After a 12-4 season that ended in an overtime loss to New England in the AFC Championship, what does Kansas City have in store for an encore? The coaching staff is experienced, the offense is dynamic, the defense is improved and special teams should be a strength. Expectations are high for the Chiefs in 2019, and everything is in place for those to be met. Let’s examine my preseason superlatives.
Breakout Guy: RB Damien Williams
It’s not often that we are discussing 27-year-old running backs that have never accumulated more than 50 carries in any of his previous five seasons in the league as a breakout candidate but such is life with the Chiefs' offense. A veteran offensive line, skilled group of receivers/tight ends, dynamic quarterback and an offensive mastermind combines to offer the perfect stage for Damien Williams to thrive as Kansas City’s lead back.
Averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 2018, we saw a glimpse of what Williams can do and he has fresh legs. In the Chiefs two playoff games, Williams posted 250 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns. The production will be there in 2019.
Comeback Kid: WR Sammy Watkins
Watkins has special talent but injuries have gotten in the way of consistency when it comes to NFL production to this point in his career. In 2018, yet another foot problem limited Watkins to ten games. Prior to the injury, Watkins was on pace for his first 1,000-yard receiving season since 2015 in Buffalo.
Perhaps it’s foolish to believe Watkins can stay healthy considering he hasn’t played in 16 games since his rookie season in 2014. If he does, the numbers will be there as Patrick Mahomes enters Year Three of his career with even more comfort as the Chiefs’ signal caller.
Rising Star: QB Patrick Mahomes
There are many stars on this roster and they are pretty well identified. With that said, Mahomes’ historical season that earned him NFL MVP honors was just his first full season as an NFL starter. 50 touchdown passes and over 5,000 yards passing is quite the bar to clear and expecting a repeat performance is an unfair expectation.
So what do we expect? Why can’t he replicate it? The unit returns nine starters and got even faster with the addition of Mecole Hardman. Won’t Mahomes be even more comfortable running the offense in his second season as the starter? You don’t have a season like Mahomes did in 2018 without being labeled a superstar, but Mahomes showcased the ability to quickly become the new face of the NFL.
Don’t Forget About: Defensive Line Stars
Kansas City’s defense deserves a lot of criticism for the way it collectively played in 2018. Plenty of reinforcements were brought in this offseason to bolster the personnel, but don’t forget about the two absolute superstars the Chiefs have up front in Frank Clark and Chris Jones. Clark has averaged nearly 11 sacks across the last three seasons and inked a massive contract with Kansas City.
A physical freak, Jones broke out last season when he racked up 15.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 29 quarterback hits. Mix in Alex Okafor, Derrick Nnadi and Emmanuel Ogbah and suddenly Kansas City has some dudes on its defensive line.
Needs to Rebound: Pass Defense
Allowing 273 yards per game, Kansas City featured the NFL’s 31st ranked pass defense in 2018. The Chiefs also faced the most passing attempts so there is a “volume” component to consider, especially given the amount of stress that Kansas City’s offense places on opponents to keep pace.
With that said, the 92.7 passer rating allowed against its defense can certainly improve.
The pass rush should continue to be a strength of the unit, but the addition of Bashaun Breeland, Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill shores things up in terms of coverage. Kendall Fuller should continue his ascension as a top-flight corner and Charvarius Ward showcased some intriguing flashes as a rookie. Dorian O’Daniel has a ton of upside as a coverage linebacker and his role figures to be expanded in 2019.
Dark Horse MVP: Kicking and Punting
When considering a Super Bowl contender like the Chiefs, it’s the little things that can make a big difference. Surveying this roster, I like what Kansas City boasts at kicker and punter.
Showcasing a big leg, Harrison Butker has connected on 90 percent of his field goal attempts across his first two seasons in the league. Entering his 15th season, Dustin Colquitt is a two-time Pro Bowl punter that is one of the NFL’s best directional kickers. Placing 441 punts inside the 20 since 2005, Colquitt leads the league. Reliability at place kicker and the consistent ability to pin opponents deep isn’t something to overlook when discussing the Chiefs in 2019.
Under the Radar: Rookie Contributions
No, the Chiefs didn’t have a first-round draft pick but that doesn’t mean that the contributions of the rookie class won’t exist. Even with Tyreek Hill’s return, WR Mecole Hardman adds electric playmaking potential to the offense with his blend of ball skills and speed. Hardman can also be used in the return game. Juan Thornhill looks like he is primed to start as a rookie at safety and he enters the league with experience, ball production and terrific instincts. And don’t sleep on Khalen Saunders flashing in the defensive line rotation as a rookie. His physical skill set is exciting if used in an attacking role which could happen given the likelihood of the Chiefs features more even fronts in 2019.