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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 21: Kansas City Chiefs

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The instinct is to treat the Chiefs’ awful 2012 season as an aberration, and that’s probably the right call.

Even just a cursory glance at the club’s depth chart suggests that last season’s 2-14 mark won’t be repeated this year. After all, Kansas City had six Pro Bowlers in 2012, and the roster was strengthened this spring via free agency and the draft.

For new Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Kansas City represents a fresh start after two sour seasons to finish a Philadelphia tenure filled with more good moments than bad. The Chiefs’ new starting quarterback, Alex Smith, also gets to the turn the page after being forced out by Colin Kaepernick’s emergence in San Francisco.

There’s little doubt Reid and Smith will help lead a turnaround of some sort relative to 2012. If nothing else, the Chiefs are likely to move out of the AFC West basement. But are the Chiefs capable of quintupling their win total from a season ago? That’s probably what it will take to contend for a playoff spot.

Strengths.

The Chiefs’ defense does not lack for talent. Outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston combined for 19 sacks in 2012 and joined inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and strong safety Eric Berry as Pro Bowlers. Cornerbacks Sean Smith, Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson are skilled and experienced.

The offense has some top-end players, too, with running back Jamaal Charles (1,509 rushing yards in 2012) a premier game-breaking threat and wideout Dwayne Bowe a legit go-to target. At quarterback, Smith should be an upgrade over Matt Cassel, and the addition of No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher at left tackle strengthens the offensive line. The Fisher-Brandon Albert tackle tandem should be a real asset for the Chiefs.

With the additions of Reid and Smith, the NFL’s worst passing offense from a season ago has new life. That, in turn, should help a running game that thrived even without defenses having to worry much about the Chiefs’ passing attack.

Finally, Reid’s presence should be a major asset both on the sidelines and in the organization. The Eagles won 10 playoff games and registered nine winning seasons in his 14-season tenure. In that same span, the Chiefs didn’t register a single playoff win and had nine losing seasons.

Weaknesses.

While the Chiefs have some very skilled performers on defense, opponents nonetheless had success attacking Kansas City with the run and pass in 2012. To wit: the Chiefs finished 30th in yards per pass and 25th in yards per rush surrendered a season ago. The secondary should be better with Smith and Robinson joining the cornerback corps, but the run defense — especially right up the heart of the front seven — needs to be monitored. Per NFL statistics, opponents gained 4.78 yards per rush up the middle vs. the Chiefs in 2012.

On offense, the concern is the next wave of players beyond the starters. Kansas City is a little thin at the skill positions, especially at running back, where there is no clear-cut backup to count upon if Charles were to exit the lineup. Swift rookie Knile Davis has the talent to be a key contributor in the backfield, but he struggled with injuries and fumbles at Arkansas.

The depth at wide receiver is somewhat shaky until proven otherwise, too. Beyond Bowe, the top options are Donnie Avery, Jon Baldwin and Dexter McCluster. Avery is fast but comes durability concerns. Baldwin, the Chiefs’ 2011 first-round pick, hasn’t delivered on his potential. McCluster is quick but undersized.

On defense, the primary depth concerns are at outside linebacker, safety and along the defensive line.

Changes

Reid, renowned his work with quarterbacks and a proponent of the West Coast offense, is charged with reshaping the offense. Smith, who’s still not even 30 years old, could benefit form Reid’s tutelage and not having to worry about job security. There is no real threat to replace him on the roster.

In addition to Fisher, new faces on offense include Avery, tight end Anthony Fasano and quarterback Chase Daniel. Avery and Fasano project as regulars, while Daniel, formerly Drew Brees‘ understudy, will be the top backup to Alex Smith.

Rangy Sean Smith, signed from Miami, will start opposite of Flowers at cornerback, with Robinson expected to be the third corner. Robinson should be effective in this role; his experience and physicality ought to serve him well in the latter stages of his career.

The Chiefs will continue to use the 3-4 as their base defense, but Bob Sutton has taken over at coordinator, and some new wrinkles are to be expected.

Camp battles.

For a 2-14 club with a new head coach, the Chiefs don’t figure to have much camp-competition drama. Most starting spots are ably filled.

The offensive line could be the most unsettled position on the team. At center, third-year pro Rodney Hudson would seem to have the edge at center; he began 2012 as the starter before suffering a broken leg that ended his season. However, second-year left guard Jeff Allen got some work in the middle in the offseason, per the Kansas City Star. Allen started 13 games a season ago but graded out as the second-worst run-blocker among qualifying guards in Pro Football Focus’ rankings. Geoff Schwartz and Donald Stephenson are other potential options at guard.

