As the end of the 2013 season gets closer and closer,
the numerous draftniks, free agent watch dogs, and coaching fanboys here on AP are gearing up for the endless debates about who should be targeted in the upcoming offseason. Intense strategies, that will never be heard by anyone of any importance, will be drawn up on the best ways for the Chiefs to improve moving forward. Terms like "Quarterback of the future (QBOTF)", "natural position", "ceiling/floor", "injury concerns", "fits the scheme", "for what we do", and "sleeper" will be thrown around all over AP...to the point that many of the more casual readers will probably get sick of it. But what can I say? Some of us absolutely love the schemes, planning, and intricacies associated with running an NFL franchise.
Last time, I addressed the WR position, something we could all agree needed a lot of help. This time, I'm going to talk about a position that not everyone is in agreement on. In my opinion, the DE position is in need of a major upgrade. The biggest difference from the first half of the season to the second half was the disappearance of our pass rush. The Chiefs were on pace to set the all time sack record...and then just stopped getting to the QB. The reason why is that opposing offenses figured out how to neutralize us. A double-team on Dontari Poe and then set the inside position so Houston and Hali had to go outside. The result was a perfect pocket for the QB where he could sit for what seemed like days at a time. Why was this? Because our opponents knew that the Chiefs didn't have a DE capable of causing any pressure.
We know what we have...and it isn't getting the job done.
Tyson Jackson - While he does the job as a run stuffer, he simply does not push the pocket. Jackson is ideal for a Romeo Crennel 2-Gap system, but in the attacking style of Bob Sutton, he's tits on a bull (that's useless, son). As a free agent, Jackson is fully expendable to the Chiefs and will likely ask for a contract closer to his last one than to what he deserves (would you just simply take a pay cut at your job?). Jackson will find a team better suited for his talents and go to have an unheralded career (think Shaun Smith).
Mike DeVito - Another reason why Jackson is likely gone is because DeVito is here and does the same thing. With DeVito and Poe on the line, we should be able to handle most rushing attacks moving forward (with a little help from the LBs). This is the job DeVito was brought in for, and there are no other expectations about him...and his pay reflects that.
Allen Bailey - The big hope for a lot of Chiefs fans was that Bailey would figure it out. Well, he has flashed talent, but not enough to be the kind of player we need. I had really hoped he would resemble Wallace Gilberry, but it just hasn't happened. He can push the pocket, but not consistently. That makes him an adequate rotational player, but not reliable enough for what we need. And his run stopping ability is not yet where it needs to be. But while we need to recognize where he is at, there isn't any reason to send him packing.
Mike Catapano - I simply do not share the same faith in a late round pick from a small school that some others do. Catapano has been ok at times, but he's never done anything that made me think he has a real chance at being a quality player. At best, I think he can develop into a journeyman backup player. He's the kind of guy that comes with a high motor, but without the physical tools to match it. With his being a rookie on a cheap contract, there's no reason to jettison him...but his position should be open to competition in training camp.
So there is really only one hole, but ther are an additional two spots that are open for competition. However, with the still relative newness of the 3-4 in the NFL, there aren't a lot of options available. 3-4 DE is still one of the more difficult positions to scout, especially because very few college programs utilize it. But there is some available talent in both Free Agency and the Draft to consider.
First Stop: Free Agency
Randy Starks - Miami Dolphins: The Phins slapped the Franchise Tag on Starks last year, and for good reason. This is the prototypical 3-4 DE, and some would even say one of the Top 5 in the NFL (the Dolphins thought so). Starks is solid against the run, but is also able to push the pocket and cause pressure on the QB. He is the kind of player that would be able to exploit single blockers, or get enough attention that either Houston or Poe would be able to get more favorable matchups. However, there are two issues to watch with Starks. At 30 years old, it's unlikely that he will be as productive as he has been in the past. Just the nature of life. However, that probably won't affect his price tag. Coming off the Franchise Tag with another solid season means that Starks can still ask for a good chunk of change...and the Chiefs may not have it to spend.
