As promised, this week I'm going to focus on the Chiefs' defense. Who goes? Who stays? Who's on the bubble?
Before I do that, I'm going to make some small adjustments to my prior analysis on the Chiefs' offense. First, Brad Cottam. I don't know where he's been for two years, but he has stepped it up at just the right time. The fact that Cottam has played third-fiddle to the stone hands twins, Sean Ryan and Jake O'Connell, for most of the season is appalling and it makes me seriously question Haley's ability to evaluate talent. Second, Dwayne Bowe. Of all the players on this roster, he's the one that worries me the most. I don't lose sleep over scrubs playing like scrubs. I lose sleep over talented players like Bowe who you want to keep on your roster long-term, but who may always be a liability at the wrong times. You can't afford to part ways with Bowe on a roster this shallow, but the question you have to ask is: on a key third down in a playoff game three years from now, how comfortable do you feel about any pass that goes Bowe's way?
Anyway, I digress. Let's start talking some defense.
I wanted to start here because it's a really easy position to evaluate. I would be shocked if the Chiefs made a big play for a 5-Technique DE. The Chiefs have a lot of money and a lot of draft value invested in Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, and with Wallace Gilberry and Alex Magee on the roster, they're also pretty deep at the position. Regardless of your opinion on how good any of these guys are, this front office is smart enough to know that the fan base would absolutely revolt if they used a lot of resources to add yet another 5-technique. That rules out Ndamukong Suh. That rules out any DT with any value in free agency or the draft. Quite honestly, unless there is a 5-technique available that is an absolute highway robbery steal in the later rounds, I would be shocked if they drafted anybody at this position. As for who the Chiefs already have, Dorsey has improved by leaps and bounds and we saw on Sunday how ineffective the Chiefs are on run defense without him. Tyson Jackson is starting to play a little bit better. He's nowhere near where he needs to be, but you can't judge a guy like him until his second or third season. Magee has the potential to be a decent depth DE, but his play on Sunday really highlights how much further he needs to go. Gilberry is a guy you'd like to keep on the roster, but his role will likely be limited to third down or rotational depth situations.
- Stays: Dorsey, Jackson, Gilberry, Magee
- Pick-up: Nobody
Ron Edwards stinks. That's all you need to know about what the Chiefs have. And Edwards' stink-ti-tude is affecting everyone around him. Edwards doesn't drive blockers back into the pocket. He doesn't occupy that many blockers. He's just sort of... there. It affects the Linebackers because Edwards is letting blockers get to the second level and he's not sealing the middle as well as he should. It affects the pass rushers because when an edge rusher like Tamba Hali gets to the quarterback off the edge, the quarterback can easily and comfortably slide into an enormous pocket. Edwards would be okay as a backup, quality depth option, but the Chiefs need to make a major move for a Nose Tackle this offseason. That's no reason to panic. Some people will have you believe that finding a quality Nose Tackle is as tough as finding a franchise Quarterback. It's not. If it was such an impossible position to find, you'd see 3-4 teams using top 10 picks and showering them with expensive contracts. That's not the case. Assuming that the CBA doesn't fall through, you might see a good Nose Tackle like Vince Wilfork hit the market. You might also see a 4-3 DT castoff who might be better suited for a 3-4 NT position. More likely than not, we'll probably be using a pick anywhere between the 2nd and 4th rounds to bring in either a starter or quality depth at the position. I'm not saying that any of these will be easy. However, I do believe that if the Chiefs are very tight in their evaluations both on the Pro Personnel side and on the college scouting side, the Chiefs could easily find a replacement. The good news is that they can't do a whole lot worse than Edwards.
But I'll tell you what, if Dorsey continues to improve a little, Jackson improves a lot and plays to his potential, and the Chiefs find a legit Nose Tackle, opposing running backs are going to have a really, really difficult time running past this wall of defenders.
- On the bubble: Ron Edwards
- Pick-up: A starter (this is non-negotiable)--probably in rounds 2-4 or through Free Agency
This is a position I really struggle with because there's a part of me that really likes Tamba Hali and there's another part of me that believes he'll never really be the kind of elite OLB you want in a 3-4 Defense. I do think he's a strong force as a pass rusher. I just worry that he can't cover or stop the run as effectively as you would hope for in a 3-4 OLB. On the other side, Vrabel needs to be replaced. I still like him as a backup and a leader, but the Chiefs need to start focusing on giving a younger, longer-term OLB much more quality reps. I'm not sure if his replacement will be or should be Andy Studebaker. I was really impressed with the way Studebaker played several weeks ago. From a pass rushing standpoint, he has a long way to go, and I think his two INTs were more a reflection of being in the right place at the right time. But what I liked about him was the way he stood his ground against the run.
