Nick Jacobs: Breaking down 2019 Chiefs' biggest offseason needs

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Posted at 1:55 AM, Feb 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 02:55:39-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The shape of the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs roster will begin to take shape during the next two months.

All NFL teams have descended upon Indianapolis for the NFL Combine this week, where the Chiefs will get their next look at many of the prospects for the NFL Draft.

Despite Kansas City making it to the AFC Championship Game to cap the 2018 season, the team will have a lot of needs to address if they want to reach that level again or surpass it.

Here is a breakdown of the biggest needs by position:

1. Pass rushers

The Chiefs will switch to a 4-3 scheme, which will require more athletic defensive linemen who have the ability to quickly perform twists, stunts and games at a high level. This will include a need for additional rotational players so that the rush never wears down.

Kansas City performed at a fast pace on offense and will need fresh rushers to maintain a disruptive, gap-attacking style of pass rush and stifling run blocking with their ability to quickly attack gaps.

New Chiefs defensive line coach Brendan Daly, who was hired off the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots' staff, showcased a similar attacking style against the Chiefs' offensive line in the AFC Championship Game.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach may need to attack this position in both free agency and the draft. The number of edge rushers needed will depend on how the club handles Justin Houston and Dee Ford this offseason.

2. Versatile corners

Rarely will the Chiefs' corner decisions be based on if the corner can play press man coverage and exclusively jam at the line of scrimmage.

New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will likely want versatility in his corners, seeking players who are able of playing press man, off and soft and zone coverage. A bigger emphasis will likely be placed on the corner's ability to read and predict the routes better.

The position will need a higher level of discipline in letting the routes develop and adjusting to what an opponent is attempting to attack. This is a position that may be hard to shore up with a premium signing in a weak projected free-agent market, so it likely needs to be addressed through a trade or the draft.

3. Run support safety

The Chiefs were thin in 2018 at the safety position, especially when it needed help in run support.

Eric Berry was the best option, but unfortunately he was on the sidelines for most of the season. The Chiefs can't afford to allow that to happen again.

The safeties also will need to be versatile enough as athletes to split half of the field or even play single-high if needed. The intellectual ability to decipher the route adjustments also will be a key component to an addition at this spot.

4. 'Mike' or 'Sam' linebacker

The scheme change will allow Anthony Hitchens more room to roam unblocked and attack rather than react.

Hitchens played against the Chiefs as a middle linebacker in the Dallas Cowboys' scheme before signing last offseason.

Spagnuolo and new linebackers coach Matt House, who comes from the University of Kentucky, will need to determine which position best fits Hitchens' skill set — whether that's a middle or "Mike" linebacker or if he plays the "Sam" or strong-side linebacker.

Part of the decision may be a determination if there is another player already on the roster who is capable of filling the other spot. If not, the Chiefs might be in the market for another linebacker to pair with projected weakside linebacker O'Daniel, fellow second-year linebacker Ben Niemann and/or Hitchens.

5. Power running back

The release of Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware's inability to regain his previous form showed at the end of the season and during their playoff run. Kansas City lacked a running back who could break tackles and turn 3-to-4-yard runs into chunk plays, which help the offense keep the chains moving while they found their footing against better defenses.

The key here isn't the size of the back but rather a player who can catch out of the backfield and has the power to break through arm tackles. The back also needs the ability to rise up into defenders and punish them for attempting to tackle him.

6. Slot and speed receivers

This may not seem like a huge need, but the Chiefs need to find an insurance policy in the event that Tyreek Hill or Sammy Watkins were to get injured.

Kansas City currently does not have an option able to fill in and keep the effectiveness of the offense or keep defensive coverages honest.

A slot receiver is also a big need to keep the chains moving. The Patriots and Baltimore Ravens were able to exploit the Chiefs' weaknesses in these areas with the inability of last season's receivers to win their matchups at these spots.

Defenses also will have an offseason to study the scheme and will add wrinkles to stop what they see on tape. These additions can help them stay ahead of the curve.

7. Backup tight end

Travis Kelce turns 30 in October and the Chiefs will need to begin grooming a young protégé behind him.

The Chiefs currently lack a reliable backup for Kelce in the event he is injured.

Demetrius Harris is a free agent and the returns through five seasons haven't shown he has the ability to carry the torch. The offense also could use an upgrade from a run- and pass-blocking perspective.

8. Offensive tackle depth

Eric Fisher has two years remaining on his deal and Mitchell Schwartz has a year remaining on his deal after the 2019 season. Both tackles are at an even cost, but the Chiefs will likely need to begin investing in their future replacements so that they are up to par in protecting Patrick Mahomes off the edge at a reduced cost when the time comes.

Investing now would give them two years to develop those replacements in an ideal situation barring injuries.

9. Rotational defensive tackle depth

The roster will likely need an additional blend of players with size to hold the line of scrimmage in the run but also shoot the gap and run games if needed.

This isn't a pressing need with Chris Jones and Derrick Nnadi in place, but developmental depth will be needed for down the road.

10. Linebacker depth

The Chiefs should have two of their starting linebackers already on the roster. Their need for depth with the scheme change likely means Veach will need to add a couple more linebackers before training camp five months from now in Saint Joseph, Missouri.

Here are some key upcoming dates on the NFL calendar:

Feb. 26-March 4: NFL Scouting Combine

March 5: Deadline for teams to designate franchise or transition tag at 3 p.m. Central.

Although it might be the offseason, you can listen to the 4th and 1 podcast each week with Tod Palmer and Nick Jacobs on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify and TuneIn. You can also find Nick on twitter @Jacobs71 .

You can also find all the 41 Action News podcast here