As OTA’s continue in Kansas City, four members of the Kansas City Chiefs 2017 injury class were back on the field. If they can each remain healthy this season, perhaps wide card expectations could be exceeded in 2018.
With roughly eight weeks until training camp begins, I’ll take the heat, unless I see something different, the Los Angeles Chargers remain my favorite to hoist the AFC West championship this season. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t believe for one minute the Kansas City Chiefs can make it a three-peat, because they certainly could if they can escape the injury bug.
However, if the latter is going to ring true, four key cogs to KC’s title hopes must stay healthy and complete the season without any stints in the season-ending medical wing.
WR Chris Conley – We don’t know what impact Conley’s loss had a year ago for KC’s offense when he ruptured his Achilles-heel in Houston, but with him in the lineup, they are a better offensive football team. Conley has size, solid hands, and in my view, might be the Chiefs best pure route runner. No offense to Tyreek Hill who kills with his speed, but Conley knows where to be on the field. The fact he’s in OTA’s and getting reps with Quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, will certainly pay dividends for the Chiefs this season.
In reality, Conley has the tools to be an above average receiver. However, as a benefactor of playing with Mahomes, Conley gives KC’s new quarterback a tall target with good hands to catch some passes that only a solid route runner with exceptional catching skills to haul in passes that a less talented receiver might not make. If the trio of Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Conley can bring three different dimensions to the passing game, KC’s offense could become one of the best in the NFL.
LB Justin Houston – The fact KC’s top passer rush is healthy means double-digit sacks are a guarantee this season. The fact, Houston who preferred to skip OTA sessions in years past, actually decided to attend this year, tells me he’s healthy and motivated. Now I’m sure that had something to do with his best friend, Eric Berry, more on him in a moment, pushing him to join the rest of his teammates in Kansas City.
In reality, Houston is making a boatload of cash, and injuries have made that $100M contract seems like an enormous overpayment for a player who can’t stay healthy. Still, if Houston is 100% and his knee is sound again, something that we won’t know until mid-year, he could become a force again accumulating sacks. Though that’s a bonus for KC, Houston is wise to go all in this year because with a big contract number next season, should the Chiefs cut him next spring.
LD Dee Ford – I’ve never been a fan of the Auburn draft pick. Personally, outside of a stretch in 2016 when he was on fire, he’s done very little since to show me he’s an elite player. Now, to be fair he had a multitude of injuries last season, so he’s worthy of getting another chance in my book.
Still, Ford has never been a game-changing defender, something former General Manager, John Dorsey was convinced was the case about his former first-round pick. Ford has pass rushing skills, he can also cover backs in open spaces, but if he’s going to become the next big thing in Kansas City and secure the long-term contract he desires, he must be on pace with Houston as a sack registering machine in 2018.
S Eric Berry – Clearly, I’ve saved the best for last. I’ve said it a thousand times before, the fact this man overcome Cancer to earn All-Pro Status in 2016 was one of the most remarkable achievements I’ve ever seen at the NFL level. Yes, other players have overcome serious medical challenges, but Berry’s path back to the game and the city he loves so much was vastly different.
When he showed up at OTA’s this year it was clear, he was ready to play again at a high level and lead this team to a Super Bowl. His sharp words last week made little doubt this team is going to adopt a one for all, all for one mentality or Berry is going to light a fire under the player that chooses another route. Berry is the heart and soul of the Chiefs. The man could have played anywhere but he chose to remain in Kansas City because he understands the value of being a Chief for life.
In summary, it’s far too early to believe all four guys can remain healthy and play at a level that makes the Chiefs an elite team overall, but one can hope that all four are playing meaningful games for Kansas City through the month of January and into February.