Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has posted his latest mock draft . Again, Kiper gives a wide receiver to the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round but it's a different player than the receiver Kiper projected to the Chiefs in each of his first two mocks.
This time his pick for the Chiefs is Arizona State's Jaelen Strong. Strong had a good combine, running a 4.44 40. That time could be enough to convince the Chiefs he's worth the 18th pick in the first round.
Strong has other credentials as well. He measured 6-2 3/8 and weighed 217 pounds at the combine. He caught 157 passes for 17 touchdowns in his two seasons at Arizona State.
Strong came out for the draft with a season of eligibility remaining and that should be a concern to the Chiefs. Will he be ready as a rookie to contribute to a passing game that needs an overhaul?
The Chiefs, though, aren't drafting for next year alone. It's well past the time where the Chiefs need to think about a long-term replacement for Dwayne Bowe as their No. 1 wide receiver. If the Chiefs think Strong could be that player, he'd be a good selection for them in the first round.
Strong is the fourth wide receiver to be picked in Kiper's draft, following West Virginia's Kevin White, Alabama's Amari Cooper and Louisville's DeVante Parker. Kiper has one more wide receiver going in the first round after Strong, Breshad Perriman of Central Florida.
Kiper had the Chiefs taking different wide receivers, Dorial Green-Beckham of Missouri by way of Oklahoma and Devin Smith of Ohio State, in each of his first two mocks. He has both players dropping from the first round in his latest mock.
Four NFL seasons, two with the Chiefs. Played in two games for the Chiefs with one start in 2014. Turns 28 in June.
Chiefs career: Gordon was a late-season injury replacement in each of the last two years. He played in a total of four games with one catch for three yards.
Argument for keeping Gordon: He’s been signed by five teams, including the Chiefs twice. He obviously has some potential. The Chiefs, after releasing veteran Anthony Fasano, are short in experience at tight end. Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris are heading into their second seasons.
Argument for letting Gordon go: The Chiefs can do better in either the draft or free agency.
What should happen with Gordon: There's no hurry. Gordon will be available later if the Chiefs have a need.
Thomas spent much of the two-plus months since the end of the season at the beach in Southern California, running pass routes in the sand to get ready for what lies ahead this spring in Kansas City.
“I still feel like there’s a lot more work to be done."
There is, offensively at least. Thomas’ impact as a rookie was mostly as a kick returner. His numbers on offense were uninspiring, not even up to those of his Chiefs predecessor as little-guy, supposed matchup problem as a slot receiver, Dexter McCluster. Playing in 12 games, Thomas caught 23 passes for 156 yards and, of course, no touchdowns. He rushed 14 times for 113 yards and a touchdown.
Perhaps it’s unfair to expect more from a rookie, particularly one who didn’t participate in most of the offseason practices because it was prohibited by NFL rules. His classes were still in session at Oregon, so Thomas had to sit out.
Thomas then missed the first four games of the regular season because of a hamstring injury.
But he will participate in offseason practices this year.
“I feel like I’ll be a lot better," Thomas said. “I know what to expect now. I didn’t really get to experience [offseason practice] and stuff like that. This year I’ll have my opportunity to experience it and just take advantage of it."
Thomas is fast -- world-class fast -- and showed that when returning kicks last season. The Chiefs need to find better ways to put it to use offensively. His longest catch last season gained 30 yards, his longest run 26 yards.
“He’s unique," said Bruce Arians, who last season coached the Arizona Cardinals against Thomas and the Chiefs. He was also in Kansas City recently to be honored as NFC coach of the year at the annual 101 Banquet.
“Every time he touches the damn ball, you hold your breath. Andy [Reid] did a great job of creating ways to get him the ball. Each week it was different, so you’re trying to get ready for things you haven’t seen."
"Last year's class was probably really, really good," St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead said. "They'll probably do a 30-for-30 on those guys."
The good news for teams like the Kansas City Chiefs who are looking for receiving help is that it might take all of a year for a group as good or better to come along.
"This is a really good group of wide receivers. There’s a lot of depth into the late rounds."
Drafted wide receivers combined last season for 814 catches, 10,547 yards and 82 receiving touchdowns. Those totals are all higher than for any rookie wide receiver class in the common draft era, which began in 1968.
