Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Kush

The Kansas City Chiefs drafted last year for the first time with John Dorsey as their general manager and Andy Reid as their head coach. This will be a much different draft for the Chiefs, who had four of the top 99 picks last year. They have just one of the top 86 this year.

But a look back can provide some idea of what the Chiefs can expect from this year’s draft.

 

The season behind: The Chiefs didn’t get much from this group when they were rookies. In fact, their rookie of the year was a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, cornerback Marcus Cooper. Fisher started 13 games at right tackle but his season wasn’t what could reasonably be expected from the first overall pick in the draft. His play was uneven at best, particularly earlier in the season. He struggled as a pass-blocker against stronger opponents and their power moves. He proved unreliable, missing three regular-season starts plus the playoff game with injuries ranging from shoulder to concussion to groin. The Chiefs were counting on productive playing time from Kelce and Commings before injuries cost them all of their rookie seasons. Kelce in the preseason developed a knee ailment that eventually required surgery. Commings broke his collarbone during the first practice of training camp. The Chiefs were hopeful Johnson could be a starter at inside linebacker, but a preseason injury set him back and he never made a serious challenge. Kush and Catapano were drafted as developmental players and that’s the role both settled into, though injuries forced the Chiefs to use Catapano at times and he showed some pass-rush ability. Wilson was a huge disappointment, even as a sixth-round pick. He was cut during the preseason and the Chiefs didn’t think enough of him to bring him back to their practice squad.

The seasons ahead: Fisher may be the only full-time player from this group again in 2014, but it’s reasonable to believe the Chiefs could still get some production from the others -- Wilson being the exception. The Chiefs are confident that despite his rocky debut season, Fisher will eventually become the player they envisioned when they drafted him. He will move over to left tackle after playing on the right side and should benefit greatly from an offseason in the Chiefs’ weight program. Commings could wind up as the starter at free safety if the Chiefs don’t draft a player to fill that position. Otherwise, the Chiefs will look for ways to get him on the field. He was going to challenge for playing time in their nickel defense last year before his injury. The Chiefs are eager to get Kelce involved in their passing game. He was very involved before his injury. The Chiefs lined him up in a variety of spots to best use his ability to get down the field and beat coverage to make catches. Davis became more involved as last season went on and should get more playing time this year, assuming the leg he broke in the playoff game allows him to and his fumbling habit doesn’t reappear. Eventually, Davis could be the replacement for Jamaal Charles. At 227 pounds, he’s bigger and more powerful than Charles and he’s fast for a player his size. He probably won’t ever give the Chiefs what Charles delivered as a pass receiver last season. It speaks to what the Chiefs think of Johnson that one of their first moves in free agency was to sign veteran Joe Mays to be a starter at inside linebacker. Johnson may be a special-teamer for whatever remains of his Chiefs career. Catapano may never develop into a full-time player but his ability as a pass-rusher gives him a shot at a lesser role. Similarly, Kush may continue to be a backup, but watch what the Chiefs do with starting center Rodney Hudson, who is scheduled to become a free agent next year. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Chiefs, Kush could inherit the spot if he develops as the Chiefs hope.

Best pick: As expected for the first overall pick, Fisher should become this draft’s best player. Despite his struggles last season, he frequently showed the athletic ability a great offensive tackle needs. But Kelce should eventually become the best pick from a value standpoint. He could become the Chiefs’ best pass receiver at tight end since the traded Tony Gonzalez.

Worst pick: Since Wilson couldn’t hang around until the end of his rookie preseason, he has to qualify, for now. The others still have a chance to be productive players. But the situation doesn’t look good for Johnson, either. As an inside linebacker, he would be a part-time player, coming out of the game on passing downs. But the Chiefs evidently believe he’s not advanced enough to handle it yet.
Since 2010, the Kansas City Chiefs have spent significant resources to build their offensive line. In the last four drafts, they've had 15 picks in the first three rounds and used five of those choices on offensive linemen. They also in the previous four years signed as free agents three offensive linemen who would go on to become starters.

While you can argue with some of their decisions, their commitment has been clear. The Chiefs have made building their offensive line a priority.

For all that maneuvering, the Chiefs still have a hole in their offensive line, this time at right guard. Four of those five recent draft picks will start next season, but they have no can't-miss candidate for the vacant spot. They recently signed Jeff Linkenbach as a free agent but may prefer because of his ability to play guard and tackle to have him come off the bench. They also have three developmental prospects worth a look: Eric Kush, Rishaw Johnson and Rokevious Watkins.

