As the NFL draft draws near (just 10 days away!), there is a great deal of mystery surrounding which player the Kansas City Chiefs will choose with the 18th selection. Dozens of mock drafts are now circulating the internet and print media, and fans have differing opinions on whether the Chiefs should add offensive depth or stock up on defense with their first round pick. The Chiefs have several needs to fill but no clear frontrunner. In an effort to examine which position the Chiefs should address first, I have provided an analysis of the team’s positional depth below, ranked in order from where help is most to least needed:
1. Offensive line: The Chiefs addressed their need at guard through free agency and now they need at least one tackle and a center. After letting Rodney Hudson walk in free agency, Center is arguably their greatest need since Eric Kush is the only center is currently on the roster, and he did not even play a single game in 2014. At tackle, the Chiefs will be counting on Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson bouncing back in 2015 (Stephenson started 0 games in 2014, and Allen was lost for the season after week 1). The Chiefs are also hopeful that a healthy offseason will prove beneficial to former #1 pick Eric Fisher. Other tackles on the roster are developmental, and the Chiefs might spend a draft pick or two on a versatile offensive lineman in the first several rounds.
2. Tight end: Travis Kelce broke out in a big way in 2014, but the Chiefs released veteran Anthony Fasano this offseason, likely to save money for the salary cap. That leaves no reliable backup at tight end for Andy Reid, who likes using multiple tight end sets on offense. The other TE’s on the roster with a chance to make the team include Demetrius Harris and Richard Gordon. The Chiefs will certainly need to select a TE (or two) to help with their offense, especially for insurance in case Kelce is injured. Kelce led the Chiefs in receiving in 2014 while also remaining important for their running game and will be hard to replace if he went down.
3. Inside linebacker: Derrick Johnson will return after missing all of 2014 with a torn Achilles’, but the simple fact is that DJ, a 10-year veteran, is not getting any younger. GM John Dorsey often drafts with the future in mind, and getting another inside linebacker should be a priority. Josh Mauga played 2014 as DJ’s replacement and was re-signed by the team this offseason, but on the other side, James-Michael Johnson and Joe Mays were either injured or weak against the run.
4. Cornerback: Currently on the roster at CB, the Chiefs have Phillip Gaines, Jamell Fleming, Marcus Cooper, and Sean Smith. Smith had a great year in 2014 (16 passes defensed) but his contract is up after 2015. He will become subject to punishment by the NFL after pleading guilty to a DUI this offseason and may be suspended at the beginning of the season. Gaines and Fleming both burst onto the scene last season and showed lots of potential, especially after Marcus Cooper was benched, but with Smith being the only veteran CB on the roster, there is a need to stockpile talent at the position. Ron Parker is also capable of playing CB, but with Eric Berry’s playing status in 2015 unknown, Parker will likely remain at safety.
5. Wide receiver: The Chiefs signed Jeremy Maclin and Da’Rick Rogers this offseason, then cut Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and AJ Jenkins, which means their receiving corps will be much different in 2015. The Chiefs are hoping that Albert Wilson continues to develop and produce for the offense, but there is still a need for a reliable slot receiver. The Chiefs re-signed Junior Hemingway, who has played the slot in the past, but his career has been inconsistent. The Chiefs will need to increase production at WR and will likely look for an impact player through the draft.
Dorsey has often spoken of drafting the best player available, and how the 17 teams ahead of the Chiefs draft will greatly impact what player is the “best available” when the Chiefs’ turn comes. Offensive linemen can often be found in later rounds of the draft, and I feel that the Chiefs will focus on their defense in the early rounds, targeting either a cornerback or linebacker. Certainly if WR’s Amari Cooper or Davante Parker are still available the Chiefs would be wise to select them and improve their receiving corps.