Roster Roundouts ’10: A Kansas City Chiefs Season Preview
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Kansas City Chiefs (Projected Finish: 6-10)
Team synopsis: The Chiefs are young, but less than talented. Scott Pioli has made some highly questionable decisions in his two years on the job, bringing into light perhaps the most unappreciated mantra in football: that treading water at the top of the standings for years can make a franchises leadership look incredibly smart. Starting from scratch can make the same people look incredibly foolish.
- RB Jamaal Charles (drafted — Texas/2008 3rd round pick)
- WR Dwayne Bowe (drafted — LSU/2007 1st round pick)
- LB Tamba Hali (drafted — Penn State/2006 1st round pick)
- LB Derrick Johnson (drafted — Texas/2005 1st round pick)*
- CB Brandon Flowers (drafted — Virginia Tech/2008 2nd round pick)
- CB Brandon Carr (drafted — Grand Valley State/2008 5th round pick)
- TE Tony Moeaki (drafted — Iowa/2010 3rd round pick)
- G Jon Asamoah (drafted — Illinois/2010 3rd round pick)
- LB Andy Studebaker (waivers — Philadelphia/2008)
- S Eric Berry (drafted — Tennessee/2010 1st round pick)
*The Chiefs feel like they need to limit Johnson’s snaps to keep him healthy. Johnson is fantastic player when he’s in, but the Chiefs simply don’t think they can play him every down.
One thing that sticks out right away is that the Chiefs did a very good job of landing first round players from 2003 through 2008. The 2008 draft brought Glenn Dorsey, who is developing into a 3-4 DE (slowly), and Brandon Flowers just outside the first round (OT Branden Albert is looking like a bust, or at least a failed LT who will find success inside). But as Scott Pioli has come in and changed the defensive scheme (for better or for worse), that success has really starting to dry up. The Chiefs took Tyson Jackson with the 3rd overall pick in 2009, and started him right away on the defensive line. The consensus was that Jackson was a reach for Kansas City at 3rd overall, and that his salary would outpace his contributions to the team. The Chiefs were fine with this, figuring they needed a DL more than a LB such as Aaron Curry.
The logic would have been fine except that Jackson signed a deal worth more than no. 2 overall pick Jason Smith, and was a non factor against the pass all season — and far worse than that against the run. Jackson might have been the worst defensive player in football last year, and it dearly cost the Chiefs. He’ll need to make a strong push towards the average player this year in order to come close to justifying his draft status. The Chiefs hedged their bets a bit by drafting Purdue’s Alex Magee in the second round in 2009, and Magee could start 10 games or so if Jackson can’t improve. Dorsey’s somewhat unexpected development out of an ideal scheme is largely welcome, given the Jackson disaster. The Chiefs will pair free agent nose tackle Shaun Smith with the highly drafted DL duo, which probably won’t work.
The team is far stronger right behind the defensive line at the LB level, which, ultimately, is what matters in the 3-4 defense. Mike Vrabel established himself as the best piece of the Matt Cassel trade in 2009, and resigned in 2010. The Chiefs have his replacement waiting in the wings, and it’s probably part-timer Andy Studebaker. Just in-case, the team spent a 6th round pick on Troy’s Cameron Sheffield. The defense is best when 2005 first rounder Derrick Johnson is on the field in the middle of the defense, but he’s in a contract year. Corey Mays and Demorrio Williams are an unimpressive duo at their best, and very costly at their worst. Both should lose snaps to Jovan Belcher this year. He’s a bit of a disaster in pass coverage, but is the team’s best run defender not named “Johnson”.
The secondary is young and incredibly talented. The best cornerback duo in football is Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr. The Chiefs had 3 draft picks in the first 40 in 2008 thanks to the Jared Allen trade. They instantly went and blew the first two on Dorsey (an overdraft), and Albert (an even worse overdraft). Herm Edwards’ parting gift to the team was to find two number one cornerbacks later on in the draft, and in their third year, this shutdown duo could be the secret to the future of the Chiefs, at least more than anything Pioli has done to help the team. Despite two developing elite corners, the Chiefs couldn’t stop any passing games last year because the safeties couldn’t cover anyone. Edwards and Carl Peterson gifted their successors a fantastic strong safety prospect in Bernard Pollard, who was released in the third week of the 2009 season and is now a star in the Texans defense. The desperate Chiefs spent the 5th overall pick in 2010 on safety Eric Berry.
Berry seems like another overdraft, in that his physical abilities probably overstate his college production. He’s more LaRon Landry than Sean Taylor, more Kenny Phillips than Ed Reed. Still, he’s far from likely to be a bust, and he can instantly go offer the Chiefs something more than they’ve been getting at the safety position. His presence in centerfield should give Carr and Flowers more opportunity to make defensive plays. And no one can doubt that his talent appears to be limitless.
