PFF, ESPN Say Chiefs Are Eight Players Away From Super Bowl


Pro Football Focus and ESPN teamed up to attempt to figure out how far away each of the 30 teams who didn’t make the Super Bowl this season to making it one year from now. Kansas City, they project, is about eight players away.

Here’s PFF/ESPN’s argument first.

PFF argues a team must have 40 percent of their players who play at least 250 snaps (this number is flexible) to rate as either good or elite. Their’s no stipulation as to which position these players must play or what the breakdown should be for ‘good’ or ‘elite.’ Simply if 40 percent of the players who are frequently on the field are above average then you’re a serious Super Bowl contender.

Kansas City had five players listed as being above average, one short of the NFL average. Those players were Justin Houston (elite), Sean Smith (elite), Anthony Fasano (elite), Travis Kelce (good), and Rodney Hudson (good). The Chiefs had 18 players listed as being average and eight as bad.

Those eight players are essentially the difference for the Chiefs. Progressing those eight into the average range and bumping a few of the average players to ‘good’ or ‘elite’ would do the trick. And it’s not out of the question some of those average players can progress upwards. Dontari Poe, Jamaal Charles, and Tamba Hali all qualified as ‘average’ players per PFF’s grading system.

There’s also the Alex Smith question.

"Alex Smith is unquestionably a quarterback who gives his team a chance to win. The past four seasons, his teams have finished with winning records, and in two years with the Chiefs, he as committed just 17 turnovers. But his cautious approach in Kansas City has led to relatively few explosive plays. He averaged just 7.04 yards per attempt in 2014 (24th in the NFL) and threw only 25 passes that traveled 25 yards or more in the air. His contract, which paid him $19 million in 2014, calls for a reasonable $12 million in 2015. But the Chiefs might be stuck with a quarterback good enough to stay competitive, but not elite enough to help contend for a championship."

Adam Teicher went on to add the Chiefs’ three biggest needs were wide receiver, offensive line, and inside linebacker.

The basic argument seems to be this: Add two offensive linemen, two wide receivers, two inside linebackers (one of which likely being Derrick Johnson), and have two of Poe/Hali/Charles regain their ‘good’ or ‘elite’ form. All of that equals Super Bowl — expect the part where they said Smith may not be ‘elite enough’ to take them that far.

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Therein lies one of the several issues with PFF/ESPN’s breakdown. If the offensive line can’t block and the wide receiver can’t get open/catch then what exactly is Smith supposed to do? It almost seems as if the argument with Smith is ‘all he does is win but he doesn’t win pretty enough for our taste.’ Smith was a Kyle Williams fumbled punt away from making the Super Bowl in 2011. If Smith was more ‘elite’ then would Williams have not fumbled the punt?

No question Smith is not as good as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Andrew Luck, but those three have combined to win one Super Bowl since February 2006. Meanwhile Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger have five rings between them – all teams primarily based on defense.

Enough about quarterbacks, let’s move on.

Pro Football Focus listed eight guys as being ‘bad’ this season in their evaluations: Ron Parker, Eric Fisher, Josh Mauga, Frankie Hammond, Marcus Cooper, Anthony Fasano, Knile Davis, and Mike McGlynn.

It is interesting PFF has a separation between ‘average’ and ‘elite’ with their ‘good’ ranking but they don’t have a category that separates ‘average’ and ‘bad.’ To label Knile Davis’ season with the same tag as Mike McGlynn’s seems unfair. ‘Below average’ has to be a label here, does it not? Because that’s about where you can put most of the eight guys on the Chiefs’ ‘bad’ list.

Kansas City really only had one truly bad player starting for them in 2014 and that was McGlynn. Some will argue Eric Fisher (-17.5 PFF overall grade) was bad but I’ll argue that grade is in some way negatively influenced by the fact he was playing next to McGlynn (-32.6 overall PFF grade). How many times this season did we watch McGlynn stand there and block no one? Expecting Fisher to make his block AND McGlynn’s block is almost where we were this season when it came to the left side of the offensive line.

One can make a the argument that if the Chiefs had an average offensive line that they would have been in the playoffs and probably could have made a run.