Inside linebacker is another position that could have some intrigue if rookie Nico Johnson can push ex-Eagle Akeem Jordan.

Finally, Davis will get a look at kickoff returner, a position where the club could use more playmaking ability. However, he needs to hold onto the ball.

Prospects.

If Kansas City is playoff-caliber, it will show early. The Chiefs face one 2012 playoff team (Houston) in their first nine games. Five of their first six AFC games before their Week 10 bye are against the Jaguars, Titans, Raiders, Browns and Bills — teams Kansas City should be able to beat.

The Chiefs are going to need to take care of business in the first two months. Their post-bye schedule includes two games against Denver in three weeks. Kansas City also draws Washington and Indianapolis down the stretch. The season finale at San Diego won’t be easy, either.

Overall, though, it’s a manageable schedule for the Chiefs. And it’s probably safe to assume the bottom doesn’t fall out again this year – though we wouldn’t blame Kansas City fans for knocking on wood, given how last season went.

Really, though, the Chiefs’ 2012 form was so bad it cannot be taken at face value. Clearly, they are capable of more.

How much more is the question.

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Browns “won’t rest” until they “solidify” quarterback position

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The Browns sort of gave their current quarterbacks a vote of confidence by not using one of three first-round picks on Thursday night on a rookie signal-caller. And then their executive V.P. of football operations did anything but give their current quarterbacks a vote of confidence.

We won’t rest until we solidify that position,” Sashi Brown said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It’s not solidified right now, so we know we need the guys here to work their tails off and Hue [Jackson] is going to develop them as much as possible and push them to be their best and we also know that until we get it solidified, we’re going to continue looking for players all over the league and in college.”

Brown cast a wide net regarding where the Browns may go to solidify the position.

“That may be in next year’s draft, it may be in free agency, it may be via trade,” Brown said. “But again, Brock [Osweiler], Cody [Kessler], and Kevin [Hogan] are here working hard and we’re going to support them as best we can.”

They’ll support them until they find the guy who supplants them. Per Brown, the effort to “solidify” (i.e., find someone better) will continue indefinitely.

“Every day until we solidify the position we leave this building thinking about what opportunities might be out there, so absolutely,” Brown said.

At some point, the solidification effort needs to commence. Maybe they would have gotten Mitchell Trubisky last night at some point after taking defensive end Myles Garrett, if the Bears hadn’t moved to No. 2 to get him. Maybe they would have taken Patrick Mahomes at No. 12, if the Chiefs hadn’t moved up. They could have taken Deshaun Watson at No. 12, but opted to trade down — and to take a future first-round pick from the Texans to do it.

They still could emerge from this weekend with a quarterback. DeShone Kizer and Davis Webb remain available. And a trade for a veteran remains possible.

Earlier this year, Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com said on PFT Live that the current brain trust in Cleveland won’t be on the clock for termination until they have their quarterback. It’s hard not to wonder whether they’re paralyzed by that reality, waiting for the best possible quarterback before pulling the trigger. A cynic also could wonder whether they’re deliberately delaying getting a quarterback to maximize job security.

That would be a risky move, because another horrible season to follow last year’s 1-15 disaster may be enough to get ownership to decide to pull the plug on the analytics-and-old-school hybrid that has been great at stockpiling draft picks but, so far, not much else.

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Bears’ Week 13 win over 49ers cost them three picks

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In Week 13, the Bears beat the 49ers in a game that seemed utterly meaningless: Chicago entered the game 2-9, San Francisco entered the game 1-10, and neither team had anything to play for.

But it turned out to be a very meaningful game: The 49ers finished the season 2-14 and had the second overall pick in the draft, while the Bears finished the season 3-13 and had the third overall pick. If the 49ers had beaten the Bears, those records and draft orders would be reversed. And the Bears’ trade up from No. 3 to No. 2 for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky never would have happened.

As it turned out, the Bears sent their third-round pick this year, their fourth-round pick this year and their third-round pick next year to San Francisco just to move up to a draft spot that would have belonged to the Bears if only the Bears hadn’t beaten the 49ers in Week 13.

