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Top 5 Most Important Kansas City Chiefs For 2012

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Top-five lists, otherwise known as a blogger's best friend. I've decided to take a crack at ranking the five most important Kansas City Chiefs players for the 2012 NFL season. I stole borrowed the idea when I saw the KC Star's Sam Mellinger had ranked 10 people who will shape KC's sports scene in 2012.

So, my top five Chiefs for 2012 are listed after the jump. Drop yours in the comments.
5. Jonathan Baldwin, Wide Receiver

Because, in some ways, I wonder if he could decide Dwayne Bowe's future.

Bowe is scheduled to hit free agency in March but I'm guessing the Chiefs will place the franchise tag on him. That's just a hunch I have at the moment, not any insider information here. But if that's the case, then Bowe enters another prove-it year in 2012 as he tries to secure a long-term contract.

So the scenario I wonder about has Baldwin breaking out in 2012 which makes Bowe a little more expendable.

I know, I know. Bowe is like the only playmaker the Chiefs had last year so it's hard to envision him not being back in KC or being an important part of the team. But I'm trying to project the future and Baldwin quickly turning into a legit No. 1 receiver is a possibility.

And that could affect Bowe.

4. Justin Houston, Outside Linebacker

Maybe I'm taking Tamba Hali for granted by not putting him on this list but I expect him to have another double-digit sack season and make life hell for the AFC West quarterbacks and the rest of the teams on the Chiefs 2012 schedule. (That's actually, like, the definition of taking someone for granted.)

But Justin Houston might be more important next season. The Chiefs defense, if you ask me, is on the verge of figuring out whether they take a step forward into near-elite status. Right now they're just pretty good at times. What they're really missing, that one thing that these elite defenses have, is a consistent pass rush, and that's where Houston comes in. If he can turn into the second pass-rusher that teams actually fear then...holy crap, the Chiefs will have a legitimate, top-level defense.

Until he does that consistently, though, the Chiefs ceiling will just be "pretty good" like they were at times this year.

3. Eric Berry, Safety

The Chiefs do so many things with him defensively that Romeo Crennel admitted it took a while to overcome his absence. Teams and players don't use injuries as an excuse but it was clear Berry's absence was a big blow.

So he, too, needs to get his ACL better. Berry tore it on the third play of the first game of the season and, by many accounts, is hard-working enough that he should return at full strength, or as close as you can get after an ACL tear. I feel confident this injury won't have long-term ramifications.

Elite defenses often have elite safeties -- lookin' at you, Troy Polamalu -- so figuring out how Berry will be used in 2012 and beyond is a critical piece of the puzzle. This is a passing league so there's a premium on covering the pass right now and Berry can make a lot of plays back there.

i'm just really excited to see Berry back on the field.

2. Jamaal Charles, Running Back

I should put him first because he often makes a bigger difference in the game than any other player, even the quarterback. He's an absolute game breaker that instantly makes the Chiefs a contender for the division title.

He's coming off a torn ACL, which is concerning. Players often come back from torn ACLs so recent history indicates to us that Charles will likely be OK but it is concerning that a guy whose talents are predicated on his speed has to spend eight months rehabbing a fairly important ligament.

Charles gives the Chiefs that dynamic that were clearly missing this year. Even with other injuries that will inevitably pop up, the Chiefs can compete when Charles is on the field.

1. Matt Cassel/Kyle Orton

Picking two players? Yes, it's a little cheap but really I just want to pick the quarterback position. It's the most important position in sports and teams that have great ones at that position often fulfill the dreams that Clark Hunt says he has for the Chiefs -- consistency and championships. The quarterback will always be the most important player on the team (with only a few exceptions).

Matt Cassel, the incumbent, will likely come back in 2012 and we know what we have in him -- inconsistency. In four seasons, he's had two pretty good years and two bad years. Looking at his stats and watching him play in KC the last three years, he's a yo-yo, he's inconsistent and you don't know what you're going to get from him every day (which, oddly enough, are some of the reasons Todd Haley was fired).

Cassel and Orton have very similar career stats so they're not much different, really. (Sometimes I have to wonder what we did to upset the football gods that they've put us in a position where we're arguing between Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton.)

But I do think Orton throws a better deep ball. And the Chiefs have a lot of time and money invested at receiver. Wouldn't you want a quarterback who can take advantage of the position where you have lots of money invested? Me too.

The overall point here is that one of these two guys will likely be the quarterback in 2012 and the Chiefs will rise or fall with how they do.

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