Drilling in: Chiefs unit by unit analysis

Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt will be looking to build off his brilliant rookie season.Photo: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

By Matt Derrick, The Sports Xchange
A detailed breakdown of the lineup

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Patrick Mahomes. Backups -- Chad Henne, Matt McGloin, Chase Litton.

The Chiefs stand fully invested in Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid believes he's found the quarterback of the future. Mahomes picked up a lone start in Week 17 last season, dishing out a 22-of-35 performance for 284 yards with an interception while working with an array of backups in a thrilling come-from-behind win over Denver. The offense has the weapons to put points on the board, but everything rests on Mahomes making it work. Henne provides a steady hand at backup with West Coast offense experience. But it's his veteran experience and savvy as a sounding board for Mahomes that creates value. McGloin and Litton should battle for the third spot.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Kareem Hunt. Backups -- Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware, FB Anthony Sherman, Damien Williams, Kerwynn Williams, Darrell Williams FB Algernon Brown.

Hunt exploded on the scene last year, leading the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards. Newly minted offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy believes Hunt can build on his rookie season, especially in the passing game where he racked up 53 catches for 455 yards. The Chiefs built a stable of reliable backups during the offseason as a hedge against the return of Spencer Ware, who suffered a serious season-ending knee injury last August. Rookie Darrell Williams impressed during offseason workouts, and West remains the team's most versatile back as a third-down and special teams contributor.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Travis Kelce. Backups -- Demetrius Harris, Alex Ellis, Jace Amaro, Tim Wright.

Reid's West Coast offense runs through the tight end, a premise backed up by the consecutive 1,000-yard seasons posted by Kelce. The Chiefs hope the addition of more firepower at receiver opens up the field for Kelce, who frequently faces double or bracket coverage. The team remains in search of a reliable backup behind Kelce. Harris improved his blocking in recent seasons, but has struggled with drops. The offense needs a reliable pass catcher as well as a run blocker to bolster a red-zone offense that ranked 29th in touchdown percentage a year ago.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley. Backups -- Demarcus Robinson, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter, Blake Mack, Daniel Braverman, Byron Pringle, Josh Crockett, Elijah Marks, Jordan Smallwood.

The addition of Watkins to an offense that includes Hill, Hunt and Kelce gets young gunslinger Mahomes one of the most enviable offenses groups in the league. Hill stamped his name as the team's No. 1 receiver last year with 75 catches for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. Watkins delivered 39 catches for 593 yards last season with the Rams, but the Chiefs believe a full healthy offseason for first time in his career should pay dividends. Conley showed impressive form in his return from a season-ending Achilles injury suffered in Week 5 last year. After that, the Chiefs have a lot of speedy receivers without much on their resume. Robinson continues to tantalize with his size and athleticism, but needs to build on a sophomore campaign that included 21 catches for 212 yards.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Eric Fisher, LG Parker Ehinger, C Mitch Morse, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT Mitchell Schwartz. Backups -- OL Cameron Erving, T/G Bryan Witzmann, G/C Jordan Devey, G Ryan Hunter, G Kahlil McKenzie, T Dillon Gordon, T Andrew Wylie, G/C Jimmy Murray, T Bentley Spain, C Tejan Koroma.

Injuries kept this group from finding a rhythm last season, especially during a stretch of six losses in seven games where the high-flying offense sputtered. Morse sat out offseason practices in his return from foot surgery. Ehinger enters camp as the narrow favorite to win the left guard job, but it is by no means secure. The free agency departure of Swiss Army knife Zach Fulton, who started 12 games at three different positions last year, deprives the Chiefs of an experienced backup. Erving expects to fill Fulton's role as utility backup. Schwartz remains the leader of the offensive line and brings an ironman streak of 96 games playing every offensive snap of his six-year NFL career.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Allen Bailey, DT Xavier Williams, LDE Chris Jones. Backups -- DT Derrick Nnadi, DE Jarvis Jenkins, DT Justin Hamilton, DT Stefan Charles, DT T.Y. McGill, DT Dee Liner.

Look no further than the Tennessee Titans running roughshod for 202 yards on the ground in January's playoff loss for the Chiefs' defensive makeover at the point of attack. The free agent Williams provides a veteran run-stuffing presence while third-round pick Nnadi adds depth and strength inside. Jones and Bailey chipped in 8.5 sacks last season and a leaner, stronger Jones hopes to provide more punch against the run. Jenkins found his stride last season as a strong contributor off the bench.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LOLB Justin Houston, SILB Reggie Ragland, RILB Anthony Hitchens, ROLB Dee Ford. Backups -- OLB Frank Zombo, OLB Breeland Speaks, OLB Tanoh Kpassagnon, ILB Dorian O'Daniel, ILB Ukeme Eligwe, ILB Terrance Smith, OLB Tyrone Holmes, ILB Ben Niemann, OLB Rob McCray, ILB Raymond Davison.

Houston remains the most feared foe in the team's front seven, and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton plans to move the veteran edge rusher around in trying to create more defensive mismatches. Ford picked up just two sacks last year before undergoing season-ending back surgery. The club drafted Speaks to add punch to the pass rush, and second-year rusher Kpassagnon also could play a role. The addition of Hitchens inside joining Ragland adds speed and aggression to a linebacking corps that lacked both at times last season. O'Daniel, the fourth-round pick from Tennessee, could find playing time immediately as a hybrid 'backer in the team's plentiful substitution packages.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starter -- CB Kendall Fuller, CB Steven Nelson, SS Eric Berry, FS Daniel Sorensen. Backups -- CB David Amerson, S Eric Murray, S Robert Golden, S Leon McQuay, S Armani Watts, CB Tremon Smith, CB Arrion Springs, CB Keith Reaser, CB Will Redmond, CB Ashton Lampkin, S Jordan Sterns, CB Makinton Dorleant, CB D'Montre Wade, CB Step Durham.

With Marcus Peters gone, it's up to Berry returning from last year's season-ending Achilles injury to restore sanity to a secondary that ranked 29th in the league against the pass last year. Sorensen appears likely to fill the free safety spot next to Berry, but don't rule out Murray and Watts battling for playing time. Nelson enters training camp as the only returning cornerback with significant playing time with the club last season. Fuller, acquired in the Alex Smith trade with Washington, yielded a league-best 55.0 passer rating in the slot last season. He expects to play the slot in sub packages but likely starts at left corner in the team's 3-4 base look.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Harrison Butker, P Dustin Colquitt, LS James Winchester, KOR Tremon Smith, PR Tyreek Hill.

The Chiefs kicking game returns intact with Butker coming off a record-setting rookie season with 38 field goals. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub values the veteran Colquitt for his ability to angle kicks -- he's put 420 punts inside the 20 in his 13 seasons. The only position up for grabs focuses on the kickoff return duties, where sixth-round pick Smith appears the front-runner entering camp. Incumbent De'Anthony Thomas may reclaim the role if he proves healthy returning from a broken leg in last year's season finale.

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