While it seems unlikely the Chiefs would go for an offensive lineman in the first round as they did last year, the possibility can't be dismissed. If the Chiefs don't select a lineman in the first round, taking one in a subsequent round becomes a better possibility.

In addition to their immediate uncertainty at right guard, only Eric Fisher among their top five veteran linemen is signed beyond 2015. The contracts of Linkenbach and center Rodney Hudson expire at the end of the 2014 season.

So whether the Chiefs draft an offensive lineman or two this year might do more than fill an immediate need. It also might serve as a statement on exactly what the Chiefs think of Kush, Johnson and Watkins.

Some options for the Chiefs' OL

March, 10, 2014
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The NFL’s free-agent signing period begins Tuesday. Though teams have been able to talk with the representatives of prospective free agents since Saturday, no contracts can be signed until Tuesday.

Once that moment arrives, it shouldn’t take long for the Kansas City Chiefs to lose their left tackle of their last six seasons, Branden Albert. He reportedly will sign with the Miami Dolphins shortly after the signing period begins.

The Chiefs have two other free agent offensive linemen who could strike a deal with another club. Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah shared the starting right guard spot last season and one or both could depart as well. Though Albert is a Pro Bowler and plays a premium position, it would hurt the Chiefs more to lose Schwartz and Asamoah than Albert. The Chiefs began preparing for the eventuality they would lose Albert from the day they drafted Eric Fisher with the first overall choice last year. The Chiefs have Fisher and Donald Stephenson to play tackle and they believe both will soon develop into high-quality players.

The Chiefs don’t have that kind of depth in the middle of their line. In center Rodney Hudson and left guard Jeff Allen they have two young players in the same category as Fisher and Stephenson. But the rest of their offensive linemen are in the developmental category.

If the Chiefs lose Schwartz or Asamoah or both, they could turn to the draft to replace them. The Chiefs have the 23rd pick, but that’s their only selection among the top 86. They traded their second-round pick to San Francisco in last year’s deal that brought quarterback Alex Smith. One of the best guards is Stanford’s David Yankey. The Chiefs could plug him in as their right guard from the start. One problem with using a rookie there is that the Chiefs already have a young offensive line. If the Chiefs lose Albert, Asamoah and Schwartz, Stephenson becomes the oldest of their linemen and he doesn’t turn 26 until September. Hudson, with three years of experience, is the eldest of the group in that regard.

Free agency is another option for the Chiefs. The problem there is that, according to Pro Football Focus, Schwartz and Asamoah are the best available free-agent guards. PFF has them rated 1 and 2, so the Chiefs would be taking a step or two backward no matter whom they sign, in theory at least.

The Chiefs could also promote into the starting lineup one of the developmental linemen on their roster. They have three: Eric Kush, Rishaw Johnson and Rokevious Watkins. The Chiefs got a peek at all three when they started the final regular-season game last year in San Diego. Each had a negative grade in the game, according to PFF’s system. Watkins particularly struggled with his pass blocking and Kush his run blocking. Johnson distinguished himself in neither area.

One of them could wind up in the Chiefs’ starting lineup next season. Those chances increase if the Chiefs fail to re-sign either Asamoah or Schwartz.

Rookie report: C Eric Kush

February, 13, 2014
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How acquired: 2013 sixth-round draft pick.

2013 season: The Kansas City Chiefs selected Kush from tiny California University of Pennsylvania thinking he would be a developmental prospect and they were right. A two-year center in college, Kush was still getting comfortable at the position. He often had trouble during offseason practice and training camp getting the snap to the quarterback correctly, both in the shotgun and in a conventional formation. Kush played in just three games, two as a backup in the final moments. But he started the final regular-season game against San Diego so the Chiefs could rest their usual starter, Rodney Hudson. Kush played about as well as the Chiefs could hope given how raw a prospect he was upon arrival in Kansas City.

Looking ahead: Hudson is solidly entrenched as the starter, so Kush will be a backup again for at least another season. Longer term, that may be all Kush ever is. The Chiefs may want to look at him as a guard during the offseason. That sort of versatility would make him more valuable to the Chiefs.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- We're looking today at the offensive line, where it might be time for the Kansas City Chiefs to part with one of their better players.

Roster (14): Branden Albert, Jeff Allen, Jon Asamoah, Chandler Burden, R.J. Dill, Eric Fisher, Ricky Henry, Rodney Hudson, Rishaw Johnson, Colin Kelly, Eric Kush, Geoff Schwartz, Donald Stephenson, Rokevious Watkins.

Potential 2014 free agents: Albert, Asamoah, Schwartz.

