Not that this comes as a shock to anyone, but when you think about it the Chiefs will soon, if they don't already, have one of the absolute top (dare I say Super Bowl winning?) defenses in the NFL. This is thanks to some very savvy drafting and putting a priority on keeping/developing the prospects we already have. Let's take a look at a possible starting defensive lineup and some analysis for this year, group by group. Keep in mind this is my opinion of the best lineup, not necessarily shared by Todd Haley.
Defensive Line: Many talk about this as area of concern due to the departure of Shaun Smith and Ron Edwards, however my outlook is more optimistic. When I look at our D-Line I see two top five draft talents that were a force in college, a proven veteran/mentor, and more young, talented players (Jerrel Powe, Allen Bailey) waiting to contribute.
LDE: Tyson Jackson - I have been disappointed in his play so far to say the least considering his high drafting, but I believe this might be his breakout season. Defensive line is a position that normally takes a few years to adjust to and Tyson has reportedly really been putting in the work this offseason. He has the physical tools, now it's time to produce.
NT: Kelly Gregg - Continuing in the Pioli way we picked up a mentoring defensive veteran in the offseason to provide a stopgap until Powe can take over, and if you're going to get a defensive mentor there's no better team to do it from than the Ravens. Coaches have raved over his attitude and experience. That's not to say he can't still play some football too. While I would say he has at most another 2 years in the league, this man was a leader and run-stopper on one of the best defenses in the last decade. He'll put a good amount of pressure on the quarterback and running game, all the while teaching the promising rookie Powe how it's done in pros.
RDE: Glenn Dorsey - There's a reason why for much of his senior season at LSU he was projected as the hands-down 1st overall pick in the draft. However combine concerns caused him to drop to us at 5 and we just couldn't pass him up. He showed promise in his first two years (when he wasn't hurt) and finally seemed to approach his potential last season. I would only expect this progression to continue as he enters his 4th season with the Chiefs.
Linebackers: This is a group I'm really excited about like most fans. Whoever gets past our D-Line probably won't get far against these guys, which is kind of the point of running a 3-4. Justin Houston was a steal in the 3rd round whose pass-rushing abilities will compliment DJs coverage skills well. Not to mention we just locked up the AFC sack leader for another 5 years. The LILB position is something of a question mark with Belcher and Siler battling it out, but they're both good young players who will only benefit from the competition. This a deep, talented group with a good mix of pass-rushing, run-stopping, and coverage.
LOLB: Justin Houston - At the moment this appears to be Studebaker's job, but I see Houston overtaking him in the near future. No offense to the man, but Studebaker is a lower tier linebacker in the NFL that is more suited to being the backup or used in special run-stopping packages. Houston is the future here and it will be a good one. Despite the character issues that caused him to fall out of the first round, this kid can play, especially when pass-rushing. 1st team All-SEC and 2-time All-American are not honors that are handed out lightly.
LILB: Brandon Siler - This will be a close race between Siler and Belcher, but I expect Siler to eventually win out. He is known as a run-stopper that has made a name for himself in goal-line packages. While we're hopefully not backed up against the endzone too frequently, that shows he can get in the trenches and stop the opposing backs from gaining easy yards on the ground. He is a young, promising linebacker that I thank the Chargers for whole-heartedly.
RILB: Derrick Johnson - This guy would've led the NFL in interceptions last year if he could hold on to the ball. In this way his pass covering abilities are a great compliment to the rest of the linebacking corp. He is also a physical specimen with great athleticism and speed. In fact he might be too fast for his own good as he tends to beat opposing players to spot and then whiff on the tackle, but this has improved over time which I expect will continue. Really with the other linebackers we have he should just leave the tackling to them and focus on stopping the short yardage passing game, something at which he excels.
ROLB: Tamba Hali - The man himself. A high-energy, character guy that gets after the quarterback as good as anybody in the NFL. There's not too much to be said here that hasn't been said already, except that as long as he's in the game our defense should be alright without any easy gains running, or the quarterback having too much time in the pocket (usually because he'll end up on the ground). This guy will continue to be a star on our defense for many years to come.
Secondary: This may be our most talented group of all, which is really saying something. It's also our youngest. Berry and Lewis are only 2nd year players who both played very well last year, with Berry even getting a rare rookie Pro Bowl selection. Flowers is approaching shutdown corner status, and Carr isn't half bad either. With today's pass-heavy NFL these guys are incredibly valuable and make up one of the best (if not THE best) secondaries in the league.
LCB: Brandon Flowers - We knew he'd be good, I don't know about this good. He truly is a complete corner in that he has the speed, quickness, and anticipation to keep the ball out of the receiver's hands almost every time it's thrown his way, and he can make the open-field tackle with surprising consistency. He should be the Chiefs next priority to lock up for the long term and give quarterbacks fits for many years.
SS: Eric Berry - Everyone knew this guy would be this good. While he made some rookie mistakes of blown coverages and being out of place sometimes, he showed why many hailed him as the next Ed Reed. In his rookie year he was second on the team in tackles, took an interception to the house, and was selected to the Pro Bowl. There will be no sophomore slump for this budding star as he continues to dominate the defensive side of the ball.
FS: Kendrick Lewis - While he didn't play a ton last year, when he did he looked pretty good. A couple of interceptions and some nice tackles in limited playing time definitely amounts to a solid rookie season. He's only going to get better too as he moves into his second year. It has yet to be seen how he will handle the starting role for every game, but all signs point to him being an above-average FS in the NFL. A Berry/Lewis safety tandem is something to be very excited about especially looking towards the future as they both progress and get better.
RCB: Brandon Carr - The other Brandon. He has flown under the radar nationally for most of his career, but make not mistake this guy has got what it takes. A fast, athletic player who is exceptional in pass coverage, which is pretty much all you want from your corners. He's not quite the physical tackler Flowers is, but that would really just be icing on the cake anyway. He's also very young and will only get better each year. Look for him to have a lot of picks this season as quaterbacks try to throw away from Flowers, but in reality are just forced to pick their poison, or their Brandon in this case.
So as you can see I'm very excited about this defense, and you should be too. As all of these players are quite young (DJ is the oldest at age 27), this already great defense will only get better in the years to come. A decade from now people will talk about the great Chiefs defenses of the 2010s.