It certainly doesn’t look like a coincidence that another strong group of receivers is coming in on its heels.
"I think the college game has really helped," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "It’s helped because they’re throwing the football more, and these guys are having more opportunity to run the routes that we run and go against these different coverages that are little bit more sophisticated at the college level, and have to make adjustments on those coverages. I think from a quarterback’s standpoint, tight ends and wide receivers, it’s a beautiful thing."
Wideouts in college were once primarily blockers in the running game. Even when teams did throw, the passing games and routes were often primitive compared to what the NFL offered, and that set back the development of receivers.
Now, some college offensive systems are as sophisticated as anything the NFL has to offer. College teams are spreading the field and throwing plenty.
"Bryce Petty threw (831) passes the last two years at Baylor," Kiper Jr. said. "Two years, (831) attempts. These guys are throwing the ball all over the lot."
Somebody has to run the routes and make the catches. They’re moving on in big numbers to become productive NFL players.
Last season, Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants finished in the top 10 in catches, yards, and receiving touchdowns despite missing four games with injuries. Miami’s Jarvis Landry, Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews, Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins, New Orleans’ Brandin Cooks, and Jacksonville’s Allen Hurns were rookies who caught at least 50 passes.
This year’s names to know include West Virginia’s Kevin White, Alabama’s Amari Cooper and Louisville’s Devante Parker. The Chiefs, picking 18th, won’t have a shot at any of those receivers unless they trade up.
"If he slides into that seven, eight, nine spot, I’d move up to get him," Kiper Jr. said of Cooper. "Or if you want to move to get Devante Parker, be active. I remember when the 49ers got Jerry Rice. Jerry Rice at that particular point had slid down, and they got him at 15 but they moved up to get him."
But by waiting even into a later round, odds are the Chiefs could get someone with plenty of potential.
"Colleges are producing a lot of receivers right now, which is good for our league," San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. "Each year is different. To me, what last year’s receiving class did has nothing to do with this year’s class. But I would agree with you. This is a very good class of receivers.
"It may be that so many (college) teams run spread offenses and throw the ball so much (but) we’re seeing more receivers at this level much more polished. Most of these kids through high school, they have seven-on-seven camps in the summer time. In college these receivers have been running routes, and a lot of routes, for a long time. It’s a repetition game.
"Maybe we’re starting to see some of that at this level. It would be back-to-back years that there has really been a deep receiver group. I’m not just talking first round, but really all the way through the draft."
Expect more deep receiver classes as long as the passing game is so prevalent in the college game.
"The way high school football is going, college football's going, there's a lot more passing of the football," Snead said. "So I think the development of wide receivers, I think coaches put some of their best athletes, at a young age, running routes and catching balls. So that's probably the evolution that you're seeing."
Four NFL seasons, one with the Chiefs. Played in two games for the Chiefs. Turns 27 in April.
Chiefs career: McKnight had a huge role in the Chiefs' first win of the season, catching six passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns in a September win over the Dolphins in Miami. McKnight ruptured his Achilles tendon in practice the following week, ending his season.
Argument for keeping McKnight: He provided the Chiefs a dimension as a receiver that none of their other backs, Jamaal Charles included, could. He has kick return ability, though the Chiefs are comfortable with Knile Davis and De'Anthony Thomas in those roles.
Argument for letting McKnight go: He’s strictly insurance in the event of injury to Charles and Davis.
What should happen with McKnight: He has enough ability that the Chiefs should bring him back on a minimum salary if he’s going to be ready physically to participate when training camp begins.
CB Chris Owens
Chiefs career: Owens had an up-and-down season last year. He was the regular nickelback when healthy but missed five games in the middle of the season with a knee injury and the Chiefs carried on fine without him. He generally played better before his knee injury than afterward. Opponents picked on the 5-9, 180-pound Owens late in the season, with San Diego's Philip Rivers in particular having success going after him in the season's final game.
Argument for keeping Owens: Owens was a part of one of the league's best pass defenses. When he was healthy, he was a decent nickelback. Owens tends to play bigger than his diminutive size. He's not afraid to get involved as a run defender.
Argument for letting Owens go: The Chiefs didn't suffer when Owens was out of the lineup with the injury. Rookie Phillip Gaines as the nickelback helped the Chiefs win a crucial October game against the Chargers.
