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Is Chiefs' Mike Catapano a diamond in the rough or just a guy?

Taking a look at one of the more interesting Kansas City Chiefs rookies from last season: Mike Catapano.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

As the wheels of the offseason continue to spin, Kansas City Chiefs fans are left still wondering at the epic collapse that was the 2013 defense. The Chiefs went from legitimately terrifying to overwhelmed seemingly overnight. They gave up more big plays than any professional football team should (at least, not any team that wants to win games). Long story short, it was ugly.

A great deal of debate has begun among Chiefs fans regarding the cause of this collapse. Is defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to blame? Is Eric Berry overrated? Are the corners not getting it done? What about that potent pass rush? Could it be Emmitt Thomas (so long held in high esteem) is the issue?

With all the questions, there seem to be two issues Chiefs fans everywhere (with one or two contrarians, naturally) have no problem agreeing on ...

1) The Chiefs absolutely NEED an upgrade at the free safety position.

2) The Chiefs absolutely NEED increased pass rush from their defensive line.

Now don't get me wrong, Dontari Poe is an Earth-shattering beast. But as many astute observers have pointed out, he's just one person. As the season went along teams started figuring out how to deal with the Chiefs pass rush in obvious passing situations. Double or triple Poe, have the tackles cheat inside to force Tamba Hali / Justin Houston to go wide, and get rid of the ball within three seconds.

You may or may not be a math major, but the numbers detailed there should show you that such a strategy leaves one guy with a one-on-one matchup. And if the defense wants to make teams pay for using said tactics, whoever the Chiefs have on the defensive line with the one-on-one needs to win as often as he loses and provide pressure on the QB. Unfortunately, that's not what happened.

So what now? The most popular solution is to draft a defensive lineman in the first round who can replace Tyson Jackson (a longtime favorite of mine who, it seems, is on his way out) in the base sets and can play the role of interior pass rusher on third down. It's a simple enough solution, yes? Just find a guy who is stout against the run but can also get after the passer at an above-average rate. Easy.

Of course, in reality it isn't nearly that easy. Defensive linemen who have the right physical attributes to play defensive end in the 3-4, are stout run defenders, and can get after the quarterback are rare. Guys who have that kind of ability are selected early in the draft. Those who fall as far as the mid-20's (incidentally, where the Chiefs are picking) are generally far from a sure thing.

Of course, that doesn't mean I'm against taking a defensive lineman in the first round this year. Quite the opposite, in fact.

(Since there's NO WAY I'm ever, ever, ever doing a mock draft, here's my quick and dirty offseason in part: sign one of the many solid safeties in free agency, re-sign Dexter McCluster, Geoff Schwartz and Husain Abdullah, draft a defensive end in the first and a wide receiver in the third.)

However, it's at least worth looking into what players the Chiefs have in-house who can help with the pass rush issues. Last time I looked at Jerrell Powe and (much to my eternal disappointment, given my love for land sharks) was less than overwhelmed.

This time, I'm looking at a fan favorite: Mike Catapano.

The Numbers

As usual, I'm using ProFootballFocus to get raw numbers. For those who care about the grades PFF gives out, Catapano ended the year with an overall grade of -0.3. Oddly enough, his pass rushing grade was 0.5 and his run defense grade was 0.5. It was his "penalty" grade of -1.3 that dragged him down. Take from that what you will, I guess.

Beyond, that he's credited with 78 pass rushing snaps this last season, with the majority of those snaps coming against the Jaguars, Redskins, and Chargers (second game). We'll get into what I saw re-watching his snaps shortly, but for now, here are the numbers.

In 78 pass rushing snaps, Catapano (per PFF) had one sack, two QB hits, and six QB hurries. So we've got a total of nine quarterback disruptions, with an actually quite impressive disruption rate of 11.5 percent. For comparison's sake, Allen Bailey (who is the current nickel formation interior rusher opposite Poe) has a rate of 8.7 percent. Of course, that's in over four times more snaps than Catapano, so it would be misleading to assume Catapano was superior. Small sample size, and all that.

Additional information on Catapano? Well, he weighed in at the Combine at 271 pounds and a shade under 6'4. He's built like a slightly more shredded Bailey (which, quite frankly, I thought was impossible). He also had a whole lot of sacks in college.

But enough about numbers. We're not nerds, after all (OK, that's just not true. We're on the Internet reading about a backup defensive lineman during the offseason. We're nerds. Own it). I spent a couple of hours tracking down Catapano's snaps and watching them, and I came away with some impressions.

