The ending wasn’t what Kansas City fans hoped for, but it’s hard to argue that the Chiefs didn’t have a terrific season. Andy Reid took a chance in the offseason and turned his offense over to a second-year quarterback who had started one game.
Patrick Mahomes not only made everyone forget former starter Alex Smith, but he also became a budding superstar in the process. Kansas City led the AFC with a 12-4 record and was a coin-flip away from the Super Bowl. New England beat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, but anyone watching came away thinking that Kansas City’s future is bright.
Like all NFL teams, though, the Chiefs need things to go right in order to replicate that success. That includes some players continuing to grow, other players stepping up, and making a decision in some cases about which players will return.
Who are those key players in 2019? Glad you asked.
“Flash In The Pan” Or “Just The Beginning”
There really isn’t a good comparison to predict what happens next with Mahomes. NFL quarterbacks simply do not throw for 50 touchdowns and 5,097 yards in their first season as a starter. There’s a lot of examples of players in other sports, or even other positions in football, who burst onto the scene and then flame out. Quarterbacks are different.
Patrick Mahomes’ magical first season as a starter:
—50 TD (No. 1)
—82 QBR (No. 1)
—5,097 yards (No. 2)
—Chiefs 35.3 PPG (No. 1)
He'll be back. pic.twitter.com/oFp8HczOcu
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 21, 2019
Signal callers that put up those kinds of numbers have names like Manning, Brady, Brees and Marino. They don’t normally fall off a cliff. Luckily, Kansas City doesn’t need its young leader to replicate his historic season. Anything in the neighborhood of 30 touchdowns with 12 or fewer touchdowns would be plenty good enough.
Mahomes, like a lot of young quarterbacks, needs to get better at getting the ball out quicker. Defensive coordinators are going to spend the entire offseason devising schemes to entice him into throwing into disguised coverages.
It’s hard to imagine Mahomes not having, at a minimum, a really good career. Now all he has to do is go out and back up the phenomenal second season that ended with him being named NFL MVP.
For the first time in NFL history, the MVP is a Chief.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) February 2, 2019
Meanwhile, on the defensive side, Chris Jones had a breakout season and made some history of his own.
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 24, 2018
Over his first two seasons, Jones had 8.5 total sacks. With Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator, there’s a good chance that Jones will move inside to play the same role that Donald plays for the Rams.
The Chiefs had plenty of sacks but gave up way too many yards and points. Jones could end up being a more effective player even if he doesn’t match his numbers this year. To be considered elite, though, he needs to keep those sack numbers in the double-digits.
Should He Stay Or Should He Go?
Dee Ford is already an outstanding pass rusher. Playing in Spagnuolo’s scheme, he could be devastating.
The season didn't end the way the Chiefs wanted – but Dee Ford still dominated when rushing the passer during the regular season. pic.twitter.com/8GAjXaMdCn
— PFF (@PFF) January 23, 2019
Since entering the league out of Auburn, the outside linebacker has 30.5 sacks. This past season, he also had a career-high in tackles and recorded seven forced fumbles.
But, he also had a penalty in the AFC Championship game that probably cost Kansas City a victory. He’s been the best player on a defense that has gotten progressively worse during his career.
Ford reportedly wants to stay, but he’s also going to want a raise. Considering how bad the Chiefs defense was this past season, general manager Brett Veach is going to have to figure out how big of a contract they can realistically offer Ford with an extension for Mahomes looming. But, with Justin Houston a likely cap casualty, can they really afford to let him walk?
One of the guys who protects the quarterback, Mitch Morse, is also an unrestricted free agent. The center battled injuries this season but, when healthy, was part of an offensive line that did an outstanding job protecting Mahomes.
Kansas City would certainly like to hold onto him, but there’s a whole lot of NFL teams that need offensive line help. With tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz carrying a combined cap hit of more than $20-million, the Chiefs can’t get into a bidding war for an interior lineman.
Legitimate Starter Or Stopgap?
With Washington, Fuller had been an underrated slot corner. As the top outside corner for the Chiefs, he was inconsistent. He had periods where he was solid and played through a wrist injury that required surgery.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) November 7, 2018
Like his fellow corners Steven Nelson and Orlando Scandrick, though, he gave up way too many receptions to opposing receivers. There’s a good chance that out of those three, only Fuller is back next season.
He’s probably better off playing in the slot, but for that to happen, Kansas City has to have options on the outside. No matter what role he ends up playing, the Chiefs need him to live up to the promise that he showed in Washington.
Conversely, there were no expectations for Damien Williams. The running back rushed for a grand total of 477 yards in his first four seasons in Miami and wasn’t expected to be more than depth in Kansas City. He was thrust into the starting lineup after the shocking release of Kareem Hunt and then an injury to Spencer Ware.
The Oklahoma product stabilized the running back position at the end of the regular season and was even better in the postseason. In the win over Indianapolis, he rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown. Against New England, he caught five balls for 66 yards and ran for another score. That has some expecting big things out of Williams.
There have been runners who suddenly figured things out after a few years in the league. There have been many more, however, who have played well for a stretch before reverting to their previous level.
The Chiefs signed Williams to a two-year contract that will provide him an opportunity to prove himself. At the very least, he proved that Kansas City’s offense doesn’t need a Pro Bowl running back like Hunt to be dangerous.
What remains to be seen is if he’s up to the challenge of being a featured running back for an entire season. If the Chiefs don’t use a significant draft pick on a runner, the questions about Williams ceiling will be one of the main storylines heading into the 2019 season.