The 2014 Kansas City Chiefs season was an up and down affair with the team having an annoying habit to play to the level of their opposition. Powered by a strong running game and an at time suffocating defense, the Chiefs were able to score huge wins over the Patriots (41-14) and the Seahawks (24-20), while finding a way to trip up against the likes of the Titans (10-26) and the Raiders (20-24). This inconsistency cost the 9-7 Chiefs a playoff spot as they finished second behind the Broncos in the AFC West without a good enough record to qualify as a wildcard.
Graphic via nbcsports
The biggest news in free agency for the Chiefs was keeping one of their best players, and one of the best pass rushers in the league, at Arrowhead Stadium for the foreseeable future. Justin Houston has blossomed from a third round pick into an every down linebacker who can both drop into space and be a quarterback’s worst nightmare. Facing the very real prospect of losing a homegrown star, the Chiefs burst the bank and signed Houston to a six-year $101 million deal hours before the deadline for such deals passed. The contract is the biggest in NFL history for a linebacker, but Houston comes across as a high effort player who will try to live up to the money rather than take it and hide.
The biggest changes for the Chiefs in free agency came at wide receiver and on the offensive line. In 2014 the Chiefs became the first team since the 1964 New York Giants to not have a single touchdown pass caught by a receiver in an NFL season. With that in mind changes had to be made and it started with long time #1 wide receiver Dwayne Bowe being allowed to sign with the Cleveland Browns. Bowe will be replaced in the starting lineup by former Philadelphia Eagle Jeremy Maclin who is reuniting with his former head coach Andy Reid in KC. Maclin, a short speedy receiver, provides a very different threat to Bowe who was a tall, if slow, target. The Chiefs will also be looking for a boost in the passing game from second year pro De’Anthony Thomas who has switched to wide out from running back and reminds many onlookers of former Chiefs star Dante Hall.
The offensive line changes have seen starting center, and the best player on the Chiefs line last year, Rodney Houston join the division rival Raiders, while two-time Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs was traded for on draft day from the New Orleans Saints. Grubbs will bring experience to a line which has had problems over the last few years, while the Chiefs will be expecting to see big strides from Eric Fisher who will be spending his second year at left tackle. If Fisher struggles the line will be in for a rough year.
The Chiefs love Sean Smith at one starting cornerback spot that in the first round they drafted Marcus Peters with the 18th overall pick of the draft out of Washington. Smith is one of the best tall cornerbacks in the NFL and if Peters and third round selection Steven Nelson (Oregon State) work out then the Chiefs will be stacked at the cornerback spot for years to come. The same can be said of the inside linebacker position where the Chiefs took players in the fourth and fifth rounds to back up the ageing but effective Derrick Johnson.
The player who will set this draft class apart for the Chiefs if he can translate his physical gifts into on-field production is their third round selection, WR Chris Conley out of Georgia. Conley blew up the combine running a 4.35 second dash (third fastest for a WR) and showcasing the best vertical leap in the draft class at . His production at Georgia was limited by poor quarterback play during the 2014 season and by his inability to break press coverage and stay on his route. The Chiefs last third round pick out of Georgia hasn’t done badly though (Justin Houston).
With no major coaching changes to speak off the Chiefs will enter 2015 with the same schemes and systems which worked well for them in many games last fall. The Chiefs will open their preseason with games against the Cardinals and Seahawks, and fans will be looking to see immediate production from the host of new faces clad in red and gold in 2015.
Graphic via www.kcchiefs.com