The Chiefs played eight offensive linemen in 2014 and only one, Rodney Hudson, had a positive grade. Their aforementioned starting left guard, McGlynn, was signed August 26 — thirteen days before the start of the regular season.

Ryan Harris, the team’s starting right tackle, was signed to provide competition on July 24. He ended up being the team’s second best offensive lineman.

Sixth round rookie Zach Fulton was forced into a starting position due to injuries and because Jeff Linkenbach couldn’t beat him out in training camp. Fulton would go on to allow more quarterback hurries and more quarterback hits than McGlynn.

Then you have whatever it is Eric Fisher is at left tackle. In the first three games of the year he accumulated a -9.7 overall grade. He had a two horrendous games against the St. Louis Rams (-5.1) and Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.3). In the other 11 games he had a PFF overall grade of +0.6. In six of his final seven games he had a positive run blocking grade, which may be the lone positive thing to come out of his season.

Savior Donald Stephenson couldn’t manage to beat out Fisher or Harris. In his limited opportunities he was awful, allowing four quarterback pressures in 13 pass blocking snaps. That’s a rate three times worse than Fisher.

Linkenbach finally beat out McGlynn in December and started the final three games of the season. He responded by posting a -6.9 overall grade and 12 quarterback pressures.

The horridness of the Chiefs’ offensive line makes watching the Seattle Seahawks offense all the more frustrating. Seattle, like Kansas City, has nothing at wide receiver. The combination of Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Kevin Norwood, Ricardo Lockette, and Bryan Waiters went for 1,987 yards receiving, which was only 243 yards more than the Chiefs’ group (1,744 yards). (If you’re wondering, Percy Harvin had 133 receiving yards in his short time with the Seahawks.You can add that to the margin if you wish.)

Marshawn Lynch led Seattle with four receiving touchdowns. (Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce each had five for the Chiefs.)

Seattle’s two longest passing plays of the season went to tight ends Luke Wilson (80 yards) and Tony Moeaki (63). (Kansas City’s longest were to Knile Davis and Albert Wilson for 70 and 48 yards respectively.)

The gap in production between what the Seahawks got from their wide receivers and the Chiefs is not nearly as large as one would expect. Especially considering Seattle is working with an ‘elite’ quarterback in Russell Wilson.

Kansas City isn’t sitting at home this weekend because they had lousy wide receivers. Or even to a certain degree because of their quarterbacks (PFF QB Rating: Tom Brady 91.12, Russell Wilson 90.28, Alex Smith 88.34). It’s because Seattle and New England are better at winning the battles along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. KC simply got destroyed there all season long.

One would think there is a strong likelihood Frankie Hammond, Anthony Fasano, and Mike McGlynn are not on this team next season. It wouldn’t be too stunning if we get to September and Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker are not on the roster either. However if both made the 53-man roster as ‘depth’ then one wouldn’t be too upset about the Chiefs’ secondary situation.

Josh Mauga, who was listed as a bad player, really shouldn’t be on this list. Entering the season his career high for snaps in a season was 154. He didn’t play a single snap in 2013. Yet through the first three months of the season Mauga posted a +0.1 overall PFF grade, making him almost dead average as an inside linebacker. By the time December rolled around he was out of gas. This should be a surprise since he played 1,028 snaps this season or about seven times the amount of snaps he’s played in the last three seasons combined. There’s something there with Mauga if the Chiefs want to keep him on the roster.

And, again, there’s Eric Fisher. The most common complaints with him are about his upper body strength and his inability to deal with power rushers. Fisher missed virtually all of last offseason recovering from two surgeries — shoulder and sports hernia – and added about 20 pounds in weight. No player has more pressure on him to ‘win the offseason’ like Fisher does this offseason. I’d imagine the Chiefs will do everything they can to make sure he has the best shot possible at accomplishing that goal.

Kansas City is probably about three or four offseason acquisitions away from being a Super Bowl contender, assuming Jamaal Charles can stay healthy and Derrick Johnson returns to about 80-percent of his former self. Those two ‘additions’ changes the needs of the team a great deal. Add a playmaker on each side of the ball and two offensive linemen then the Chiefs would have a very strong roster to compete with in the AFC.