The State of the Chiefs: Grading Kansas City's Defensive Line

I know what you're thinking right now. What is going on with the whole Jonathan Baldwin/Thomas Jones locker room scuffle? Which is why I thought it would be appropriate to start talking about the Chiefs' Defensive Line.

Give the readers what they want, right?

Anyway, in my last piece, I talked at length about the Chiefs' Quarterback situation. I gave the Chiefs a generous grade of a B, but pointed out (clearly to strong agreement) that their backup Quarterback situation leaves a lot to be desired. On the Defensive Line, I'm going down a pretty similar path:

The Chiefs' Defensive Line Grade: B+

Chiefs' Offseason Grade: B

More after the jump.

I had a tough time grading this position, because there's so much that needs to happen to achieve a good grade, but those things are very possible. The good news is, at the very worst (injuries aside), the Chiefs probably have a pretty stable group of Defensive Linemen. They should have three players who know how to play the position.

The main question is, how effective are the starting 3 going to be at playing their position? My guess is that the Chiefs will start the season with Tyson Jackson, Kelly Gregg, and Glenn Dorsey as their starting three. I know what to expect from Dorsey--he played pretty terrific last year and of the three, is probably going to come the closest to playing at a peak level. With Gregg, you expect stability. I don't know how much we can depend on him to be the kind of force he has been with Baltimore, but he's definitely going to be an upgrade over Ron Edwards. Jackson is a wild card. Let me start by saying he's not as bad as some people want him to be. He will likely never live up to the #3 pick used on him, but that shouldn't take away the fact that he should project to be a solid starter in 2012. He started to get a better feel for the position toward the end of last season. The third year is hopefully the year where he comes into his own.

I graded the Chiefs a little harshly on the Defensive Line for several reasons. First, it was a big mistake getting rid of Shaun Smith. He's getting overpaid in Tennessee right now, but the Chiefs could use quality depth, especially coming into a season where everyone's going to start off a little rusty and behind on their conditioning. Second, while you hate to second-guess a first round pick this early, you have to question if the Chiefs could have had a chance at Phil Taylor and missed. This is not a criticism of the Jonathan Baldwin pick; rather, this is questioning whether they passed on a Nose Tackle of the future (which I think is much more critical than a #2 Wide Receiver). The Jerell Powe pick was a phenomenal pick, but you question whether they waited too long to take their first shot at one. I'm also not sure how I feel about the decision to have Wallace Gilberry bulked up. I'd have to think that with that bulk, he could lose a little bit of speed, which was one of his stronger suits given the situations he typically played in. It seems like the Chiefs are trying to move him toward a more "every down" type role. The experiment could work, but my sense is he was better suited to be an effective role player.

Still, the Chiefs made some positive moves that could easily turn that grade from a B- to an A-. Kelly Gregg was a smart pickup. I would have picked up Aubrayo Franklin to get more long-term stability at the position, but I understand Pioli's explanation that Franklin isn't well suited to play 2-gap. Perhaps that was the reason he passed on Taylor as well. Jerell Powe was a complete steal and I like what I'm seeing from him so far.

I don't know. Maybe I graded a bit harshly, because I like the Chiefs' starting 3. But just as a Left Tackle heavily skews an Offensive Line evaluation, so too does a Nose Tackle skew a Defensive Line evaluation. For three years, Scott Pioli has surprisingly shown little urgency to upgrade the position, even though there were clear cries for help. Maybe Ron Edwards wasn't a liability, but he clearly wasn't a reliable anchor. And it couldn't have helped that he was asked to play a taxing position all by himself. During that span, the Chiefs clearly whiffed by passing on B.J. Raji in order to draft Tyson Jackson. And in the 2009 and 2010 drafts, the best move they can claim was that they picked up one of the Packers' table scraps.

And that has put the Chiefs in a very anxious situation at the most critical position on the field. Today, they have to rely on a 35-year old to anchor the line. Tomorrow, they have to hope that a 6th round pick develops fast enough that he can take the majority of snaps probably within 1-2 years. And if Powe flashes nothing in 2011, then the Chiefs are sent into a scramble yet again in 2012. You hate to blame someone today for sins of the past, but in year 3, the Chiefs should have already had 2 or 3 relatively high profile guys competing for a long-term starting job at Nose Tackle. If all 3 failed, that's fine. At least they tried. I'd be okay with the Powe pick except that the Chiefs need him to be a franchise guy... immediately.

So yeah, the Chiefs will be fine at Defensive Line today, but keep a close eye on Powe and Toribio. If they perform well, the grade easily swings to an A. But if they don't show major progress toward being a long-term franchise option by the end of the season, then the Chiefs' grade of a "B" is probably a little bit high in my book.

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