The Chiefs began training camp with more questions than you might expect from a team coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. From personnel changes, veteran additions, and rookies taking the field for the first time; what are the biggest questions for Chiefs training camp?
We all saw what happened in Super Bowl LV. The offense completely fell apart amid the collapse of the offensive line. The Chiefs made it a priority to never let that happen again. Will the plan work as intended though?
The team signed the premier left guard in free agency in Joe Thuney and traded their first-round pick for Pro Bowler Orlando Brown Jr. to play left tackle. Barring any major setbacks, the left side of the line may be the best in the NFL. The right side remains a question mark even after the renovations.
The Chiefs used their 2021 second-round draft pick on center Creed Humphrey. In three collegiate seasons, Humphrey had 1,297 pass-blocking snaps and only allowed 28 pressures and zero sacks. He projects to step in and man the center of the line immediately. The right guard spot is the most intriguing.
The team signed veteran Kyle Long and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is returning from his opt-out year. The team also drafted Trey Smith in the sixth round of the NFL draft. Smith was a top prospect at his position but fell due to health concerns. Long and Duvernay-Tardif were expected to compete for the job but Smith has been taking the first-team reps. Will the team go with the rookie right guard or will they redshirt him and instead turn to one of their veterans?
The only starting lineman that played in the Super Bowl and may retain his job in 2021 is the right tackle: Mike Remmers. It’s fair to wonder how much blame should fall on Remmers for the epic offensive line collapse. He was the starting left tackle in the Super Bowl despite having zero snaps at the position prior. During the regular season when he was the right tackle, he had a PFF grade of 71.3 which marked him at 38th at his position. Will a switch back to right tackle as well as a vastly upgraded line help him improve?
Last year’s second-round pick, Lucas Niang, will also be returning from opt-out. During his three collegiate seasons, Niang had 975 pass-blocking snaps and gave up zero sacks. In over 1,900 snaps he didn’t give up a single penalty. Will he be able to come back in his second pro season and make a case for the starting job at right tackle?
The linebacker group has been a weakness for the Chiefs for several years now. Damien Wilson left in free agency but Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann remain. Hitchens and Niemann both performed near the bottom of linebackers with PFF grades of 49.7(58th) and 48.5(60th). Along with the incumbents, Willie Gay Jr. will be entering his second season. Gay flashed a lot of potential in his limited play in 2020 and should be in line for a much bigger workload this season.
The team used a second-round pick on linebacker Nick Bolton in this year’s draft. Bolton had a PFF grade of 91.2 which is the highest grade any linebacker has been given since 2019. Bolton’s biggest strength is in the run game, an area where the Chiefs struggled by giving up the 12th most rushing yards. Will the Chiefs give the rookie a starting job to try and fix one of the biggest weaknesses on the team or will they continue to let the veterans play so the young rookie can sit and learn?
The Chiefs have made Frank Clark one of the top five highest-paid players at his position. In 2020, he rewarded them with the nine quarterback hurries(60th), 25 quarterback pressures(46th), 9.8% pressure rate(53rd), and six sacks(45th). His run defense isn’t any better as PFF gave him a grade of 55.7. Those numbers are even more concerning when you take into the fact that he plays alongside Chris Jones who is the main focus of opposing offensive lines.
Clark’s double team rate was in the bottom third of all defensive ends in 2020. He is facing one on one situations at a high rate and simply just not beating his man. The Chiefs cap hit for Clark will be $25.8 million in 2021. His production is nowhere near that cap value.
On top of Clark’s production, or lack thereof rather, he is facing legal issues that could carry up to three years in prison. Even if he is exonerated, the NFL could still suspend him for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. This may actually provide an out for the Chiefs and allow them to move on from his contract due to him breaking personal conduct policies. Whatever happens to Clark, the Chiefs have a massive question mark at the defensive end position that they need to answer quickly.
Training Camp Questions
The Chiefs are still a team in overall good shape even if they have some big question marks. Will the team essentially start three rookies on the right side of the offensive line? Will the defense continue to rely on below-average linebackers such as Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann or will Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. be able to form a thunder and lightning type duo that can cover passes and stop the run? Can Frank Clark play a top-five paid player? Will Frank Clark play at all in 2021? These are all questions that the Chiefs hope to answer during training camp.
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