What can we expect from the Chiefs front seven in 2017
The Kansas City Chiefs run defense took a big hit in 2016. What can be expected from the Chiefs front seven in 2017?
The Kansas City Chiefs defense in 2016 was at time unfamiliar to what we have come accustomed to since Bob Sutton took over as defensive coordinator in 2013. After years of being a stout all-around defensive unit, the defense failed to stop even the weakest of running games.
The front seven, which had been the strength of the defense in the previous two seasons, struggled to create the same pressure as it had previously. This may in part have to do with the season-ending injuries to defensive ends Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard and linebackers Derrick Johnson and Josh Mauga.
With a healthy front seven in 2015, the Chiefs ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. This 2016 squad allowed 121 yards per game and ranked 26th. Even with the decline, the Chiefs’ front seven was ranked eighth by Pro Football Focus.
The Chiefs should enter the 2017 campaign with a healthy front, if Johnson returns to form. Is that all it will take? Well, before his injury, Bailey was having his worst season as a professional, but that was just four games and a couple of snaps in game five. In 2015, Bailey finished with a final score of 76.8 per Pro Football Focus, which would have ranked him in the top 35 defensive linemen last season.
Jaye Howard played most of his 2016 season with a nagging injury. If Howard can get back to his 2015 form (also a contract year), he too would be a top 30 lineman. For a team trying to replace Dontari Poe, that would be a major plus.
Dontari Poe was rated as the worst front seven player for the Chiefs last season (questionable). Poe’s replacement will be Bennie Logan. Logan spent the last four seasons with the Eagles and is one off PFF’s top run defenders. Logan’s PFF grade was low last season and much of that may have to do with the change in defense. Logan was graded as the second best run defender (lineman) in the NFL and should be a solid replacement for Poe. Chris Jones ranked 13th among all defensive lineman as a rookie and should only improve moving forward.
Switching over to linebackers, the Chiefs know what they have in Justin Houston. When healthy, Houston is one of the top ten players in the NFL. What makes him great is not just his ability to rush the passer, but also how he shuts down any running back that comes his way. On the other side is where the Chiefs find their biggest weakness: Dee Ford. Ford was incredible at getting pressure on the quarterback before the return of Houston. Once he came back and they switched sides, he was unable to register a sack. Ford also struggles mightily against the run and must improve on that aspect of his game in 2017.
Finally we move to inside linebacker. Though you may find this hard to believe, when healthy, the Chiefs have two of the better inside linebackers in the NFL. Both Johnson and Wilson ranked in the top 20 at their position. IF Johnson can come back and be even 85 percent of what he was last season, the Chiefs will be set at inside linebacker.
The Chiefs must look at an inside linebacker in the upcoming draft, but I think that is a position that must wait for the third round. They will have to rely on their young players improving and must hope that their veterans regain their 2015 form.