Roster Roundouts: A Kansas City Chiefs Camp Preview
If nothing else, at least the Kansas City Chiefs are taking themselves seriously this year.
With a Raider-esque six wins in the two years, that’s actually somewhat of an accomplishment. However, fueled by an offseason in which they acquired a potential franchise quarterback, Matt Cassel, used the draft to help out their sorry defense, and are expecting big things from a third-year receiver, Dwayne Bowe, fans finally feel like they aren’t relegated to last place again this year. And in the AFC West, if you aren’t relegated to last, then you have a shot at first. Thank parity: it may not exist east of the Mississippi, but teams like the Chiefs, Seahawks, and Cards always have a shot.
Only three teams had a worse point differential than the Chiefs in 2008: the Bengals, the Rams, and the Lions, so any sort of improvement would have to start there. On Wednesday, a breakdown of the Bengals’ performances found that their season statistics were weighed down by epically bad performances, which is to say that the average Bengals performance was one of the worst in the NFL, but the median performance by the Bengals was of an average football team. Since most statistics, standard and advanced, are presented as either raw numbers, or mean averages, a team like the Bengals can be underprojected by a statistical system that overvalues the average.
The Chiefs certainly had their share of acceptable performances last season, at least against the Chargers, but even using measures of median performance, we can’t say the Chiefs were an average team last year. The terrible performances outnumber the bad which outnumber the average and above average.
The numbers do suggest that the Chiefs found a somewhat sustainable offense in the second half of the season. To throw out just one measure: they posted a 7.5% Weighted Offensive DVOA last year, which considers only performance in the second half of the season. That’s a middle of the pack offense.
Matt Cassel enters a situation where he is given an emerging No. 1 receiver in Dwayne Bowe, a potentially effective running back timeshare between Jamaal Charles and former superstar Larry Johnson (Johnson would carry the load in December if the Chiefs are still playing meaningful football), a pretty solid TE prospect in Brad Cottam, and a first down machine in vet WR Bobby Engram. For me to say that this offense has a shot at being above average would mean to ignore 1) the current state of the offensive line (they’ll block, but are incredibly thin and even one injury could hamper the entire offense), and 2) the fact that when you take Tony Gonzalez out of the offense, you lose the best middle of the field target that professional football has ever seen.
Cottam may very well develop his own set of strengths to help the Chiefs, but Gonzalez is an irreplaceable loss. With that said, a 2nd round pick is a nice haul for two or three years at the end of a hall of fame career. It just, however, seems to clash with all of the Chiefs’ other moves this offseason which suggested at a return to offensive levels from 2003-2005 were imminent.
The reason the Chiefs might end up looking up at the rest of a weak division anyway is on the defensive end. Hey, the draft helped the long term aspirations of this unit. It added some future cornerstones in Tyson Jackson and Alex Magee, and the team can hope on development from it’s young secondary…but the rest is just hope. No team since the NFL started keeping track of quarterback sacks were as inept at pass rush as the Chiefs were last season, and Jackson/Magee do little to change that except to put some more athleticism up front for offenses to pick up.
It’s not that the Chiefs won’t have a better pass rush this year, they almost certainly have to, but if they were to add 0.5 sacks/game to last year’s grand total of 10, they’d still be one of the worst pass rushing teams in NFL history. The same improvement would move your run of the mill “lacking a pass rush” team into the middle of the pack, and a middle of the pack pass rushing team into the top five. For the Chiefs, a sizable improvement in the direction of the mean simply makes them less embarrassing** in that aspect.
**I mean, just how good is Jared Allen? He leaves a team that becomes the worst pass rushing team ever, joins a team with no pass defense to speak of, and they become a top five defense overnight. I’m starting to think that a price tag of a 1st and a 3rd (a franchise changing type haul) was too low for Allen.
As far as that young secondary goes, team’s better start stretching the field on CB Brandon Flowers. According to charting data from Football Outsiders, the average pass thrown at Flowers traveled only 9.0 yards…and he simply shut that stuff down. He’s a physical corner, and while you can credit Gunther Cunningham for playing to his strengths last year, new coordinator Clancy Pendergast will probably have to deal with some regression on his side of the field if he starts getting beat deep. On the other side, Brandon Carr has some time to develop, but if the Chiefs don’t find a source of pass rush, he’s an easy target for quarterbacks. Adding veteran Mike Brown at free safety should help disproportionately.
Ultimately, the biggest problem is that when you compare the Chiefs to other double-digit loss AFC teams from last season: the Jaguars, the Browns, the Bengals, and the Raiders, the Chiefs are just behind all of them in terms of where the team is in the scale of rebuilding. They spent two seasons spinning their wheels and going nowhere, so this team might very well see some true, legitimate improvement on both sides of the ball…and still end up with the first overall pick next April.
Chiefs Camp: River Falls, WI
The Chief’s camp battles are not all that important relative to the near term or long term future, but given it’s the first year of Todd Haley’s head coaching career, it will be intriguing to see which way he goes on his role players: older or younger.
Wide Receiver: Devard Darling vs. Jeff Webb vs. Terrence Copper
Copper, the veteran signing, is the best of the bunch, and Webb is the likely cut of the three, but special teams value is always a primary consideration with back-of-roster receivers.
Tight End: Sean Ryan vs. Tom Crabtree vs. Jake O’Connell
Ryan is the veteran and is likely to win a job, but Crabtree and O’Connell are both undrafted TEs from the same school, Miami University (of Ohio). That made this worth mentioning.
Center: Eric Ghiaciuc vs. Rudy Niswanger
Both players are virtually guaranteed a spot on the roster, and this battle is simply the Chiefs’ own incumbent underwhelming Center vs. the Bengals’ castoff underwhelming Center.
DE/OLB: Demorrio Williams vs. Tamba Hali
This is a scheme battle, essentially. The Clancy Pendergast scheme is a hybrid 3-4/4-3. Hali is going to be the point man in the 4-3 version, providing most of the pass rush, but if he proves versatile, he might also play well in the Chike Okefor LB role from last season. Williams is just trying to hold on to some role in the new defense.
Linebacker: Monty Beisel vs. Corey Mays
Mays went undrafted out of Notre Dame in 2006, and has bounced around the league for a few years. This is really it for him, he needs to catch on right now. He’ll have to beat out the veteran, Beisel, to win a spot on the team.
Defensive Back: Ricardo Colcolugh vs. Jon McGraw
Colcolugh is a corner with a lot of special teams value, McGraw was the backup strong safety last season, and has a lot of special teams value. With Mike Brown coming over from Chicago, McGraw’s role in the defense is basically abolished, so let the best special teams player win.
Kicker: Connor Barth vs. Ryan Succop
A kicker battle? Yep. Barth was below average as a rookie last year, but he’s the favorite in this race because the transition from college kicker to NFL kicker rarely goes over well, so the odds are stacked heavily against Mr. Irrelivant, Succop.
- RB Larry Johnson
- DE Alfonso Boone
- CB Brandon Carr
- CB Maurice Legett
- S Mike Brown