NFL teams keep playing hard even if the season is lost. Even the Browns, last year’s worst team, won in Week 16 and took the Steelers to overtime in Week 17 in a season finale that could have cost Cleveland the first overall pick with a win. But sometimes teams would be better off losing. The Bears would undoubtedly be better off today if they had lost that meaningless game in December.

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Bill O’Brien, Rick Smith say Tom Savage is the starter

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The Texans made a big move up the draft board on Thursday night when they sent their 2018 first-round pick to the Browns for the chance to use the 12th overall pick on quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Houston had already sent their 2018 second-round pick to Cleveland as a way to erase Brock Osweiler from their roster, so one might think that mortgaging the future in that manner would give Watson the inside track on a starting job this year. Both Texans coach Bill O’Brien and General Manager Rick Smith say that isn’t the case.

O’Brien called Savage the starter after the Watson pick was announced and Smith said he was “comfortable” with Savage as the starter, whcih was what he said in his pre-draft press conference as well. Watson didn’t upset the apple cart when discussing his immediate future.

“All I need to do is put my head down, don’t say anything, learn from all the veterans, learn from Tom Savage, learn from Brandon Weeden and just play my role,” Watson said, via the Houston Chronicle. “Whatever my role is help the team win.”

It’s April, which means there’s a lot of time for Watson to learn the offense and make people with the team less comfortable with leaving him on the bench. Until and unless that happens, it will be Savage at the helm in Houston.

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Both Cleveland and Washington deny Kirk Cousins trade talks

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One of the cannonballs into the pool on a busy news night for the NFL was a report from its own network that the Browns were trying to trade for Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins.

By the end of the night, one-sixteenth of the network’s ownership had denied it, with both teams poo-poohing it.

Via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Browns executive Sashi Brown dismissed it, calling it “bad reporting.”

Meanwhile in Washington, via John Keim of ESPN.com, coach Jay Gruden said they didn’t “receive one call” about Cousins.

The Browns used three picks Thursday night, none on quarterbacks, which means their depth chart still consists of Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler.

And until Cousins has a long-term deal somewhere, the speculation about him will continue, in Cleveland and elsewhere. But the time being, both teams are shooting this one down.

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Malik McDowell, Dalvin Cook among big names left after first round

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The NFL announced earlier this month that 22 players would be attending this year’s draft in Philadelphia, although that number dropped by one when cornerback Gareon Conley changed his plans this week.

Conley wound up going in the first round despite the sexual assault allegations that led him to pass on the trip, but a few of the other invitees remained on the board through all 32 picks. Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell, Alabama tackle Cam Robinson, Washington cornerback Kevin King and Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie all remain available heading into Round Two on Friday night.

They have company among recognizable names from outside of Philadelphia. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook didn’t join Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey as a first-round pick and joins Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon at the top of the list of available backs.

Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp, Washington safety Budda Baker and Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham are others that sometimes appeared as first-round picks in mock drafts before going unselected on Thursday. Quarterbacks Davis Webb and DeShone Kizer also figure to be among the names coming off the board when the draft resumes with the Packers on the clock at No. 33.

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49ers end Reuben Foster’s slide

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Reuben Foster’s loss was San Francisco’s gain.

The Alabama linebacker, one of the top talents in the draft, slid after being sent home from the Scouting Combine and, more recently, generating a positive drug test via a dilute sample.

It caused him to plunge, but the 49ers decided to trade up to get him, doing a deal with the Seahawks for the 31st pick in the draft.

The 49ers gave up their second-round pick and a fourth-round pick to make the move up and grab Foster, who possibly would have been nabbed by the Saints.

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Saints close first round by taking Ryan Ramczyk

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The first round of the 2017 NFL Draft is in the books.

The Saints closed out the night’s activities in Philadelphia by taking Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk with the 32nd overall pick. The pick was one they acquired from the Patriots in the trade that sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots.

Ramczyk is the latest of many strong blockers to come out of Madison in recent years and was widely projected to be a first-round pick this season. He had hip surgery after the end of the Badgers’ season, which may have pushed him down a bit but he ended the night making good on those projections.

They had previously taken cornerback Marshon Lattimore with the 11th pick of the round, so they were able to address both sides of the ball before the night was out.

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Tak McKinley arrives with a flourish, with an “F”

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Pass rusher Takkarist McKinley brings a great story to the NFL. He also brings a colorful vocabulary.

During a live interview with Deion Sanders of NFL Network, McKinley spoke about the influence of his  late grandmother, and the promise he made to her to become a Division I athlete.

