Patrick Mahomes was the biggest story at the start and end of the most recent Chiefs season, but not for the reasons you might expect.
Coach / GM Rhys Jenkins took the reins from Andy Reid at the start of the 2019 season, and proceeded to embark upon a major rebuild which, according to many commentators and fans alike, wasn’t necessarily needed. Combining trades and FA, Kansas City decided not to retain the services of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif,Kendall Fuller, Travis Kelce, Mitchell Schwartz and the aforementioned Mahomes. Tyrann Matthieu and Frank Clark were also reportedly only retained due to implications for the team’s dead cap.
To make matters worse, Jenkins was forced to franchise tag star receiver Tyreek Hill after a year of protracted contract negotiations. The Chiefs were rich in draft picks, but their roster had been decimated by the loss of star players and a restricted cap space. In the 2020 Draft, Jenkins would go on to draft 21 players. To further illustrate the scale of the issue, 19 of thoserookie players made the final Chiefs roster to start the 2020 season.
Regular Season & Play-off Participation
Some of these rookies had a greater impact than others. Lee McFadden stepped in to fill the void left by Patrick Mahomes, and despite a late season rush of interceptions, performed well enough to help this still-talented roster clinch the AFC West Division. The final statistics for McFadden in the regular season don’t make for brilliant reading: 189/303 for 2755 yards, 21 TDs and 24 INT, but it is important to remember that following the Chiefs run of key divisional games, McFadden was sitting on a 16-11 TD/INT ratio and nearly 10 yards per attempt.
Another young player who hasn’t looked out of place in the NFL is Marcus Lewis, an imposing OT out of UCLA. Lewis started the season at right tackle, and was so impressive that Jenkins quickly moved him to the blindside and released former first round pick Eric Fisher. It hasn’t been a flawless season for Lewis by any means, but his application and professionalismhave made him a firm favourite among the KC staff.
The Chiefs opened the season at home to the New York Jets, and ended up on the wrong side of a 31-23 scoreline. A cursory glance at the numbers shows that the game was not as close as the result suggested. Darnold was able to complete 80% of his passes, with both Herndon and Rawls coming down with 50 yard completions. If it wasn’t for the assured work from the former USC passer, CJ Mosley would have surely been the MVP for this game, as he picked the Chiefs off twice.
McFadden completed only 9 of his 18 attempted passes, and threw 3 picks in the process. There were mitigating factors for the rookie QB, however. The Chiefs lost two key offensive weapons during the course of the game. Mecole Hardman was injured whilst completing a 38 yard reception, and Damien Williams managed only two rushing attempts before having to leave the field. It is also worth noting that, despite the poor completion percentage, McFadden threw for an average 18.6 yards per completion. The Chiefs didn’t yet know what they had in their rookie QB, but it was clear he had an arm.
The Chiefs followed this game up with a defeat to the Saints, who were simply too good for Kansas City in every department. For the second game in a row, the Chiefs allowed a ridiculous completion percentage, as New Orleans’ own rookie QB, Trent Ambrose, would complete 16 passes on 18 attempts. Unlike the Jets, Ambrose was not able to turn these completions into passing TDs, but with Alvin Kamara running out of the backfield, he didn’t have to.
A Tyreek Hill inspired win against the Raiders followed in a close match by two struggling teams, before an early Bye Week. Hopes that this break would allow the Chiefs to regroup appeared misplaced as they fell to the Chargers in Week 5, albeit in a close game which either side would have been unlucky to lose, but a dominant display against the Dolphins in Week 6 was something of a turning point. Prior to Week 6, Jenkins’ team sat 1-3 and unable to resist almost any passing attack. However, from Week 6 to Week 17, the Chiefs would go 6-6, and were a far more competitive outfit.
There were still bad losses (being shut out by theeventual Superbowl finalists Carolina Panthers was particularly brutal), but all in all the fans at Arrowhead were feeling a lot better about their team. Weeks 9 through 11 saw the Chiefs go on their first 3-game winning run under Jenkins’ tenure, and Kansas City would finish up with a 5-1 record against divisional opponents. To top it all off, exacting revenge on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wildcard game after a close defeat in the regular season showed the progression of this roster.
All good things must come to an end, and, in a cruel twist of fate, it was to be Patrick Mahomes who ended Kansas City’s playoff participation in 2020. The Cincinnati Bengals had gone 14-2 in the regular season, and were in no mood to have their season derailed. The plucky Chiefs stuck around into the 3rd quarter and put together some good drives. Ultimately though, their plan to keep Cincinnati’s offense off the field was only going to work for so long, and with Mahomes connecting on virtually every throw, the home team started to pull away throughout the second half.
Gareon Conley was acquired from the Raiders just before the trade deadline, but due to injury never took to the field in Chiefs colours in 2020. The deal cost Kansas City a 1st and 2nd round pick, but the team are reportedly optimistic that the former Ohio State star will prove a valuable addition once he returns to full fitness. On the face of it, upgrading a cornerback group where journeymen Terrance Mitchell and Fabian Moreau saw the most snaps in 2020 was absolutely imperative. Only 5 NFL teams gave up more passing yards per game on average than the Chiefs, and the team’s defense also ranked within the bottom half of the league in turnovers.
In contrast to the struggles Kansas City had faced against good aerial attacks, on the ground they were the 5th best unit in the NFL last season. Opposition teamswere limited to rushing for an average of 72.9 yards per game against the Chiefs in 2020, in no small part thanks to their defensive line of Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Derek Nnadi and Emmanuel Ogbah. The 2020 season may be Chris Jones’ last in Kansas City, in a move which will divide the fan-base. It is believed that Jenkins would simply not be willing to consider a new contract for Jones after the 2021 season and so the decision was taken to allow the talented defensive lineman to join long term suitors in Seattle.
On the offensive side of the ball, Tyreek Hill is now signed up to a four year contract after an impressive campaign, but the team have confirmed that Sammy Watkins will be moving on to pastures new. An impressive performance in the loss to the Bengals last time out will do his chances of agreeing a good contract at his next team no harm at all. Rashard Higgins was rewarded for fine play with a contract extension, but rumours are circulating that Mecole Hardman may be on the block after two seasons of limited production.
Veterans Andrew Wylie and Cameron Erving have both been allowed to leave Arrowhead Stadium after their contracts expired. They were the only starters on the Chiefs offensive line that had played NFL snaps before 2020. Analysts expect Jenkins to be active in free agency to plug these gaps, rather than again relying on the Draft. Rumours around the league are that a deal is already in place to bring Mike Person, an experienced center out of San Francisco, to the Chiefs as competition for current starter Tony Dalton, but at least another guard and tackle will be required before the start of next season.
Jenkins has reportedly seen enough under center to confirm that Lee McFadden will return as the starter in Kansas City in 2021. Jimmy Arnold’s performance when deputising in Week 17 against the Bills also indicates that there is some depth in the QB room for the Chiefs. An experienced head may be added to help mentor the young passers, however. It is unlikely that the Chiefs will want to part with draft assets to accomplish this, so this will be an area to watch in free agency.
Chiefs Offensive Player of the Year: Tyreek Hill (42 receptions for 1052 yards and 12 TDs)
Chiefs Defensive Player of the Year: Reuben Foster (53 solo tackles, 5 INT inc 2 returned for TDs, 1 Sack)
Chiefs Rookie of the Year: Gerard McDougle (23 receptions for 233 yards and 3 TDs)