Kansas City Chiefs February Scouting Report
Suddenly the NFL Combine is upon us and that means it is time for the first Chiefs’ Eye in the Sky Report of the new 2019 football season.
And heeeeere we go!
Defense is front and center this off-season. And why not? 2018’s defensive squad was sieve-like and the mesh just got wider and leakier each passing week. Coach Andy Reidwent directly to the source and parted ways with Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton. Coach Reid and NEW Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuoloworked together in forming the club’s defensive coaching staff for the 2019 season. For 2019, the defensive coaches are:
Steve Spagnuolo – Defensive Coordinator
Brendan Daly – Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line
Matt House – Linebackers
Dave Merritt – Defensive Backs
Sam Madison – Defensive Backs/Cornerbacks
Britt Reid – Linebackers/Outside Linebackers
Terry Bradden – Defensive Quality Control
Alex Whittingham – Defensive Assistant
Change at the top tends to force trickle-down changes, from coaches to players. There are sure to be new faces donning Chiefs’ helmets on defense this season. Coach Spagnuolo has always been a 4-3 proponent while ex-DC Sutton worked the 3-4. Just in format alone, change in player personnel is needed. A name on the trade mill that may surprise some KC fans(maybe not) is pass-rushing OLB Justin Houston. Houston plays this season at age 30, has had numerous surgeries and hauls a hefty $21 million cap burden this season. We’ll see about Houston, but the emergence of Dee Ford (finally!) and the 4-3 concepts Coach Spags prefers may very well push Houston out of Arrowhead. 3-4 DE Chris Jones isn’t the prototype 4-3 DE and it is likely Jones, a bulkier D-lineman, slides inside at a DT spot. Personally, I am darn excited to see Breeland Speaks and TanohKpassagnon line up on the edge of the D-line as true DEs. Ford sounds as if he’ll get a long look as a pass-rushing OLB(weak) rather than bang away on the line… IF he is re-signed (trade smoke suggests they will). Having one less LB spot means one of the ILB of 2018 (Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland) will shift to a strong side job. Hitchens is perfect as a RB bloodhound in the middle while Ragland has the tools to thump ball-carriers with gusto outside-strong. Yes, just the formation and defensive alignment to the 4-3 scheme is already an improvement, given the existing talent. Ah, what won’t improve unless there is real change is the secondary.
Kansas City’s 2019 estimated salary cap space is $41,490,672. There’s some room for going after a key free agent or 2 to raise the overall quality of play in the secondary and re-sign a few of their own contract issued players (Dee Ford, DE Allen Bailey, FB Anthony Sherman, RB Spencer Ware?). But GM Brett Veach and Coach Reid are not shy about targeting the top end of the draft to right what’s wrong on the field. A look at last season’s draft shows the Chiefs’ war room decision-makers committed to aggressively clean up the defensive mess of 2017. 5 of the 6 draft choices made by the Chiefs last season were on the defensive side of the football. In order, they were (round-overall pick):
2-46: Breeland Speaks, DE (Ole Miss)
3-75: Derrick Nnadi, DT (Florida State)
3-100: Dorian O’Daniel, LB (Clemson)
4-124: Armani Watts, S (Texas A&M)
6-196: Tremon Smith, CB (Central Arkansas)
6-198: Kahlil McKenzie, OG (Tennessee)
For the 2018 campaign Kansas City’s defense ranked next to last total pass defense (31st), 27th in total run defense, 31st overall and 24th in points allowed. On the surface it appeared that the defense got enough pressure on enemy QBs, closing the season with 52 sacks. However, there were times in games when pressure was needed but arrived late. Former DC Sutton’s defensive calls and scheme (Justin Houston dropping in coverage?) didn’t help. Assuming GM Veach moves Houston and re-ups Ford at OLB and new DC Spanuolo’s 4-3 plans allow defenders like Breeland Speaks and TanohKpassagnon to be much more aggressive and pressure-productive versus QBs while playing in their more natural DE spots, the Chiefs’ pass rush may already be better overall for 2019. That thinking or projecting opens the top of the draft to be utilized in targeting top CBs and/or safeties.
If this issue of my Eye in the Sky Report sounds defensive-heavy, it is. Let’s be honest, QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense was and is downright deadly and mostly intact for 2019. Sure, KC may see hidden-value types like Spencer Ware, Chris Conley and Demetrius Harris go, but Coach Reid is so good identifying those types of ‘soldiers’ that I have to feel the Chiefs will be just fine filling those potential voids through low-cost free agent additions. The defense it the glaring open wound that is bleeding-out and hampering this team’s launch to the coveted Super Bowl berth.
The #1 draft priority, in my honest opinion, should be at CB. The Chiefs’ draft picture looks like this (round-slot-overall):
4- NO PICK
6-42-214 (compensatory pick)
The perceived top-5 CBs in this draft areGreedy Williams (LSU), Byron Murphy (WSH), DeAndre Baker (GA), Amani Oruwariye (Penn St.) and Trayvon Mullen (Clem).At 29 in round 1, Mullen would be a terrific get. Should Baker fall, he’d be a gimme pick in the bottom of the 1st round. Safety is a need as well, but there may be enough foundation returning for 2019 to let Mr. Veach and Coach Reid to not ‘reach’ for that position. Semi-cult hero Eric Berry did not need additional off-season surgery to heal up and he may very well be ready to go full tilt in mini-camps/OTAs and training camp. 2018 rookie (4th round) Armani Watts lasted just 5 games last season before shutting it down on an injury. He returns and, if healthy, gives the Chiefs a potential exciting starter at free safety. Underrated and crafty safety Daniel Sorensen also returns to bring much-valued versatility, leadership and depth. With the 8 picks, give or take a couple via draft day trades, 5-6 may be defensive choices.
As of this writing 300+ college prospects are getting their medical check-ups, measurements and greetings in at the NFL Combine. Free agents are sitting out there waiting for their visits with prospective clubs, KC among those hosting their share of free-market players. With the closing of this year’s talent show in Indianapolis, I will return with a follow-up Eye in the Sky Report. Look for my annual projection of the potential players the Kansas City draft bunch may target and how the Chiefs will fill the Kareem Hunt void for 2019 (have they already?).
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