Shutdown Countdown: Kansas City Chiefs can turn it around very quickly

Frank Schwab
July 10, 2013

The NFL season is approaching and Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams, counting down our power rankings with one team a day until No. 1 is unveiled on Aug. 4, when the preseason kicks off with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton. Go to our Facebook page after you read the preview for all airing of grievances; we’ll have a daily discussion there to go with each preview.

Of all the teams in the bottom third of the power rankings, the Chiefs have the best chance to make a big leap.

Last season, the Chiefs had probably the best roster for any two-win team in NFL history. There were six Pro Bowlers. There are solid players at most positions. Romeo Crennel is a nice man, but he did a really bad job with the 2012 Chiefs. They underachieved in an astonishing way.

[Salary cap outlook: Jamaal Charles is a bargain]

Crennel is gone, and Andy Reid is in as Kansas City's coach. The other major problem for the Chiefs, a dreadful quarterback situation, was fixed with the addition of Alex Smith. Smith isn't the best quarterback in the NFL, but he's a big upgrade.

It's hard to place the Chiefs much higher in the power rankings – no matter the talent on the roster, this is a team that didn't lead in any game during regulation time last season until Nov. 12 – but Kansas City could be much improved in 2013.

Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: Much better. The quarterback change alone makes the roster better. Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson provide good depth at cornerback. Tight end Anthony Fasano and linebacker Akeem Jordan are solid vets. And then the Chiefs also added offensive tackle Eric Fisher, the top pick of the 2013 draft and immediate impact starter. This team had a very good offseason.

Best offseason acquisition: Smith is the obvious answer. Chiefs quarterbacks put up a 63.8 rating last year, 31st in the NFL. Jacksonville's quarterbacks ranked better. Think about that for a moment. Smith was playing well last year for San Francisco, he just got Wally Pipp'ed by the incredibly talented Colin Kaepernick. The bar is pretty low for Chiefs quarterbacks, so Smith will be just fine. Getting with Reid should help him out too.

Biggest hole on the roster: While Dwayne Bowe is a good receiver (at least when he has someone competent to throw him the ball), there has to be some concern about a second option in the passing game. Jon Baldwin is a former first-round pick, Dexter McCluster was once picked in the second, and neither has lived up to their draft status. Fasano is a good player but not a playmaking receiver. Maybe Donnie Avery, a fast but inconsistent receiver who comes over from the Colts, can help.

Position in flux: Another sign that the Chiefs are far better than last year's 2-14 record is how few position battles there are. One interesting one is at inside linebacker, where veteran Jordan should be pushed hard by fourth-round pick Nico Johnson. Johnson was a key member of Alabama's great defense last year. The Chiefs missed out on signing Desmond Bishop, but they should be OK at the inside linebacker spot opposite Derrick Johnson.

Player you might not have heard of yet, but will soon: Remember when we said there aren't many weapons after Bowe in the passing game? Travis Kelce could emerge as one. The multi-talented tight end from Cincinnati was drafted in the third round, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Reid got creative with him. He averaged 16 yards per catch with eight touchdowns for the Bearcats last year.

Stat fact: Jamaal Charles is sixth in NFL history with 5.8 yards per carry in his career, and the five players ahead of him are all quarterbacks. Yes, that means Charles has the best per-carry average of any running back in NFL history. The only running back within 0.4 yards of his average is Marion Motley. He's special.

This team’s best-case scenario for the 2013 season: It's hard to imagine Kansas City beating Denver for the division title. The Broncos finished 11 games ahead of the Chiefs last year. But it's not too farfetched to imagine the Chiefs finishing a comfortable second ahead of the rebuilding Raiders and fading Chargers. They need Smith to play well. Elsewhere on the roster, the talent is there to be in the playoff race.

And here’s the nightmare scenario: Reid looked burned out last year, and a year off might have done him well. If he hasn't regained the spark, if Smith is mediocre, if Charles gets hurt like he did in 2011, it could be bad. It's not too hard to imagine; this was an absolutely putrid team a year ago.

The player who could swing this team’s season one way or another: Eric Berry had the look of a future star as a rookie. The fifth overall pick of the 2010 draft hurt his knee in 2011 and didn't look the same last year. He was 17th in Pro Football Focus' safety rankings as a rookie, and just 43rd last year. He struggled in coverage, especially. But Berry is another year removed from tearing his ACL and if he fulfills his immense promise, he could have a huge impact for this team.

The Shutdown Countdown previews you might have missed
32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars

30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans

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