The Kansas City Chiefs signalled their intent for change in the 2017 Draft by moving up to the 10th selection to acquire quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Since Andy Reid’s arrival at the club in 2013, Alex Smith had been a safe pair of hands at the position, proving his worth after the Chiefs used a second-round pick to secure his services from the San Francisco 49ers.
Kansas City reached the playoffs in four of the five seasons with Smith as their signal-caller, winning the AFC West in back-to-back terms in 2016 and 2017. However, success in the playoffs eluded Reid’s men, winning one game against the Houston Texans in the wildcard round in the 2015 term.
Patience ran thin after their narrow defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round in 2016, resulting in the move for Mahomes. Smith remained the starter and enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his NFL career in 2017. His tenure with the Chiefs ended on a sour note with a second-straight post-season defeat on home soil, losing by a single point to the Tennessee Titans.
Smith was traded to the Washington Redskins in the early stages of the off-season, with the franchise putting their faith in Mahomes to guide them over the hump to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1969. Kansas City are backed at 28/1 to win Super Bowl LII in the latest odds provided by Betway, which will be a challenge, given the changes they’ve made in key positions since the end of the 2017 campaign.
Smith was viewed as a game manager by many pundits in the NFL and given his standard of performances during his first four seasons with the Chiefs – it was not an unfair statement. However, the 33-year-old enjoyed a brilliant start to the 2017 campaign, perhaps fuelled by the drafting of Mahomes. His four-touchdown performance against the New England Patriots stunned the defending Super Bowl champions, recording a 42-27 win at Gillette Stadium. He maintained that form in the early stages of the term to be considered a candidate for MVP.
The inconsistencies in his game appeared during the middle stretch of the season, including a two-interception display against the New York Giants. Performances of that ilk would cost the Chiefs a bye in the post-season and may have convinced the club’s hierarchy to move on. Smith’s outing against the Titans in the playoffs was statistically sound, but he lacked the clutch performance needed to guide them to victory.
Reid will be hopeful that Mahomes has those characteristics in abundance. There are fine margins for the quarterback to deal with as the club have been a fixture in the AFC playoff race for the past five seasons. A step back will be deemed as a failure, even if it is his first full term in the NFL. The 22-year-old was outstanding during his time at Texas Tech in the college game and has quality weapons around him with Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The pressure is on Mahomes to deliver.
The Chiefs have also made significant moves on the defensive side of the ball. All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters was traded away to the Los Angeles Rams, while veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson was released. Both players were a key part of Bob Sutton’s unit last term, although Peters’ behaviour, particularly in a defeat to the New York Jets, may have hastened his departure. Their exits leave a void on the defense, while Eric Berry may not be the same player at the start of the 2018 term as he works his way back from a torn Achilles.
Kendall Fuller and Anthony Hitchens arrived to replace Peters and Johnson, but face a major baptism of fire in their bid to replace two quality players for the franchise. Justin Houston needs to take ownership of the defense and rediscover his best form rushing passer. He notched 9.5 sacks last term in 15 matches and can raise the bar to once again become one of the truly dominant pass-rushers in the NFL. A healthy Dee Ford could be crucial to easing the pressure, although there’s also a need for Tanoh Kpassagnon, Reggie Ragland and Chris Jones to come to the fore.
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