Nick Jacobs: Assessing Chiefs' roster needs entering 2021

Kansas City must prioritize needs on tight budget
Patrick Mahomes
Posted at 1:19 PM, Feb 10, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs came up short in their title defense Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Now, General Manager Brett Veach and Kansas City's front office now to decide how they want to help this roster evolve in the year ahead.

The Chiefs took a calculated approach aimed at maintaining continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic last offseason. The uncertain times lead to them to value cohesiveness from 2019 along with the addition of some complimentary pieces, which helped deliver another Lamar Hunt Trophy as AFC champions.

Some of the issues on the Chiefs' roster have been there since before their Super Bowl LIV title run. Others developed this season through injury, while a couple additional needs came from losses that couldn't be replaced production-wise.

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Here are the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs' team needs broken down into categories and ranked based on how critical it is to address the issue:


1. Offensive line

The Chiefs' needs up front comes at multiple positions.

Kansas City probably will need to add a starting offensive tackle to offset the injuries to left tackle Eric Fisher (torn Achilles) and the uncertain status of right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who missed the last half of the season with a back injury.

Hopefully, the Chiefs can fill the second tackle spot with a player currently under contract, but Kansas City also should consider investing in a starting center.

Kansas City's interior pass protection needs a stout center to allow quarterback Patrick Mahomes to setup into the pocket and a center who can knock a defender off the ball in short-yardage situations.

The Chiefs also could use a stronger interior presence at one of the guard positions. Kelechi Osemele showed what Kansas City could do in the run game with his physical presence before he was injured in Week 5.

The Chiefs likely need to find two to three new starters and continually invest in quality depth to develop along the offensive line.

The specter of Mahomes running nearly 500 yards behind the line of scrimmage for four quarters in a Super Bowl loss should be haunting enough to reinforce the need for such an investment.

2. Pass rushers

The Chiefs missed a strong pass-rushing presence opposite defensive end Frank Clark this season.

Emmanuel Ogbah proved to be a steady performer during the 2019 season's Super Bowl run, but there wasn't an answer on the opposite side of Clark this season.

Unfortunately, Kansas City also lacks depth at the pass-rushing position to rotate in throughout the game and maintain a steady pressure.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had to rely on blitzes from his linebackers and the secondary to manufacture the pressure his front four couldn't. The lack of disruption a long the defensive line caused issues in both the run and pass.

3. Wide receivers

Sammy Watkins' lack of availability at various times during the season, first with a hamstring injury then with a calf injury, hurt the Chiefs offense.

Kansas City was unable to maintain consistent execution if wide receiver Tyreek Hill or tight end Travis Kelce were unable to get open without a viable third option.

The Chiefs were fortunate to avoid an injury to Hill and Kelce but the lack of production behind them at the receiver group was glaring.

This receiver position could use multiple additions, though it isn't as pressing as the two needs above. Replacing Watkins at the "X" position and adding a slot receiver could really help the offense evolve and stay ahead of defenses.

4. Safeties

While it may not seem like a big need, not having a versatile safety to help enhance the alignments of Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill cost the Chiefs at times.

Spagnuolo's system shines when there are versatile safeties who can help in the sub-packages and allow Mathieu to move around the defense.


5. Strong-side linebacker

The Chiefs will likely go with Anthony Hitchens and Willie Gay in 2021, if every thing shapes up. The question will be who they want to utilize at the "Sam," or strong-side, position.

Kansas City could use an athletic upgrade at that spot. The team had to rotate Daniel Sorensen and Ben Niemann in sub-packages, because of the athletic struggles that impacted pass coverage from at the linebacker position.

The position, which Damien Wilson occupied the last few seasons, looks very thin right now.

6. Cornerback

Veach has been able to find impressive value at the position with great return on investments in L'Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton.

Deandre Baker could provide high-end ability if he can return from injury.

Corner has become a position where the Chiefs' coaching staff can get the most from the position without having to heavily invest big money into the position.

A better pass rush also would play a bigger factor in how the group can perform.


7. Tight end
Kelce is at his peak as arguably one of the best tight ends in the game. He also turns 32 next season and the team will need to begin planning for a protege to learn from him over the next three to four years.

Kansas City has lacked a quality athletic tight end to pair with Kelce since Demetrius Harris' departure. They have also struggled to find a quality run blocker who can also help have an impact in the passing game.


8. Running back
The Chiefs invested a high draft pick in Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who will hopefully see a better production in 2021 behind an upgraded offensive line and with a new running backs coach after Deland McCullough's departure.

Darrel Williams regained his form near the end of the season and provides a good power back option, but another reliable speed back would be nice. It just doesn't need to be a massive investment at the position.

9. Quarterback
The Chiefs are set at the position with Mahomes signed for the next decade-plus.

The only real decision here would be if they want a fresh set of veteran eyes in the quarterback's room.

The Chiefs' top three positional needs may have cost them a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy and the chance to join a rare NFL club.

Teams will be studying the success Tampa Bay had in Super Bowl LV to create game plans that attack these issues relentlessly, if Kansas City doesn't improve and evolve at these spots.

The “4th & 1” podcast is the twice-weekly, Chiefs-centric podcast from 41 Action News, the official broadcast “Home of the Chiefs.” Co-hosts Nick Jacobs and Tod Palmer analyze and breakdown the Chiefs’ opponent and performance for pre- and post-game episodes — available on iTunes or your preferred podcast platform — each week during the season.