 PDs) and the always reliable “Dirty Dan” Sorenson (11 career INTS–3 for TDs) and you have one scary defense to throw into if you’re an opposing QB.

Third-year starter Juan Thornhill will be one of the most interesting players to watch when analyzing the secondary going forward too. Not just because he wasn’t 100% healthy when returning last season but because this is a make-or-break year for him, due especially to his loss in quickness after his ACL tear in 2019 and the superstar talents chomping at his ankles in the depth chart.

Thornhill and CB Charvarius Ward are primed for comeback seasons which inspire hope in every member of #ChiefsKingdom. If there were to be an outlier that manifests throughout the season, it would likely be Ward.

Ward caught everybody’s attention in his second season with his explosive speed and ability to get to the ball (11 total pass deflections), not to mention his two interceptions and 83 total tackles on his way to becoming a Super Bowl champion, but a waning hand fracture and a slip in efficiency are worrisome despite the many capable hands on the bench.

Add on the likes of former NY Giants 1st-round pick Deandre Baker (when healthy) plus former Vikings 1st-round pick Mike Hughes (2 INTs & 80 total tackles in his career) and Steve Spagnuolo’s secondary looks to be an unstoppable force prepared for anything.

These players, along with 4th-year S Armani Watts and 3rd-year CB Rashad Fenton (who had a huge interception in last year’s AFC Championship) are set to keep quarterbacks uneasy all season and break plenty of records while doing it.

(Fun fact: both Deandre Baker and Mike Hughes were selected with the 30th overall pick in consecutive years–’18 & ’19)

1. Offensive Line

The Kansas City Chiefs’ previous Super Bowl performance put a shock in Andy Reid, as well as Mahomes, and it showed in their actions this offseason when GM Brett Veach worked his magic to acquire Ravens former 3rd-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. and former Patriot Joe Thuney, both ranked within the top 5 of their position last season.

Not only did Veach acquire such amazing assets to pair with other new additions like the Chiefs’ 3rd-round pick last season, Lucas Niang, who opted out and former Oklahoma Sooner center Creed Humphrey (picked 63rd overall this past draft) but he did so with awe-inspiring ease and quickness.

Returning from saving his country from COVID-19, “the Good Doctor” Laurent Duvernay-Tardif seems to already have his hands full with the dominant rookie Trey Smith in training camp, which is an excellent sign for the future.

Whether or not Duvernay-Tardif starts over the recent Tennessee right guard it honestly doesn’t matter considering just how versatile the doctor has shown himself to be, not to mention just how strong the rest of the O-line already looks.

Additions like veteran OL Kyle Long and the always reliable center Austin Blythe (who started 54 consecutive games for the L.A. Rams before this season) also ensured that Kansas City has legitimate depth at if need-be throughout the season.

Last Super Bowl’s saddening attempt to protect Mahomes fell far too short, but Reid and Veach silenced anyone and everyone who thought they could not put together an offensive line like this within one offseason, let alone one month. And while there is still no high-pressure situations or real game-tape to watch of the Chiefs’ newest creation there is still plenty of optimism when seeing the potential that this offensive line has.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Linebackers: Willie Gay Jr and rookie Nick Bolton are going to be two of the biggest, baddest LBs in the league and look to destroy any quarterback in their way to the Chiefs 3rd-straight Super Bowl alongside veterans and “Sack Nation” leaders Chris Jones and Frank Clark.
  • Quarterbacks: Mahomes is going to be Mahomes but behind him is some serious reliability in Chad Henne–the man who put down the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs last season–who will also help Mahomes teach some young, authentic, and athletic talent in former SMU star Shane Buechele and (former backup to Gardner Minshew at Washington State) Anthony Gordon who had one of the best years that a PAC-12 quarterback has ever had.

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m totally bonkers? Let me know in the comment section below or through my Twitter (@SportsGuyShawnO) and be sure to check out more Shawn’s Staturdays and other free, daily articles on Arrowhead Live!