The Kansas City Chiefs have a new-look offense with Patrick Mahomes at the controls, and the result could be mind-boggling numbers across the board.
The New England Patriots are the favorite in the AFC … again. The Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to be the main challengers. The Los Angeles Chargers are the sexy pick.
The Kansas City Chiefs? The ultimate wild card.
Kansas City is a two-time defending AFC West champion with a head coach that with a Super Bowl win is a surefire Hall of Famer. The defense has undergone massive changes, with Marcus Peters out, Anthony Hitchens and Kendall Fuller in, and Eric Berry back. However, it’s the offense that has folks buzzing, specifically the ascension of Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes, 22, has started only one NFL game, but the expectations are already absurd. With arguably the league’s strongest arm and a mindset similar to Brett Favre, much is expected of the man succeeding Alex Smith considering his circumstances. Having a year of learning Reid’s complex offense under his belt, and Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill as primary weapons, Mahomes was set up for success. Then his team added Sammy Watkins, giving Kansas City the best group of playmakers in the NFL.
Watkins signed an eye-popping three-year, $48 million deal on the second day of free agency, a shocking amount for a receiver with one year of 1,000 yards in four tries. Last year, Watkins caught 39 passes for 593 yards with eight touchdowns as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Still, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach made him the keystone move of his offseason, believing that Watkins would be a dynamic red-zone threat along with a big-play target opposite Hill.
Ultimately, Watkins’ impact can’t be judged on numbers but rather on his influence, whether it be opening up the seam for Kelce or a occupying a deep safety to give Hill an open run.
“I might not get 1,000 yards and be called a bust or whatever,” said Watkins to USA Today. “But as long as I’m winning championships and we’re in the Super Bowl, I could care less about the stats and yards.”
In 2017, the Chiefs racked up the fifth-most passing yards in the NFL with 4,326. Of the players who logged at least 100 receiving yards, only Albert Wilson is no longer with the team. Wilson went for 554 yards and three touchdowns, which raises an interesting question. How much statistical output should be expected from Watkins?
If Watkins takes all of Wilson’s yards and eats into Hunt’s 455 receiving yards, Watkins could end up around 750. For $16 million, that would seem to be shockingly low, but if Kelce and Hill are open more often, and Reid has more options, the money is worth it.
It’s safe to assume that Mahomes won’t throw for 4,326 yards, considering no first-year starter in NFL history ever has. In fact, only Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Jameis Winston have even eclipsed 4,000 yards in their first go-round.
With that in mind, it stands to reason that Kelce and Hill will see dips in yardage as the targets are spread out. Still, that might benefit Kansas City more than it does the opponents, making the Chiefs harder to cover with more options on every down.
Last season, the Chiefs became the first team since the 1981 San Diego Chargers to have a wide receiver, tight end and running back all go over the 1,000-yard plateau. It would be folly to expect a replication of those numbers, but the overall product should improve.
The biggest reason is Mahomes’ ability to expand the canvas with which Reid can work. Alex Smith is better than most realize, but his arm strength limited Kansas City at times. Watch the Chiefs on film, and most routes are either short, vertical or in-breaking. There are very few out-breaking routes, especially on intermediate and deep patterns.
With Mahomes, Reid can paint using the entire 53-yard width. Kansas City will be able to call any play from anywhere on the field. For example, the Chiefs can snap the ball from the left hashmark and still utilize a receiver outside the right numbers, something that wasn’t possible with Smith. The defense will be forced to cover both vertically and horizontally to the hilt, making Kansas City perhaps the most exciting offensive unit in the NFL.
So what is the right way to defend the Chiefs? Hill and Watkins both have elite speed on the outside, Kelce is the league’s most athletic tight end, and Hunt is a versatile back who led the league in yards after contact.
The best answer is always a mix of coverages and schemes. Within that, one would expect a litany of Cover 3, Quarters (Cover 4) and Cover 6. In today’s game, getting beat deep for the big play is the worst sin. It’s best to force Hunt into beating you, while hoping to keep Watkins, Kelce and Hill in front of the secondary. Some teams will try to bring pressure which is
Of course, asking the league’s rushing champion to beat you isn’t ideal, but against the Chiefs, it’s the best choice out of a menu of bad options.
Kansas City might be held back by its defense. Offensively, Mahomes might not be what he’s expected to become, at least not at the outset. There are a legion of reasons that the Chiefs don’t fulfill their vast potential.
But if they do, and Mahomes is the rare player to match expectations from the jump, the Chiefs have a good chance to be the most powerful offense we’ve seen in years.
Top 10 explosive receivers in the NFL
1. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
2. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
3. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
4. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
5. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
6. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
7. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
9. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
10. Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions
“I love Taywan. I think he’s got probably more speed than I thought he had. He’s got really good feet at the line of scrimmage, good play strength. I mean, I think this kid has got a lot of upside.”
– Tennessee Titans wide receivers coach Rob Moore on second-year man Taywan Taylor
In his rookie season, Taylor was overshadowed by Corey Davis, who was taken by Tennessee with the fifth-overall pick. While Davis missed almost the entire season with injuries, Taylor gave a glimpse of what he can do, catching 16 passes for 231 yards. With elite speed and good moves in the open field, he’s a candidate for a breakout season in Matt LaFleur’s offense.
Matt Verderame and Josh Hill produce a new Stacking The Box episode every Monday, tackling the latest NFL topics. Check it out at 1 p.m. ET on both FanSided’s YouTube and Facebook pages, along with the audio-only version on iTunes. Please rate and subscribe!
