With the 2014 NFL regular season now in the books, it is nice to reflect back on the things that went well for the Kansas City Chiefs, who narrowly missed the playoffs after posting their second consecutive winning season. A season of many highs and lows, the focus of this post will be on those things that should be celebrated. For a look at things that should be forgotten, see here.
Best linebacker: After just 4 seasons, Justin Houston has amassed 48.5 sacks, and now holds the Chiefs single-season franchise record after recording 22 this year, only a half sack away from tying the NFL record. Houston has posted double-digit sacks in 3 straight seasons and even had a career high 68 tackles this season. Houston’s remarkable season was essential to the Chiefs’ success in 2014, especially after losing LB Derrick Johnson and run-stopper Mike DeVito to injury in the first game of the year. Houston was selected to his 3rd straight Pro Bowl. He just finished his rookie contract and is set to get a large contract. The Chiefs cannot afford to let him go, especially since rookie Dee Ford does not appear ready to take over starting LB duties from either Houston or Tamba Hali.
Best quarterback: Even though Alex Smith is yet to win a playoff game for the Chiefs, his short tenure as the starting QB has been very good compared to the previous QB’s the Chiefs have trotted out. Smith led the Chiefs to a record of 8-7 this season, and is 19-11 in two seasons as a starter (Chase Daniel played the other two games in that span). He set a career high for passing yards in a season last year, and would likely have set a new career high had he played in the final game of this season. In two seasons, Smith has 41 touchdowns versus only 13 interceptions (in 2014 alone, Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers threw 15 and 18 interceptions, respectively). As pointed out here, in the two seasons prior to Smith, the Chiefs QB’s threw 21 touchdowns and 38 interceptions. Smith finished with his second highest QB rating (93.4), which ranked #13 in the NFL. Lastly, Smith had the 8th most rushing yards by a QB in the NFL (254), and his ability to scramble helped sustain many offensive drives. If the offensive line and wide receivers are improved in 2015, Alex Smith is a good candidate to have another career year.
Best running back: In a year where he received the second fewest carries in his tenure as the Chiefs featured running back, Jamaal Charles was still able to rush for over 1,000 yards. His 9 rushing touchdowns were the second highest total in his career and his 1,033 rush yards were the 13th most in the NFL. He continues to average at least 5 yards per rush (despite playing behind a horrible offensive line this season), and has the highest average yards per attempt (5.5) for a running back in NFL history.
Best punter: Dustin Colquitt shows every year that is he one of the best punters in the NFL. His 40.5 net average yards per punt ranked in the top 10 in the league this season, and he had the 4th most punts land inside the 20 yard line. Even better, opponents only averaged 6.6 yards per punt return against him.
Best rookie: Cairos Santos won out the placekicking job after training camp (saving the Chiefs LOTS of money) and after a shaky start, he converted 25 out of 30 field goals. Santos showed some grit this season that included a game-winning kick against San Diego, battling heavy winds against the NY Jets and low temperatures against Seattle, and making 14 consecutive field goals in the middle of the season.
Best tight end: Travis Kelce had a breakout year, finishing with 67 receptions for 862 yards and 5 touchdowns. He averaged almost 13 yards per catch and was the third most explosive tight end in the NFL with 15 plays of 20+ yards. Kelce’s stats place him in the top 10 in most tight end receiving categories, and he had a better season than the Broncos’ Julius Thomas, who was selected for the Pro Bowl.
Best pass defense: After facing Peyton Manning (twice), Phillip Rivers (twice), Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Colin Kaepernick, the Chiefs gave up a grand total of zero games with 300 passing yards. Yes, you read that correct. The Chiefs opponents completed only 58.3% of their passes and only passed for an average of 203.3 yards per game, which was the second fewest in the league. CB Sean Smith was tied for 4th most passes defended in the league with 18. It was a very nice season from a young and relatively inexperienced group of defensive backs, and it will be exciting to watch the development of young players like Phillip Gaines and Marcus Cooper in the coming seasons.
Best center: Rodney Hudson, the 3rd year pro, was graded as the third best center in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, posting positive grades in pass blocking, screen blocking, run blocking, and penalties (the only offensive lineman tro post positive grades in each of those). He was the only consistent performer on the Chiefs’ offensive line. Hudson is now a free agent and GM John Dorsey will need to make an important decision on his future.
Best return game: Knile Davis ranked 3rd best in the NFL with 28.6 yards per kickoff return and he was one of 6 players to return a kickoff for a touchdown. Similarly, rookie RB De’Anthony Thomas had the 3rd highest punt return average at 11.9 yards per return and Thomas was one of 11 players with at least 1 punt return for a touchdown. Dave Toub worked his Special Teams magic which certainly helped the Chiefs in 2014 and will likely be one of the bright spots on the team in 2015.
Despite missing the playoffs, the Chiefs had a great season in many ways and they currently have 11 selections in the 2015 NFL draft which should help them fill areas of need. They have many exciting players and it will be exciting to see the 2015 team. Go Chiefs!