By Quentin Smalls –
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs had a 21-3 halftime lead against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game. Sadly, that lead was taken away from the Chiefs as the Bengals won a classic in overtime 27-24 to advance to Super Bowl LVI..
As a new season begins, so do changes for the Chiefs. Gone are key pieces such as wide receiver Tyreek Hill and safety Tyrann Mathieu. The Chiefs had to endure the rest of the AFC West getting better with star-studded signings and trades that instantly made each team better.
Kansas City has also had to hear from the sports media that their “dynasty” and their time as part of the NFL elite is past its expiration date.
Patrick Mahomes is still the quarterback for the Chiefs. As long as he is the QB for KC, this team is still a contender. The running backs will be a committee with former first-round draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire being the starter and expected to produce like the player the Chiefs wanted when they drafted him in 2020. Ronald Jones will be the backup running back and also watch out for Jerick McKinnon, as he was re-signed by the Chiefs and will have a battle to be a part of the rotation of backs.
Wide receiver was the biggest change for Kansas City over the off-season. As mentioned earlier, Hill, one of the best receivers in the game, is no longer with the team. The Chiefs signed former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster and former Green Bay Packers receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling in free agency to try to ease the pain of losing Hill, but nothing will replace the production he brought to the team.
Mecole Hardman is the only receiver with production in this current batch. Skyy Moore was drafted in the second round to possibly be the guy to replace Hill and the wild card in this room is former Clemson Tigers receiver Justyn Ross, who was undrafted and is looking to make the roster with a strong showing at training camp.
The entire starting offensive line [Orlando Brown Jr, Thuney, Humphrey, Smith, & Wylie] are back together with a few players fighting for training camp spots. Brown was in the news for not signing his franchise tag so, there is a little urgency to sign him to a contract soon.
The defensive line is the weakest part of the roster. Chris Jones is the only player in the rotation that is a guaranteed starter. The Chiefs drafted George Karlaftis in the first round of the draft, and he will be side by side with Frank Clark.
The linebacker core for Kansas City is very young with the only two contributors from last year being Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. Jermaine Carter Jr., formerly of the Carolina Panthers, was signed by the Chiefs in the free agency period. He will be getting starter snaps as rookies get their feet wet. Chiefs third round pick Leo Chenal could contend for the starting SAM linebacker position while Mike Rose. The undrafted prospect should be used as a developmental rotation piece and a special teams asset.
The cornerback group is one of the youngest in the league. The only two corners with experience are Rashad Fenton and L’Jarius Sneed, but the Chiefs went cornerback hunting in the draft. Kansas City drafted Trent McDuffie in the first round, Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams were Day Three selections. Even though Tyrann Mathieu has left the team, the safety position is still one of the top positions for the Chiefs. Justin Reid was signed in the offseason and he is the second biggest free agent acquisition in recent years. Juan Thornhill is expected to produce alongside Reid in the secondary.
The AFC West shall be a dogfight with all four teams looking to stake their claim as the king of the division. Kansas City may have lost a few key players but as long as Patrick Mahomes is still playing at an elite level, the Chiefs will be a contender. Their reign on top of the AFC West will continue, however going to the Super Bowl will be challenging with teams like Buffalo and Cincinnati top contenders to make the Super Bowl.