The position: Some decisions await the Chiefs here, none bigger than what to do about Albert, their long-time starting left tackle. The sides were never close on a long-term deal last year, when Albert also was headed toward free agency, and the Chefs eventually kept him as their franchise player at a cost of almost $10 million. The decision at the time made sense. The Chiefs hadn't yet drafted another tackle, Fisher, with the number one overall pick. The franchise player option exists for Albert again. But the Chiefs have Fisher now and though his rookie season wasn't particularly productive, he should return as a much-improved player after a year in Kansas City's strength program. Fisher could move to Albert's spot at left tackle and Stephenson, who the Chiefs have viewed as a starter-quality player, can step in at right tackle. That's the Chiefs' best plan for this situation.

The money they would save on Albert's contract could go a long way toward solving problems elsewhere on the roster. Albert is a solid player and this year he's participating in the Pro Bowl for the first time. In a perfect world, the Chiefs would keep him as their left tackle but in the real world it's time for them to move on from Albert, who missed five starts in 2012 and four games this season because of injuries. Asamoah and Schwartz, the Chiefs' two best guards, both are eligible for free agency. The Chiefs need to sign at least one of them. Asamoah began the season as the starter at right guard but Schwartz replaced him midway through the season and played so well he retained the spot even after Asamoah returned. Hudson is the starting center and Allen the starting left guard and they are under contract for next season.

The Chiefs should keep: Allen, Asamoah, Fisher, Hudson, Kush, Schwartz, Stephenson and Watkins. It might be difficult for the Chiefs to re-sign Asamoah and Schwartz. Both could want starter's money. If so, Asamoah should be the priority. At 25, he is two years younger than Schwartz. Kush and Watkins have shown enough to at least keep around and compete for backup positions.

The Chiefs should dump: Albert, Burden, Dill, Henry, Johnson and Kelly.

Free agency/draft priority: The Chiefs invested heavily in these positions in recent years. Since 2010, they picked Allen, Asamoah, Fisher, Hudson and Stephenson in the top three rounds. Particularly after drafting Fisher with the top pick last year, there's no reason to invest a high pick this season. If the Chiefs retain at least two among Albert, Asamoah and Schwartz, there's also no reason to spend in free agency.

A look at the offensive rookies

November, 7, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have eight rookies on their active roster, four on each side of the ball. In this post, we’ll look at their offensive rookies. We’ll examine the defensive rookies later today.

Offensive tackle Eric Fisher: The first pick in this year’s draft, Fisher has started all but one game at right tackle. For much of the time, Fisher hasn’t looked anything like the draft’s best player. He has demonstrated superior athletic skills and those have allowed him to survive, but a pronounced lack of strength has left him vulnerable against powerful pass-rushers. The Chiefs are encouraged after Fisher played his best game of the season last week against Buffalo that perhaps his game is ready to soar. Whether or not it does during this season, Fisher remains a bright prospect. An offseason in the Chiefs’ weight program should do him wonders and Fisher should come back in 2014 as a much better player.

Running back Knile Davis: The Chiefs were hopeful that by this time they would be getting much more from Davis, a third-round pick. But he was in for just one snap against the Bills and returned one kickoff. Davis was a notorious fumbler in college at Arkansas and the problem has continued since he joined the Chiefs. He occasionally lines up in the wrong spot or runs the wrong play and, like a lot of young backs, has trouble at times with pass protection. Taken together, it’s no wonder the Chiefs don’t seem comfortable with Davis. But running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said Davis has made a lot of progress and is ready for a bigger workload. If that’s the case, Davis needs to play more. He’s big and fast and has the kind of ability that can help a struggling offensive team.

Center Eric Kush: Drafted in the sixth round as a developmental prospect, that’s what Kush has been. He played in just two games and the prospect of him getting more time the rest of the season is slim. Kush could eventually develop into a competent backup or even an adequate starter. He had trouble with his snaps during training camp and the preseason, both from conventional and shotgun formations.

Quarterback Tyler Bray: He has been inactive for all nine games, but don’t let that fool you. Bray has uncommon skill for an undrafted quarterback. He showed the ability in training camp and the preseason to make all the necessary throws. The key for Bray is whether he’s willing to put in all the hard work necessary to become a great player. If so, his future could be bright. With a strong offseason, he could push Chase Daniel for the backup spot next season.

Chiefs need much more from rookie class

September, 27, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There’s not a Kansas City Chiefs player listed in the top 20 of this week’s installment of Mel Kiper’s NFL rookie rankings. Insider Let’s hope you weren’t disappointed or surprised by this. Who was he supposed to throw in there?

