The Kansas City Chiefs had quite the busy offseason for a team coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. After winning Super Bowl LIV, the team adopted the phrase "run it back" as their tagline for the 2020 season. After losing Super Bowl LV in blowout fashion, an overhaul began.
With Patrick Mahomes at the helm, the Chiefs had no questions about their quarterback position. However, after Mahomes was chased around the field by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, Kansas City made drastic changes across the offensive line so Mahomes would not have to relive that particular football nightmare.
Defensively, the Chiefs made a few tweaks, highlighted by a plan to implement star defensive tackle Chris Jones in a new way. After an offseason of dropping some weight and improving his flexibility, Jones showed up to training camp looking like a player who would move his dominance to the defensive end position on a regular basis — and that's exactly what he and the Chiefs plan to do.
In the NFL, continual evolution is mandatory. On both sides of the ball, the Chiefs will have plenty of new wrinkles to show off in 2021.
The Chiefs' offense begins and ends with Patrick Mahomes. The best player in the sport dictates how far his team can go, and in three years as a starter, he's played in three consecutive AFC Championship Games and back-to-back Super Bowls, with one ring to show for it. One step behind Mahomes is head coach Andy Reid, as he and Mahomes have mutually benefitted each other in a way that may be unmatched by the time Reid retires. Add tight end Travis Kelce (who is building his own all-time résumé) and Tyreek Hill (one of the league's most explosive weapons) and it's hard to imagine Kansas City's offense being slowed down — until you remember last year's Super Bowl.
The Chiefs' offensive line dealt with a plague of injuries in 2020. By the time they got to the Super Bowl, only one of their opening-day starters was on the field in the same place he began the year. (That was center Austin Reiter, who the Chiefs let go in free agency.) The O-line that was obliterated in February was nothing close to the Chiefs' first-string unit, but K.C. still completely overhauled the group this offseason, releasing longtime tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz after their pair of serious injuries ended their 2020 seasons.
With the regular season just around the corner, the Chiefs appear set to start five brand-new faces and three rookies to begin 2021. Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was a trade acquisition from the Baltimore Ravens. Left guard Joe Thuney was a high-priced free-agent signing after spending the last five years with the New England Patriots. Former Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey and Tennessee right guard Trey Smith came to K.C. through the 2021 NFL Draft, in the second and sixth rounds, respectively. Right tackle Lucas Niang was drafted in the third round out of TCU in the 2020 draft, but opted out due to COVID-19 concerns, making him a redshirt-rookie this season.
With Reid, Mahomes, Kelce and Hill, the Chiefs' offense will be excellent. It's the new-look offensive line that could take them to another level in 2021.
The Chiefs' defense brings a lot of questions ahead of the 2021 season, but many of those uncertainties have promising answers.
Between a tumultuous offseason with two arrests and a nagging hamstring injury, defensive end Frank Clark has plenty to prove after a disappointing 2020 campaign. With a $25.8 million cap hit this year, the Chiefs have an enormous amount invested in Clark without recent performances to justify it. However, with the aforementioned Chris Jones shifting between defensive tackle and defensive end, the pass-rush may be able to rely on Jones to be the gamebreaker and for Clark to be the secondary threat.
Among the linebackers, veteran Anthony Hitchens will lead the group with second-year linebacker Willie Gay Jr. in line to be the team's second backer, an especially important role in sub-packages. That leaves veteran Ben Niemann and rookie second-round pick Nick Bolton to battle for third-linebacker duties, which will likely be determined by the given package.
In the secondary, the excellent safety trio of Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill and Daniel Sorensen will be behind a somewhat-unproven cornerback group, with second-year cornerback L'Jarius Sneed as the primary playmaker, fourth-year corner Charvarius Ward as the quietly solid outside corner, and either Mike Hughes or Deandre Baker likely to be the team's third cornerback, both looking for fresh starts in Kansas City.
Predicted record: 14-3
There will probably only be one or two games where the Chiefs aren't favored in 2021, but in an 18-week and 17-game season, it's hard to imagine any team not stumbling for an unexpected loss or two. The only thing that should really matter to the Chiefs is earning the AFC's first-round bye once again, and a 14-win season should be enough to accomplish that goal.
Expected depth chart
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
Running back: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon, Darrel Williams
Fullback: Michael Burton
Wide receiver: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Marcus Kemp, Daurice Fountain
Tight end: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Noah Gray, Jody Fortson
Offensive tackle: Orlando Brown Jr., Lucas Niang, Mike Remmers, Andrew Wylie (OT/OG)
Offensive guard: Joe Thuney, Trey Smith, Nick Allegretti, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Kyle Long (PUP)
Center: Creed Humphrey, Austin Blythe
Defensive end: Chris Jones (DE/DT), Frank Clark, Mike Danna, Alex Okafor, Joshua Kaindoh
Defensive tackle: Jarran Reed, Derrick Nnadi, Tershawn Wharton, Khalen Saunders
Linebacker: Anthony Hitchens, Willie Gay Jr., Ben Niemann, Nick Bolton, Dorian O'Daniel, Darius Harris
Cornerback: L'Jarius Sneed, Charvarius Ward, Mike Hughes, Deandre Baker, Rashad Fenton, Chris Lammons
Safety: Tyrann Mathieu, Daniel Sorensen, Juan Thornhill, Armani Watts
Kicker: Harrison Butker
Punter: Tommy Townsend
Long snapper: James Winchester