In just their second year on the job, G.M. Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley returned the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. They used a decidedly run-first philosophy, leading the league in rushing attempts and rushing yards. Despite a late-season collapse — the Chiefs were outscored 61-17 in their last two games — this club appears to be on the right track.
OL: In last year’s draft, the Chiefs somewhat surprisingly passed on consensus top tackle Russell Okung in favor of safety Eric Berry. The pick looks O.K. an offseason later, but there’s a reason Kansas City was so heavily linked to linemen with its 2010 first-round pick. Quarterback Matt Cassel has a poor feel for the pass rush, and right tackle Barry Richardson is atrocious in protection. Left guard Brian Waters is 34, center Casey Wiegmann may retire, and left tackle Branden Albert has been inconsistent. If Pioli gets a chance to draft Gabe Carimi or Derek Sherrod at No. 21, we’d be pretty shocked if he passed.
WR: Projected No. 2 receiver Chris Chambers called it a career after the Chiefs handed him a $12 million contract last spring, ultimately losing his job to rotating no-names. By season’s end, top wideout Dwayne Bowe was drawing double coverage or a safety over the top on every snap. Bowe seems to have finally realized his potential, but is entering a contract year with only the likes of Jerheme Urban, Jeremy Horne, Verran Tucker, and Chambers’ carcass behind him.
DL: The Chiefs got more out of nose tackle Ron Edwards and left end Shaun Smith than we would’ve guessed last year; both aging vets defended the run well and created matchup problems with their size. Wallace Gilberry, a situational rush end, was quietly phenomenal replacing Smith on third downs. But Edwards, Smith, and Gilberry’s contracts have all expired, and former No. 3 overall pick Tyson Jackson hasn’t shown anything to suggest he’s a viable starter. That leaves Glenn Dorsey as the only returning lineman locked into a featured role.
LB: Tamba Hali had a breakout year in his first taste of Romeo Crennel’s scheme, and the Chiefs rewarded him with a franchise tag that will pay Hali over $10.5 million in 2011. Kansas City has other interesting youngsters behind Hali — Andy Studebaker and Cameron Sheffield — but neither of them is established, nor does either offer an explosive element that could make Hali even more dangerous on the opposite end of the field. Incumbent starter Mike Vrabel is a free agent, and produced zero sacks in 16 starts last season.
Overview: The Chiefs won’t stay atop the AFC West without continued, annual influxes of talent. They have eight picks in this year’s draft and, ideally, will come away with a field-stretching receiver, starting right tackle, and at least two impact additions in the defensive front seven.
Just don’t forget that Cassel tanked after last year’s late-season departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, his completion rate dropping to 39.2 after word broke of Weis’ exit. And that’s why we ranked offensive line and receiver ahead of Kansas City’s defensive needs. In order for Cassel to continue to make strides, the Chiefs’ primary focus April 28-30 should be to upgrade his supporting cast.