A proper judgment on this year’s draft class can’t be made for some time yet, but it’s a fact this year’s Chiefs group is off to a very slow start. The Chiefs were missing their second-round pick, having sent it to the San Francisco 49ers in return for quarterback Alex Smith.

Still, with the Chiefs holding the first overall pick and a choice at or near the top of every round from the third on, it was reasonable to expect them to get more than what they’ve received so far from their eight draft picks.

Maybe with the Chiefs at 3-0 we shouldn’t complain. But looking into the near future, it’s easy to see where they’re going to need help from players like Travis Kelce and Knile Davis. That doesn’t look likely to happen.

Here is a look at what the Chiefs have received so far from each of their eight draft picks:

First-round OT Eric Fisher. I’ll have a more detailed look at Fisher’s play in a Friday post, but it hasn’t been pretty. Say this for Fisher: At least he’s playing. He’s their starting right tackle and played on all but one offensive snap.

Third-round TE Travis Kelce. He looked during the offseason as if he was a major part of the Chiefs’ offensive plans. He hasn’t played a snap during the regular season other than on special teams because of soreness in his knee. Kelce Thursday referred to the injury as “a microscopic stress fracture in a bone in my knee. I’ve never dealt with this before so it was kind of all new to me. It’s been frustrating. I’m getting better slowly but surely. It’s feeling a lot better than what it was but I’m not quite there yet. I’ll definitely be back out there within the next couple of weeks." But he hasn’t practiced yet this week, so it appears unlikely he will be available for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants at Arrowhead Stadium.

Third-round RB Knile Davis. He has played on 24 of the Chiefs’ 212 offensive snaps, or about 11 percent. He has 37 rushing yards and caught one pass but the Chiefs obviously are still uneasy about using him in a lot of situations. His signature play was his fumbled kickoff in the game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Fourth-round LB Nico Johnson. A high-ankle sprain he received during the preseason has set him back. Johnson has resumed full practice but has yet to dress for a regular-season game.

Fifth-round DB Sanders Commings. He broke his collarbone during the first practice at training camp and is on the injured-reserve list. He could return later in the season, but of what value is a rookie who hasn’t practiced for months?

Sixth-round C Eric Kush. It was obvious in the preseason that Kush, from tiny California University of Pennsylvania, needed more time to develop. Sure enough, he got in for the last snap of the game in the opener in Jacksonville but has been inactive for each of the past two games.

Sixth-round FB Braden Wilson. The former Kansas State player was released during the preseason.

Seventh-round DE Mike Catapano. In terms of playing time, he’s been the most productive of this year’s draft picks other than Fisher. Catapano played 31 snaps in Jacksonville, though he has played only on special teams since.

Chiefs rookie update: Offense

September, 3, 2013
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Eric FisherChuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsDespite injuries, No. 1 draft pick Eric Fisher impressed the Chiefs with his preseason work.
The Chiefs have 10 rookies on their 53-player active roster as they prepare for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Five rookies on offense, five on defense. In this post, I will look at the offensive players. In a post later today, I will provide an update on the defensive rookies.