What should happen with Owens: The Chiefs don't have a lot of depth at cornerback so if he's healthy, Owens is worth bringing back one more season as the nickelback at a minimum salary. But the Chiefs can also find what he gave them last season at a low cost either through the draft or free agency.
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) Will be joined by four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the show.
Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions reporter) will take us behind the Lions' decision to avoid franchise-tagging defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and also give us an idea of where the prized lineman might end up.
Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) will join to make sense of New England's decision to place the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, instead of potentially doing so with free-agent defensive backs Darrelle Revis or Devin McCourty.
Todd Archer (Dallas Cowboys reporter) will give us an update on the Cowboys' apparent decision to let DeMarco Murray, 2014's rushing leader, test the open market.
Sticking with offense, Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) checks in to outline why the Packers may be content doing the same with receiver Randall Cobb, who reportedly was looking to stay in Green Bay for $12 million a year.
As always, viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
“Justin is a talented player and a key contributor to our defense,’’ Dorsey said. “Today was the deadline to designate a franchise player, and it was in the best interest of the club to place the tag on Justin. We will continue to discuss long-term options with him and his agent. Our goal is to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial. We want to keep Justin in a Chiefs uniform for years to come.”
That might be. Houston might have a long, prosperous career entirely in Kansas City and at this point I don’t doubt the Chiefs’ sincerity in making that happen
Just don’t bank on it based on Dorsey’s words. Let this be a friendly reminder not to necessarily take seriously what’s being said publicly about contract negotiations.
As an example, I give you Dorsey’s words on March 4, 2013, when the Chiefs made tackle Branden Albert their franchise player.
“Today was the league’s deadline to designate a franchise player and we felt it was in the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs to place the tag on Branden,’’ he said. “We will continue to negotiate with Branden and his agent to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial. We are looking forward to working with Branden in the near future.”
Albert played that season for the Chiefs but left shortly afterward as a free agent for the Miami Dolphins, who were happy to give Albert the long-term deal the Chiefs never would.
Albert was replaced at left tackle by Eric Fisher, the Chiefs’ 2013 first-round left tackle.
By the way, if Houston winds up leaving the Chiefs this year or even next, his likely replacement would be Dee Ford, the Chiefs’ 2014 first-round draft pick.
The NFL’s reigning sack leader just turned 26. The odds are he’ll turn in several more seasons like the one he just had for the Chiefs.
Isn’t that kind of production worth a monster contract to a team and a couple of No. 1 draft picks? Some NFL team flush with salary-cap space, and there are a few of them, might think so.
Let’s review the franchise tag rules. There are two designations for a franchise player, exclusive and non-exclusive.
Houston is the latter, meaning he is free starting March 10 to sign an offer sheet with another team. If he does, the Chiefs can match and retain Houston’s services. If they decline to match, the Chiefs acquire a couple of first-round draft picks from Houston’s new team.
For additional money in their mandatory one-year contract offer to Houston, the Chiefs could have made him their exclusive franchise player. This would have kept Houston off limits to any other team.
But as things stand, Houston can negotiate with other teams. A team with plenty of salary-cap space would be able to craft a contract in such a way that the Chiefs, who will probably be snug against the cap on March 10, would have trouble matching.
If the Chiefs decline to match, they could play Tamba Hali and Dee Ford at outside linebacker next season, clear some significant money off their book to work with in free agency along with picking up a couple of extra No. 1 draft picks in the process.
It’s not a strategy I would endorse. Knowing general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid, it's one I would be surprised if the Chiefs endorsed.
But Justin Houston is good enough where it might happen. By their actions, the Chiefs don’t seem to be bothered by the possibility.
ESPN Stats & Info showed the Chiefs this afternoon to have $138,880,614 of salary-cap commitments, meaning they have $7,263,586 in cap room. But there’s no time for them to rest.
ESPN’s figures didn’t yet include the $13.2 million the Chiefs will need for the one-year offer they have to make to linebacker Justin Houston as their franchise player. So, counting Houston’s cap number, the Chiefs are more than $5.9 million over the cap.
The Chiefs need to be in compliance with the salary limit by March 10. Houston’s $13.2 million counts against the Chiefs’ cap on March 10 whether he signs it or not.
