This is a column I enjoy writing. Although it’s a long-running series, this is its first appearance on ChiefsDigest.com. It’s my Chiefs-oriented homage to Peter King’s column you may be familiar with.
These are the “Chief” things I think as the team opens the 2017 season.
Observations to this point
Brett Veach shows signs of more aggressively acquiring players than John Dorsey. He’s going to go after talent that he and his staff feel is valuable to the Chiefs’ roster. He’s already starting to show his hand with the Reggie Ragland and Cameron Erving trades. I expect the same to hold true through the season and especially in free agency in 2018. It won’t be a lot of signings with the Chiefs cap situation, but I suspect he’ll go after someone with vigor.
The Chiefs enter 2017 taking a risk along the offensive line. Going into the season with no clearly experienced swing tackle is rolling the dice. The team worked Zach Fulton at the position and presumably the plans include Erving eventually as well. However, any injury to Eric Fisher or Mitchell Schwartz poses a serious detriment to this team’s season.
This team could have top to bottom the best defensive line in the NFL in 2017. The team brought in run pluggers Bennie Logan and Roy Miller. They are here simply in order to stop the bloodletting against the run game we saw in 2016. Combined with the pass-rush of Chris Jones, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Allen Bailey, Kansas City has the makings of an elite rotation.
This team’s leaders are betting the house that Derrick Johnson will be healthy for the season. The team has an expansive group of young linebackers ready to learn from Johnson. The group remains untested at this point but offer an impressive upside. Even Ramik Wilson, slated to start week one next to Johnson, has precious little experience for a starting Mike linebacker. The leadership Johnson provides remains critical in bringing this group along in order for a playoff run.
The Top 5
Kareem Hunt has a chance to solidify his future as a feature back. It’s rare for a rookie with Hunt’s draft-day position staking a claim so early to a starting role. Spencer Ware’s injury opens the door for Hunt to make the job his if he produces on all three downs.
The Chiefs could be in trouble at the cornerback spot. This group appears fragile, aside from Marcus Peters. Terrance Mitchell’s missed the majority of the preseason and Phillip Gaines has a long injury history. Now Steven Nelson is out for the foreseeable future. One injury to this position group could start the dominos tumbling. If an injury occurs, this must rely on D.J. White, Kenneth Acker or a safety or to play significant snaps at corner. This could get ugly.
Chris Conley has the chance for a breakout season in 2017. Opportunities should arrive with teams focusing on Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Conley demonstrated better play strength and attack at the catch point in this preseason. He needs to continue that and take advantage of every opportunity he gets from Alex Smith. Albert Wilson could play a bigger role as well.
I like the Ragland pickup. I like it a lot. Honestly, I pegged Ragland as a low first-round grade coming out of Alabama. Veach got good value for the pick he gave up. Yes, Ragland continues recovering from a significant knee injury. Yet Ragland offers exactly what the Chiefs need in avoiding messes like the one they found themselves in during the 2016 playoff game against the Steelers. Ragland projects as a force on first and second down. He does the dirty work to stop the offense’s running game. Any quality play from Ragland in coverage on third down adds a bonus in my eyes.
Andy Reid is the most critical factor in the team success during the first quarter of the season. The opening game against New England offers the Chiefs and Reid the right kind of pressure that provides focus. Can Reid avoid his tendency for slow starts? Can he maintain play call balance? In the end, if Andy Reid gets on top of his game to start this season, this team holds the talent to beat all comers, including the Patriots.
Enjoy the opening game!