  • Eric Fisher, first round, offensive tackle. Immediate expectations for Fisher were impossibly high because he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He played in college at Central Michigan, so there was no way he was going to meet those initially and he hasn’t. Fisher is starting at right tackle but has much improvement to do before he proves worthy of the top pick. He has been bothered by shoulder and finger injuries, each of which at times knocked him out of practice or a preseason game. Fisher actually played well in two of his three preseason games (he and the rest of the starters didn’t play last week against Green Bay). He was terrible in a game against the 49ers, a performance so bad it should have been of concern to the Chiefs until he bounced back to play well the following week against the Steelers.“He’s everything I thought he would be,’’ general manager John Dorsey said. “He’s going to continue to [improve]. He was slowed with the finger and the shoulder but he’s right on course. “He came back [against Pittsburgh]. He showed a great degree of toughness when he lined up and played in the third preseason game and did a pretty good job against a pretty good player in LaMarr Woodley.’’There’s certainly no reason yet to believe Fisher won’t develop into one of the NFL’s top tackles but he’s not there yet.
  • Travis Kelce, third round, tight end. Kelce had a promising offseason, when he showed the ability to get down the field and catch passes. The Chiefs lined him up in a variety of spots, including split out wide, so the possibilities are there to get the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kelce matched up against much smaller defenders.That didn’t happen as much in training camp and the preseason. Kelce was the third tight end behind Anthony Fasano and Tony Moeaki so his snaps decreased. He also dropped some passes and came up with a sore knee that prevented him from playing in one of the games.The possibility still exists for the Chiefs to get some big plays from Kelce. With Moeaki on the injured-reserve list with a fractured shoulder, the Chiefs need that kind of help from Kelce. It’s not as certain as it seemed three months ago they will get it.
  • Knile Davis, third round, running back. Davis looks promising once the ball is in his hands. At 227 pounds, he’s powerful but also fast for a back of his size, so he appears to be a nice complement to Jamaal Charles. He delivered two long kickoff returns in the preseason, one for a touchdown, so he has some possibilities there as well.Getting the ball into Davis’ hands has often been an adventure. He fumbled in a preseason game, something he has a history of from college at Arkansas. He’s dropped numerous passes and kickoff return attempts at training camp.So the Chiefs may not be able to trust Davis yet. It’s more than a little telling that the Chiefs’ other running back, Cyrus Gray, was getting plenty of work in practice this week as the third-down back. Gray is a better pass protector and more reliable as a receiver than Davis.Given all that, it’s difficult to see Davis as more than a change of pace back for Charles, at least early in the season.
  • Eric Kush, sixth round, center. Kush is a reserve who played small college football at California (Pa.), so it’s reasonable that he would need some time to develop. Kush has had trouble at times getting the snap to the quarterback, both in a conventional formation and in the shotgun. He’s also been occasionally pushed around in preseason games by more physical opponents.While Kush could still develop into a productive player, he clearly isn’t there yet. If the Chiefs need to replace starting center Rodney Hudson for injury reasons, left guard Jeff Allen would most likely slide over to center.
  • Tyler Bray, quarterback, undrafted. Bray has uncommon ability for a quarterback who wasn’t drafted. He appears to have better ability to make all the necessary throws than the other Chiefs quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Chase Daniel.So Bray is far ahead of a lot of other developmental quarterbacks around the league. But that’s only part of the equation toward developing into an eventual starter. By all accounts, Bray with the Chiefs has been a hard worker, will watch extra video and throw on the side with receivers, things that were in question when he was in college at Tennessee.He will also have to learn to decipher complex coverage schemes, something he didn’t see much in preseason.

    For now, at least, Bray is the No. 3 quarterback. Even though he outplayed Daniel in the preseason, don’t look for that to change any time soon.

Chiefs roster predictions, part I

August, 28, 2013
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Not much intrigue left to the preseason for the Kansas City Chiefs. Just trying to stay healthy through Thursday night’s final exhibition game against the Green Bay Packers at Arrowhead Stadium.

That, and the final round of roster cuts that loom afterward. The Chiefs, like all NFL teams, must trim their active roster from 75 to 53 players by Saturday evening.

Here’s my prediction on how their roster will look for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla., at offensive positions and in the kicking game. I’ll post defensive predictions later today.

Quarterback (3): Alex Smith, Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray. This might be the only position where there is no intrigue. They are set and in this order on the depth chart.

Running back (4): Jamaal Charles, Anthony Sherman, Knile Davis, Shaun Draughn. The only real mystery here is whether the Chiefs keep Draughn or Cyrus Gray as the third halfback. Draughn has been more productive than Gray. The Chiefs don’t use their fullback enough to keep more than just Sherman.

Wide receiver (6): Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Dexter McCluster, Junior Hemingway, Devon Wylie, A.J. Jenkins. This position has come into focus since the Chiefs traded Jon Baldwin and released Terrance Copper. Bowe and Avery are the starters, McCluster the slot receiver. Hemingway has been steady during camp and the preseason and deserves a spot. Wiley and Jenkins are fast, and coach Andy Reid likes speed. The Chiefs might also keep undrafted rookie Rico Richardson, who caught the touchdown pass in overtime in Pittsburgh last week, but I’m not going to predict that.

Tight end (4): Anthony Fasano, Tony Moeaki, Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris. The shoulder injury to Moeaki might lead the Chiefs to place him on the injured-reserve list. Either way, the Chiefs will need to keep another tight end now, and that’s likely to be Harris. A former basketball player who didn’t play football in college, Harris needs more time to develop, so the Chiefs might be in search of veteran help at this position.

Offensive line (8): Branden Albert, Eric Fisher, Donald Stephenson, Jeff Allen, Jon Asamoah, Geoff Schwartz, Rodney Hudson, Eric Kush. Stephenson is too good to be a backup for long. He and Schwartz will be the first reserves off the bench. Kush is a developmental player.

Specialists (3): Ryan Succop, Dustin Colquitt, Thomas Gafford. They’re the only players still on the roster at their respective positions.

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