Arthur Jones - Baltimore Ravens: This is the guy that I think should be #1 on our radar. If it is possible to get him, we should pull out all the stops to do it. Jones is not a household name, but he produces. The good news here is that the Ravens are going to be very tight against the cap that they might not be able to re-sign him. The bad news is that there will be some serious competition for his services. Jones is a versatile 3-4 DE who can get into the backfield and cause problems for opposing teams. And coming into his prime, he could be a huge boost for the Chiefs front line...but be prepared to pay for what we're getting.
Brett Keisel - Pittsburgh Steelers: There are two things to know about "The (Original) Beard"...first is that him signing anywhere besides Pittsburgh is probably unlikely, and the second is that he should only be a one-year stop gap player. Keisel's age is his biggest hinderance. At some point it has to give, and it will happen sooner rather than later. However, if he does still have something left in the tank, it's hard to think of a more reliable 3-4 DE in the NFL. Nothing spectacular, but he seems to come through when needed. Keisel is best used as a run stuffer, but he can get into the backfield. But I don't know whether the tradeoff would be worth the investment.
Frostee Rucker - Arizona Cardinals: Besides having maybe the coolest name in football (see what I did there?), Frostee Rucker has actually shown that he can play some quality football. He was hidden in Arizona behind Darnell Dockett, but he did well for himself in both Cincinatti and Cleveland as a starter. However, it should be noted that he is not the kind of player you just rely on. He would be best utilized by rotating him with Bailey or just bringing him in on passing downs. He simply isn't stout enough to hold up as an every down lineman in the 3-4.
The Free Agency options are nowhere near as numerous as with WRs, but there are some quality ones out there. The Chiefs front office will have to figure out whethre it wants to address WR or DE in Free Agency, because it is unlikely that they could adequately do both.
Next Stop: The Draft
Kony Ealy - Mizzou - 1st Rd: Probably the only consensus 1st rd 3-4 DE in the draft is Missouri's Kony Ealy. A terrific athlete, Ealy has shown a high motor and a natural ability to get in the backfield to cause problems. However, his aggressive nature can also get him out of position and he is not a very technically sound player. He relies on a spin move that will be picked up quickly in the NFL, so he must develop more techniques if he wants to be effective at the next level. He is used to his size and speed being dominant, but that won't be so at the next level. Simply put, he is a hit or miss prospect. He will either get it together and be a force, or he won't and we will be having this same conversation again in three years.
Anthony Johnson - LSU - 1st Rd: This is the guy you may not have heard of but will in the coming weeks. I know, I know...not another LSU guy...but this guy could be the one we've been looking for. Johnson is a physical phenomenon. Nicknamed "The Freak" in HS, simply put, guys this big should not be this quick and fast. Imagine Dontari Poe minus about 25 lbs. He's big, strong, fast, and mean. He's solid, if not excellent, against both the rush and the pass. The downside on him, much like with Ealy, is that he can be too aggressive and needs a bit of work with his technique. At this point, I call it a coin toss between the two of them.
Kelcy Quarles - South Carolina - 3rd rd: Some folks have Quarles as high as a 2nd rd pick, but there is a good chance he could fall to the end of the 3rd with all of the QB and WR talent likely to be taken early. Quarles has all of the physical tools you could ask for in a 3-4 DE, and comes from a system that has put out some quality Defensive Linemen. However, his motor can run hot and cold (actually, nuclear and freezing are better terms). He needs to get into a quality NFL weight conditioning program to keep his weight in check. He started slow this past year at South Carolina, but got stronger as the season went on.
Josh Mauro - Stanford - 3rd rd: With the perfect frame for a 3-4 DE, Mauro could be an intriguing prospect for the Chiefs. He doesn't have the same natural athleticism as the other three players I've mentioned, but he is more technically sound than they are. Mauro probably does not have a very high ceiling in the NFL and would likely be the kind of player who needed to be used in a rotation. But he does have good athleticism and is very strong. He is solid in both the run and pass games, and he understands that sometimes his job is to set up other players to make the play. While that football IQ is impressive and admirable, I would like to see just a little more aggression and selfishness on the field from him. I like guys who WANT to make the play all the time.
As with each position, there are a number of other players that can be thrown out there for consideration that I don't have listed here. These are just the players who have stood out in my mind as having some combination of the talent we need at the price we can afford.