2016 State of the AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs reversed course in 2015 and won 11 games in a row, including their first playoff win since 1993. Will they ride that momentum into 2016 or fall back into mediocrity?

When Andy Reid was hired to coach the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, he inherited a 2-14 team with five Pro Bowl players, but no quarterback, and no real direction. In the three years since, Reid has compiled 32 wins, two playoff berths, and the first Chiefs playoff victory in 22 years. Had time management been more of a priority, Reid's Chiefs may very well have met the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.

Reid took the Chiefs from the cellar of the NFL to annual playoff contender by building an efficient ball-control offense and an attacking defense. Alex Smith is entering his fourth season as quarterback, providing a west coast passing style and deceptive mobility. After famously not throwing a single touchdown to a wide receiver in 2014, the Chiefs acquired former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Maclin lived up to expectations his first year in Kansas City, catching 87 passes for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns.

The offense looked doomed after it lost Jamaal Charles for the season with a torn ACL in Week 5. The running game hardly missed a beat, however, as former unknowns Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware combined for 1,037 yards and 10 rushing scores. Complementing the play of Maclin and the young duo of backs was Travis Kelce, who cemented his status as a premier tight end after 2015. Kelce caught 72 passes for 875 yards and five touchdowns on the way to his first Pro Bowl selection.

To no one's surprise, the defense was led for another year by the pass-rushing abilities of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Hali signed a three-year contract with the Chiefs in March, but Houston's early-season availability is up in the air after offseason knee surgery. Reports indicate his recovery could take anywhere from six month to a year.

The Chiefs found a ball hawk in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft when they took a chance on Washington Huskies cornerback Marcus Peters. Peters did not disappoint, using his riverboat gambler style of coverage to rack up a league-leading eight interceptions and earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Peters wasn't the only Chiefs defensive back to earn high marks in 2015; safety Eric Berry performed well enough to make the Pro Bowl, the AP All-Pro team, and win Comeback Player of the Year after fighting Hodgkin's Lymphoma during the 2014 season.

Free Agent Additions

Like the Broncos, the Chiefs' free agency period was largely defined by the players they lost rather than the ones they gained. Cornerback Sean Smith left for the Oakland Raiders, leaving a hole at the corner spot opposite Peters. The defense also took a hit when safety Husain Abdullah and defensive end Mike Devito both abruptly retired in the offseason.

Other losses included safety Tyvon Branch, guard Jeff Allen, quarterback Chase Daniel, and right tackle Donald Stephenson.

Their best moves during free agency were locking up some of their key pieces. The Chiefs retained Berry with the franchise tag but, like Von Miller, an extension still needs to be negotiated. Aside from the aforementioned Hali deal, Kansas City signed 33-year-old linebacker Derrick Johnson to another three-year contract worth $21 million.

http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p...A highly underrated move was the re-signing of nose tackle Jaye Howard. At $5 million per year, the deal is an absolute bargain for one of the better interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Howard broke out in 2015 with 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, thanks in part to his deceptive athleticism and an unbelievable spin move. Between him and Dontari Poe, the Chiefs boast one of the best interior defensive lines in the NFL.

The big get in free agency for the Chiefs was former Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz. The Chiefs gave Schwartz a five year, $33 million deal to take over for Stephenson on the right side of the line. They also picked up former Oakland Raiders wide receiver Rod Streater to compete for a spot behind Maclin.

Rookie Additions

The Chiefs traded out of the first round and moved back to 37th overall to take Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive tackle Chris Jones. Jones has good length (six-foot-six) and could eventually fill the hole left by DeVito as a 3-4 defensive end.

After Jones, Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback Keivarae Russell was selected to address their need in the secondary. Russell doesn't have the size of Sean Smith, but he'll have a chance to start if he performs well in August.

Their fourth-round selection was Cincinnati Bearcats guard Parker Ehinger, a big, versatile mauler. After the departure of Allen and Ben Grubbs, the Chiefs will need to Ehinger to get some push up front to continue their dominance on the ground.

Minnesota Golden Gophers cornerback Eric MurrayFlorida Gators wide receiver Demarcus RobinsonStanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan, West Alabama wide receiver Tyreek HillGeorgia Tech Yellow Jackets cornerback D.J. White, and Virginia Tech Hokies defensive end Dadi Nicolas rounded out the Chiefs' 2016 draft haul.

Better or Worse?

There's a lot for the Chiefs to be concerned about heading into the 2016 season. The primary issue is their lack of depth. Justin Houston will likely miss a big chunk of the season, and the pass rushers behind him are unproven at best. Then, as usual, there's absolutely no one at wide receiver that scares you after Maclin. 

A few other position groups like guard and cornerback raise serious questions, especially if they get hit by injuries. The Chiefs used a lot of mid-round draft picks to patch those holes, but rookies can't be expected to provide stability in year one. 

The Verdict: 9-7

The Chiefs will drop back a couple games in 2016. The bottom line is that, between the injury to Houston and the loss of their starting guards, Kansas City can't dominate the edge on defense and can't control the clock with the power run game like they did when they won 11 games in a row last season.

9-7 is still a good mark if the AFC West is as competitive as it's expected to be, but don't expect the Kansas City Chiefs to make consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1995. 

RELATED: State of the AFC West: Oakland Raiders

RELATED: State of the AFC West: San Diego Chargers

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Will Keys is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.

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