I realize that this analysis didn't really say much of anything about anything. I would say this is a position where you just play with the cards you're dealt. If you have a can't-miss player in the Draft, then you take him. If you can get a strong option in Free Agency, then overpay him. But this isn't necessarily a position to lose sleep over because the other thing to keep in mind is that the overall play of all the OLBs will improve as the big uglies up front start to get better at their jobs.
- Stays: Tamba Hali (#1 or #2?), Andy Studebaker (#2)
- On the Bubble: Mike Vrabel (#2 or #3)
- Bring in: A strong option without reaching
Maybe I'm alone on this, but I think that Inside Linebacker is one of the least important positions in a 3-4 Defense. They're role players more than anything else. Kendrell Bell was a star in a 3-4 because his only assignment was to attack, attack, attack. Don't think. Just attack. You also have other ILBs who are more coverage specialists. My feeling has always been that if you have an outstanding defensive line, you won't need your ILBs nearly as much in run support. If you have an outstanding secondary, particularly at the Safety position, you don't need to become overly reliant on the coverage backer. A great ILB is more a luxury than a necessity. I'm not a big fan of any of the Chiefs' ILB options. Demorrio Williams is adequate, DJ is too much of a freelancer, Mays is quality depth but mostly unspectacular, and Belcher has decent upside but has a long way to go. This is one of those positions where the strategy is to replace these guys eventually within the next 2-3 years. However, I would not make any concerted effort to do so immediately.
- Keep: Begrudgingly keep as many as you can
- Pick-up: A later draft pick without reaching. A whole flurry of undrafted rookies. Or a strong free agent option (like most positions, it's okay for the Chiefs to overpay)
So, finally a position the Chiefs can build off of. I have always liked Brandon Flowers. I've been very pleasantly surprised with Brandon Carr's progress this season. These two guys make a really solid 1-2 punch. At some point, the Chiefs need to start adding extra bodies for nickel packages as well as for quality depth. I'm not confident any of those guys are currently on the roster. The Chiefs' coaching staff seems to be transitioning Leggett to Safety. Donald Washington is extremely raw, but so far mostly unimpressive. You probably wouldn't draft a Nickel Back early in the draft, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Chiefs pretty aggressively pursue some options toward the middle of the draft and/or through free agency.
- Keep: All CBs
- Pick-up: Later round or Free Agent Nickel Back (no need to break the bank)
I still believe that it is a huge asset for a 3-4 defense to have a playmaker at the Safety position. That player is not currently on the Chiefs' roster. I know Todd Haley really likes Mike Brown and while I certainly think he's improved throughout the season, he just doesn't have the playmaking ability he used to. In the passing game, I rarely see him smell out plays. He always seems to get there a few steps too late. John McGraw is a great depth guy and someone you want to keep on your roster for special teams purposes, but he's not a guy you want as your long-term starter. Jarrad Page has been by far the biggest disappointment on defense, in my eyes. I've been very unimpressed with his closing speed, which is scary for a Safety whose strength is supposed to be his coverage ability. And oh, by the way, I have no idea if Dajuan Morgan is the answer in KC or not, but I wish the Chiefs' coaching staff would make a little more effort to find out. New flash: the Chiefs aren't making the playoffs this season. Give the young kids a chance to play (that goes for Studebaker too). At least Morgan's starting to get reps now, but it came a few games too late. There just isn't enough information for me to really know what the kid is made of.
Long story short, the Chiefs have Safeties who have little talent, but don't really screw up a whole lot. They let plays come to them and then they can generally make them. Playmakers anticipate plays and blow them up-they can smell a playcall the minute the ball is snapped. I honestly don't think the Chiefs will ever become the defense they want to become until they can get a real playmaker here. Based on my limited draft knowledge, if Eric Berry is the playmaker scouts say he is, then you don't pass on him for a second. If Taylor Mays tests out well, he should receive strong consideration too. I know a top 5 pick may sound high for a Safety, but the importance of the Safety position has increased significantly over time. Especially for a 3-4.
- Keep: John McGraw (#2), Mike Brown (#2)
- Pick-up: High draft pick
I know the defense put up one of the most embarrassing performances in recent memory on Sunday, but they're not that far away from fielding an adequate defense. At minimum, if the Chiefs bring in a legit Nose Tackle and a playmaker at Safety, get more consistent play from their young DEs, and bring in a new Defensive Coordinator, the defense could actually be halfway decent in 2010.