“I completed my promise,” McKinley said. “It means every f–king thing to me. Excuse my language. Man, fine me later. Fine me later, man.”

It will be interesting to see whether the NFL does, given that he made the statement during a broadcast on the league-owned network.

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Steelers grab T.J. Watt with 30th overall pick

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The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt with the 30th overall pick in the draft.

The brother of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, T.J. made a name for himself at Wisconsin last season.

He started just one season for the Badgers after converting to the defensive side of the ball. Watt posted a team-best 15.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks to earn First Team All-Big Ten and multiple All-American honors for Wisconsin last season.

Outside linebacker was a big need for the Steelers as James Harrison isn’t getting any younger.

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Browns move up to No. 29, take David Njoku

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The Browns are the busiest team in the NFL tonight.

With the 29th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns selected David Njoku, the athletic tight end from the University of Miami.

The Browns moved up to No. 29 in a trade with the Packers, packaging the 33rd and 108th overall picks to get the 29th pick.

Thanks to their many trades, the Browns had three first-round picks: They took Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett first overall, took Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers 25th overall and then took Njoku. That’s two talented players on defense and a talented player on offense.

No team in the NFL added the kind of talent the Browns added tonight. Cleveland still hasn’t identified its franchise quarterback, but the Browns are starting to put a team in place that looks like it can compete, something that hasn’t been the case recently in Cleveland.

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Cowboys scarf down Taco Charlton with the 28th pick

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With a run of pass-rushers late in the first round, the Cowboys got their Taco to go.

With the 28th pick, Dallas added Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton.

He had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss last year for the Wolverines, and has the kind of size and speed which make him a good option for the Cowboys.

While it’s hard to find the kind of “war daddy” pass-rusher Jerry Jones was hoping for at the end of the first round, Charlton’s a good option for a team which needs all the help they can find opposite Demarcus Lawrence.

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Bills take Tre’Davious White after trading down to No. 27

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The Bills were originally scheduled to pick much earlier on Thursday night, but the Chiefs’ desire to get quarterback Patrick Mahomes helped change that.

The Chiefs sent the Bills their first-round pick next year, a third-round pick this year and the No. 27 pick in exchange for the 10th pick and that haul was too much for Buffalo to pass up. They used that No. 27 pick to add LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White to their roster.

White started for most of his time in Baton Rouge and gives new Bills coach Sean McDermott an option to help build a cornerback corps that’s said goodbye to Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Robey-Coleman since the end of last season. Their departures should help White’s bid to play early for the Bills.

White is the third LSU player and fifth cornerback to come off the board on Thursday night. He’s also a punt returner, so his contributions to the Bills may go beyond defense.

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Falcons trade up for Tak McKinley

AP

The Seahawks held the 26th pick in the draft. Until the Falcons acquired it from them.

Atlanta moved up from No. 31 to select pass rusher Takkarist McKinley from UCLA.

He gives the Falcons a bookend to Vic Beasley, on a defense that quickly has become one of the best in the NFL under Dan Quinn.

The Seaahwks will now slide into the No. 31 spot, and possibly could slide down even farther.

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Browns select Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers

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The Cleveland Browns could have had Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson with the 12th overall pick if they wanted him to fill a pressing need at the quarterback position.

Instead, the Browns traded back and ended up with Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers.

Peppers could play several different positions in the NFL, but was primarily a linebacker/safety at Michigan.

Peppers finished third in both tackles (72) and all-purpose yardage (an average of 62.6 yards per game) for the Wolverines in 2016, while leading the team with 16 tackles for loss and four sacks.

He’s also a capable special teams performer as well.

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At 24, Raiders take a chance on Gareon Conley

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In perhaps the biggest surprise of the first round of the NFL draft, the Raiders have selected Gareon Conley, the Ohio State cornerback who came under intense scrutiny this week when he was named as a suspect in a sexual assault investigation.

Until his name surfaced in the police investigation, Conley was expected to be a high first-round pick. As it turned out, Conley wasn’t a high first-round pick, but he was a first-round pick, with the Raiders taking him at No. 24.

Obviously, the Raiders have to be confident that Conley will be cleared. Conley has professed his innocence and insisted that he has multiple witnesses who can testify that he was never alone with his accuser on the night in question.

Conley is an undeniably talented football player. The Raiders also believe they can trust him to be clean off the field.

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