The Chiefs have many ways to get under the cap, of course. They could save a total of $7.8 million against their salary cap by releasing veteran defensive end Mike DeVito and backup quarterback Chase Daniel, for instance. Each started just one game for the Chiefs last year.
So the Chiefs will comply with the cap by March 10. A more interesting question: Which players will the Chiefs sacrifice in order to get there?
Ahead of the start of free agency, Insider is providing buyer's guides for all 32 teams: biggest need positions from Football Outsiders, top targets from KC Joyner and Matt Williamson, and predictions on how everything will play out from our NFL Nation team reporters.
Included below are links to every team's article. This is the entry for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Wide receiver: Since 2013 the Chiefs are 1-11 (.083) when allowing more than 20 points, tied for the third-worst winning percentage in the NFL. When the defense does not play at a high level the offense has not been able to step up, so the roster needs to get more explosive. Dwayne Bowe was the team's only true wide receiver to have more than 30 targets last year and he ranked 53rd in in both of Football Outsiders' advanced metrics, DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) and DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average).
The news is nothing the sides haven’t expected for months. They have been building to this as on-again, off-again negotiations for a long-term contract brought little in the way of progress.
In making him their franchise player, the Chiefs are obligated to offer Houston a one-year contract worth about $13 million. But he’s not obligated to sign it now, anytime soon or ever.
The Chiefs would then have the right to match the contract and retain Houston’s services. They would receive two first-round draft picks from the other team if they decline to match.
So while this move goes a long way toward ensuring Houston plays in 2015 for no other team besides the Chiefs, it doesn’t guarantee he will play for the Chiefs. His leverage toward getting a long-term contract, and more guaranteed money than the one-year, $13 million contract would provide, is not to sign the Chiefs’ offer and stay away from the offseason conditioning program and practice sessions that begin in the spring.
It’s worth noting that his absence from last year’s conditioning and practice sessions (he was protesting a lack of progress toward a long-term contract) didn’t hold him back once the season started. He set a Chiefs record and fell a half-sack short of the NFL record with 22 sacks.
In that sense, the Chiefs placing the franchise tag on Houston and Houston possibly deciding not to sign it is a part of the business. These things tend to sort themselves out. The Chiefs and Houston have until July 15 to agree on a long-term contract. If they don’t have a deal in place by then, they can’t agree on one until after the Chiefs have finished their 2015 regular season.
But these things don’t always sort themselves out. In this case, the lack of progress toward a long-term contract and Houston’s willingness to hold out of last spring’s activities make you wonder whether this one will.
Things haven’t always worked themselves out for the Chiefs and their franchise players over the years. Jared Allen was so mad at being named the franchise player in 2008, they had little choice but to trade him to the Minnesota Vikings.
Branden Albert, the Chiefs’ most recent franchise player in 2013, played for Kansas City that season. But he departed shortly afterward for the Miami Dolphins and the long-term contract the Chiefs were never willing to give him.
Those were different situations and their lessons might not apply to Houston. His situation still bears watching.
The franchise tender for linebackers is worth $13.195 million for the 2015 season as part of the overall salary cap being set at $143.28 million.
The Chiefs and Houston have until July 15 to agree on a long-term contract. If they don't have a deal in place by then, they can't agree on one until after the 2015 regular season.
"Justin is a talented player and a key contributor to our defense," Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said in a statement. "Today was the deadline to designate a franchise player, and it was in the best interest of the club to place the tag on Justin. We will continue to discuss long-term options with him and his agent. Our goal is to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial. We want to keep Justin in a Chiefs uniform for years to come."
Houston, 26, flirted with greatness during his first three NFL seasons (2011-2013) and arrived in 2014, when he led the NFL in sacks with 22, finishing a half-sack from the NFL record set by Michael Strahan of the New York Giants in 2001.
Houston was a consistent pass-rusher, registering at least one sack in 13 games. Houston was Pro Football Focus' top-rated 3-4 outside linebacker by a wide margin as he also played well against the run and in pass coverage.
He was selected to his third straight Pro Bowl, though after going through the week of practice he didn't play in the game because of what he said was an illness.
Houston has posted 43 disrupted dropbacks (sacks, passes defended, interceptions and batted balls) over the past two seasons, trailing only the Houston Texans