The defense has a few holes that still need to be filled, but it’s not the unit that is going to keep the Chiefs from competing this year. That would be a job reserved for an offense that is to be led by someone elses backup quarterback, who came over on a franchise tender and promptly received a $60 million dollar extension, one of the more ludicrous decisions in recent NFL memory. Matt Cassel will be asked to win with an offense that is lacking in skill at many levels, and decided that it’s free agent dollars should be spent on severely declining players such as RB Thomas Jones and WR Chris Chambers. 2nd round draft choice WR Dexter McCluster will add an element to the offense that hasn’t been existent in the past, but McCluster will spend his rookie year trying to learn the receiver position and testing head coach Todd Haley’s patience.
New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis should be able to compensate for this by calling a lot of multiple TE sets involving 3rd round pick Moeaki, and starting TE and former Cardinals castoff Leonard Pope. He should also enjoy being on the beneficiary end of those wide open downfield passes to Dwayne Bowe. The last time Weis saw Bowe, he was busy running through Notre Dame’s swiss cheese secondary at the Sugar Bowl en route to making JaMarcus Russell a first overall pick. Cassel is only going to be as effective as Weis can make him.
The running game should thrive with Jamaal Charles in the game, but it’s likely to hit the skids when Jones totes the rock. Charles is elusive enough to set up his blocks and create huge seams in the defense, but this is not a talented offensive line. Albert is merely passable at LT, while Brian Waters isn’t quite the player he used to be on the interior. The Chiefs will start two new interior lineman next to Waters this year. Casey Wiegmann (age 38) returns to his old Center position after a two year flirtation with the disappointing Rudy Niswanger. Former Colts LG Ryan Lilja will step in at RG. He’ll quickly learn that he’s not blocking for Peyton Manning anymore. RT Ryan O’Callaghan was a waiver pickup from the Patriots, but he’s not very good. Cassel should mix in long downfield plays to Bowe with inexcusable sacks that drive Weis crazy all year long.
The Chiefs believe that Charles can be a full time player, and that Thomas Jones is merely there to help manage the load, but no one knows for sure. Charles and Bowe are the only two offensive weapons on the roster, and that generally means sporadic offense. Weis is the major offseason acquisition here, but the only offensive player from any of his Notre Dame teams on the roster is second year WR David Grimes. Backup lineman Ike Ndukwe is related to Chinedum, who played safety for Weis and the Irish, so that halfway counts? Ndukwe has a surprisingly good chance to beat out O’Callaghan for the RT spot.
Pioli has wasted draft picks and dollars since coming over from New England, and so the core of talent left behind by Herm Edwards and Carl Peterson hasn’t reached it’s potential. All the best players on this team were Peterson picks. Pioli’s hire of Todd Haley has merely given him a figurehead coach who fancies himself another Parcells, but doesn’t command the respect of his players. His 2010 draft might end up redeeming his 2009 disaster in the end — it’s impact on the special teams units could be felt immediately — but poor free agent signings will limit whatever young talent the Chiefs may have, and should force another last place finish for Kansas City, where 6 wins is supported only by a weak division and a poor overall slate of opponents.
Fighting for a spot on the roster
The Chiefs will have a largely unimportant camp battle for the role of third and fourth running back between Jackie Battle, Tim Castille, Tervaris Johnson, Javarris Williams, and Kestahn Moore. I’ll take Williams and Castille as the favorites, I suppose, but neither will see many snaps outside of special teams.
Reciever is a little more interesting, with David Grimes and Rich Gunnell challenging for spots that both are likely to fail to win. Bowe and Chambers will be the starting recievers, and then Jerheme Urban and Dexter McCluster are the third and fourth recievers, with Terrence Copper beating out Lance Long as the fifth receiver/special teamer.
Barry Richardson, Ryan O’Callaghan, and Ike Ndukewe are all in the mix for the RT spot, and all should make the team anyway — it’s not like the Chiefs have a lot of competent linemen. Rudy Niswanger figures to keep his roster spot as backup center and “Devil that the Chiefs know.” Jon Asamoah is the 6th offensive lineman no matter who wins RT.
Shaun Smith replaces the Tank Tyler on the defensive line, with all the other parts of that unit returning in their established roles. This gives the Chiefs the opportunity to hold six corners, including Mike Richardson, Javier Arenas, Maurice Leggett, and Travis Daniels. DaJuan Morgan and Jared Page join Eric Berry at safety, at least until the team choose to satisfy Page’s trade request. Jon McGraw should round out the roster, unless Donald Washington can take his spot.