Offseason Overview: Kansas City Chiefs
By James C. Black
2002 RECORD: 8-8
TEAM RANK (NFL): Defense (32nd); Offense (4th)
Free agents -- LB Shawn Barber (Eagles), CB Dexter McCleon (Rams), DE Vonnie Holiday (Packers).
Draft picks -- 1. RB Larry Johnson; 2. MLB Kawika Mitchell; 3. S Julian Battle; 4. OT Brett Williams; 5. OT Jordan Black; 6. DE Jimmy Wilkerson; 7a. DT Montique Sharpe; 7b. FS Willie Pile
P Dan Stryzinski (Jets), DE Duane Clemons (released)
Team news | Roster | More on Chiefs draft
If Dick Vermeil is going to match the feat he accomplished with St. Louis -- bringing a title to town in his third season with the club -- he'll need a dramatic turnaround from his defense. The Chiefs are coming off a campaign in which they led the league in scoring (29.2 points per game). Unfortunately for Vermeil, only four teams allowed more than the 24.9 ppg surrendered by Kansas City last season.
The Chiefs, who have gone five straight years without making the playoffs, were dead last in total yards allowed (390.5 ypg) and 31st in passing yards allowed (261.3 ypg) last season. However, the offseason additions of linebacker Shawn Barber, defensive end Vonnie Holliday and cornerback Dexter McCleon are supposed to greatly improve the defense.
What they've added?
In one of the great mysteries last offseason, the Chiefs addressed their defensive shortcomings by essentially relying solely on the draft. And even though they utilized half of their eight draft picks on defense this year -- selecting a pair of linemen (Jimmy Wilkerson and Montique Sharpe), two safeties (Julian Battle and Willie Pile) and middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell -- the Chiefs also signed three of the most sought-after free agents at their positions.
Barber and Holliday are coming off of solid seasons for playoff teams, and McCleon reunites with Vermeil, his first coach in St. Louis. The Chiefs scored at least 30 points on eight occasions but only went 4-4 because they gave up at least 30 points in six of those contests. If they tighten up the "D" a bit, they'll be more of a force in the AFC next season.
For all of the Chiefs offensive exploits, the team got a major scare when running back Priest Holmes suffered a hip injury that kept him sidelined the final two games. Holmes' injury and potential contractual problems were enough for Kansas City to invest its first-round pick on Heisman finalist Larry Johnson.
What they're missing?
For the most part, the Chiefs appear set on offense. They drafted a couple of tackles (Brett Williams and Jordan Black) to add depth to a superb line. Johnson should bolster an already strong running game, and Tony Gonzalez is still among the league's best tight ends. If there is a concern, it's at wide receiver where Johnnie Morton was one of the biggest free-agent disappointments last year. Marc Boerigter and Dante Hall were highly productive in limited opportunities, but the team seems loaded with a bunch of secondary receivers while lacking a proven No. 1.
Holliday was brought in to help bolster the pass rush, but he's never had 10 sacks in a season and five of his six last season came in one game (Week 16 against Buffalo). And no Chief last year recorded double-digit sacks. In order to improve on their 34 sacks last year, they'll need last year's first-round pick Ryan Sims, who missed much of the year because of injury, to get a push inside to help his brethens on the exterior.
Even with the additions of McCleon and Battle, it remains to be seen how the secondary handles division competition that now includes Jake Plummer, David Boston and an already explosive Oakland offense. If there are any proven cornerbacks or safeties made available after June cuts, the Chiefs might want to consider making a move to add depth.
What it all means?
In this rags-to-riches era of the NFL, the Chiefs are in position to make a legitimate championship run.
In addition to having marquee performers on both sides of the ball, scheduling might also be in the Chiefs' favor. They play Cincinnati, Houston, Detroit and Chicago -- which combined to win just 13 games last season. And three of their five games against teams that made last year's playoffs are at Arrowhead Stadium.
Last year, the Chiefs were a couple of defensive plays away from making the playoffs. With a couple of breaks, they could be the next squad making the leap from subpar to the Super Bowl.
James C. Black is an NFL editor for ESPN.com
Mon., May 12
How concerned are the Chiefs about Priest Holmes' injured hip?
Not very. Holmes is on schedule to be right by the second week in June. The plan is for him to be as big a part of their offense as in the past years. But the presence of first-round pick Larry Johnson may allow Holmes to get a couple more breaks during games. Holmes didn't suffer a Bo Jackson-type hip injury. It was a deep bone bruise. There were some loose bodies around the hip that were removed with a scope. They've tried to talk Holmes into being more open about his health, but Holmes prefers to be quiet and not talk about injuries.
Should Priest Holmes be taken No. 1 in fantasy drafts? Holmes would have been first in most 2003 drafts before injuring his hip in December. Team reps say Holmes will be 100 percent in time for July's training camp, but that remains to be seen. Complicating his status, Holmes has hinted that he's willing to hold out until the Chiefs rework his contract. Uncertainty about his health and contract drops him from being a consensus No. 1 pick. Yet, Holmes belongs in fantasy's elite with LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams, Clinton Portis and Marshall Faulk. Those who select Holmes in the first round must insure the pick with his backup, rookie Larry Johnson.
-- Roger Rotter, ESPN.com Fantasy editor
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