In 1977, Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton was saddled with the flu. Despite facing the Minnesota Vikings and the Purple People Eaters, Payton put on a historic show, rushing for 275 yard at Metropolitan Stadium.
For Payton’s entire career, ranging from 1975-87, Payton missed one game.
Info learned this week
1. Star holdouts now drag into training camp
Every year, a handful of NFL stars decide to hold out as leverage for a new deal, but this summer could light up a marquee.
The Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders are both trying to get former Defensive Players of the Year back into the fold, with Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack sitting out of OTAs and minicamp. Both men are in the last years of their respective rookie deals, and each will be earning north of $20 million per season.
On the running back front, the Arizona Cardinals are working on getting David Johnson back on the field, but nothing so far. Johnson, 26, only played one game last year before an injury shelved him, but he remains a top back in the game. Slated to be a free agent next year, it makes sense for the former Northern Iowa star to wait until his future is secured.
Le’Veon Bell is also a no-show for the second straight season, hoping to get a long-term deal before playing on the franchise tag again. Bell is more likely to sit until right before Week 1, something he has already talked about doing.
Finally, the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons are also waiting for a few of their best players to arrive. Earl Thomas and Julio Jones are waiting for new pacts, with Thomas having one year remaining and Jones having two beyond 2018.
Of all these players, Thomas is the most-likely to get moved, while Jones is the least-likely — because of term — to get a new deal.
2. Bills, Jets appear ready to start rookie QBs
The AFC East will have a different look this year. While the New England Patriots will be rolling with Tom Brady for the 18th consecutive year, the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are potentially looking for their rookie quarterbacks to start immediately.
In Buffalo, Josh Allen is already getting a share of first-team reps alongside A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman. Allen, who Buffalo traded up for to select seventh-overall, has the advantage of going against inferior competition. However, one wonders if Allen would be far better served to sit for a year considering his accuracy issues at Wyoming and his current supporting cast.
Meanwhile, the Jets love what they see from Sam Darnold. Darnold, who incredibly fell to No. 3 for Gang Green, looks the part of a franchise quarterback in the early going. Teddy Bridgewater has also looked good early and Josh McCown is the incumbent, but Darnold will start if he continues to prove his acumen.
Frankly, Darnold would be in a better position to start Week 1 with better surrounding talent and more polished tools coming from college.
3. Cowboys sign Martin to record-setting deal
The Dallas Cowboys didn’t waste any time solidifying the long-term future of one of their best players. On Wednesday, Dallas agreed to a six-year, $84 million deal with guard Zack Martin, easily the biggest contract ever given to an interior lineman. Between Martin and left tackle Tyron Smith, the Cowboys have shelled out $181.6 million in total value.
Dallas is hurting for playmakers, but it certainly has made life safer for Dak Prescott and easier on Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys have the best offensive line in the game, and at 27 years old, Martin should be a stalwart there for quite some time. It’s a nice job by the franchise to lock up a cornerstone player.
4. Landry takes shot at Tannehill all the way from Cleveland
Jarvis Landry played his first four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, and he was the most-targeted receiver on the team in each of them. Landry, 25, had 560 targets during that span with 400 catches, helping him earn a $75 million deal with the Cleveland Browns after being dealt there this winter.
Recently, Landry criticized Tannehill for what apparently was a bad relationship in South Beach, saying he hasn’t heard from the quarterback since being dealt. While Landry is likely just answering a question honestly, it seems he could have side-stepped and avoided any drama. In the final analysis, Landry is in a new place and much richer for it, while Tannehill looks to recover from a serious knee injury.
5. Chargers looking at potential Gates return
The Los Angeles Chargers are already dealing with the injury bug, having tight end Hunter Henry out for the season with a torn ACL. With Antonio Gates on the free-agent market, the fit seems incredibly obvious. Still, Gates remains unsigned while PLAYER NAME remains atop the depth chart.
Last year, Gates only caught 30 passes for 316 yards and three scores. Still, the future Hall of Famer is a quality red zone target, notching 114 career touchdowns and 27 over the past four campaigns.
If Gates still wants to play, a few other fits include the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. Both teams are on the west coast, each plays the Chargers in 2018 and both could use another target in the passing game.
Vince Lombardi took over the Green bay Packers in 1959, with the team coming off a 1-10-1 campaign. By 1960, Lombardi had the Packers in the NFL Championship Game, but fell to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Going forward, Lombardi won five titles in seven seasons with the Packers, going 8-0 in the postseason during that time. In 1969, Lombardi left Green Bay for the Washington Redskins, and took a team that hadn’t enjoyed a winning season since 1955 to a 7-5-2 mark. Tragically, Lombardi wouldn’t be around to enjoy another rebuild, dying of cancer in Sept. 1970.
On their final day of mandatory minicamp, the Baltimore Ravens allowed Lamar Jackson to take all the first-team reps at quarterback. Jackson, a rookie who is expected to sit behind Joe Flacco for a season, is by all accounts opening eyes in Owings Mills.
So what does it mean? It means Flacco better play like the one who earned a $120 million contract back in 2012, or expect to be sitting sooner rather than later. The Ravens are in a tough position with an aging defense and limited weapons offensively. Jackson’s legs would mask a lot of problems and give Baltimore a shot in the proverbial arm after missing the playoffs in four of the past five seasons.
It’s also fair to wonder if the Jacksonville Jaguars won’t regret taking Taven Bryan instead of Jackson in the first round. Jacksonville had a chance to bring in a prodigious talent to compete with Blake Bortles, but instead bolstered an already stout defensive line. Perhaps the Jaguars have remorse down the road over that selection.