The Film: What I Didn't Like

Watching Catapano rush the passer was almost like watching Jerrell Powe rush the passer through a funhouse mirror. By this, of course, I mean that Powe's primary asset (size / strength) is an inherent weakness in Catapano (all "Big Cat" references aside).

An easy way to explain this is to compare him to Big Mike DeVito. Since both are white guys whose numbers begin with "7" (77 for Catapano and 70 for DeVito), occasionally at first glance it could be tough to tell them apart when the play was in motion. There were two really easy ways to figure out who was on the field without seeing the numbers in full ...

1) Simply by pausing the action I could take a moment to observe the size of the BWD (Big White Dude) in question. If he was a RBWD (Really Big White Dude), it was DeVito. If he was merely a KSBWD (Kinda Small Big White Dude), then it was Catapano.

2) I could let the play run its course and watch how the BWD looked when he hit an offensive lineman. DeVito is a brick wall and punches offensive linemen with a powerful first shot. Catapano is ... well, that's not his game.

Which is the main problem I have with Catapano. Allow me to ruin dreams for people: Mike Catapano is not going to be a 3-4 defensive end. At least, not if he doesn't throw on about another 20 pounds or so. He is by far the most visibly small defensive lineman on the field. He's noticeably smaller than even Allen Bailey.

His strength matches his size for the most part. He's not going to knock any offensive linemen back with a brutal first punch. He's not going to hold his ground against double teams (he got bulldozed any time I saw two offensive linemen going against him). And he's not going to be part of the solution in any situation where the Chiefs need to stop the run.

In the limited snaps I watched on Catapano, I saw a player who had a tendency to get stonewalled if he wasn't able to get momentum one way or the other around the offensive lineman or win the hand-position battle. He just doesn't have the brute force necessary to impose his will out there. For a guy like me (who loves the idea of wearing teams out with the Chiefs physicality), that's a big problem.

The Film: What I Did Like

This section is going to be significantly longer than the previous one. Because unlike with Powe (where I walked away more discouraged than encouraged by the film), Catapano impressed me in a lot of ways. First off, he can be insanely quick off the ball when it's snapped.


Here, you find Catapano opposite the right guard, playing the part of interior pass rusher. As you can see, he's managed to get a very good first step out there.

Catapano is FAST. I mean genuinely, truly athletic. He makes Bailey (our resident "Wow, he's athletic for his size" guy) look like a lumbering slowpoke out there. I laughed at people who said the Chiefs should try him at outside linebacker. I was absolutely wrong. He could absolutely rush from the edge. His speed is exceptional. When he gets a window to the quarterback he's on him almost instantly. A good example of this (and other things I liked) are seen in his lone sack of the season...

(Catapano is the second Chief on the left. You know, the one who isn't Houston, Bailey, or Hali.)






All right. There are a BUNCH of things we could take out of this series of pictures (for one, did anyone else think Houston ever got stonewalled by one guy? Blew my mind). But let's focus on Catapano, because this play represents a lot of what I like about his film.

Catapano does a good job getting his hands to the inside and creating leverage to start the play off. He then quickly moves to rushing half a man (fun football terms!) and putting a solid rip move on the guard assigned to him. Coming free, he closes on Terrelle Pryor too quickly for him to escape. Again, this play demonstrates a lot of what I liked about what I saw.

First, Catapano does a very good job with hand placement. Multiple times in the snaps I watched, he got inside the pads of OL he was facing. Because of this he was able to set offensive linemen up for a rush move, or even pull off a bull rush and move the offensive lineman backward despite his lack of brute force (again, he's not as big / strong as I'd like). Another example of Catapano getting push because of good hand placement (Catapano is second from the right).




For the record, Rivers somehow completed that pass for a touchdown. What a jerk.

Second, Catapano uses actual, you know, pass rushing moves. He's not limited to a bull rush the way Powe is. I saw him execute this same rip move multiple times with success, and also do a version of Poe's swim move (not nearly as violently as Poe) to go along with a bull rush that's decent. This, combined with his hand placement, makes him appear more purposeful when he's rushing than Bailey (the incumbent interior rusher, remember). When I see Bailey rush, I see a lot of pushing and running without identifiable hand-fighting or rush moves (at least not identifiable by me).

Third, Catapano's speed / burst / athleticism is exceptional. Interestingly enough, he ran a slightly slower 40 than Bailey ... BUT, he outperformed Bailey in the 20-yard shuttle by a full .25 seconds, and in the three cone drill by over .3 seconds. Basically, Bailey can close the gap when sprinting down the field, but Catapano is much quicker in small spaces. That differences is easily (EASILY) seen on the field. He genuinely looks like an outside linebacker out there.

Fourth, Catapano doesn't quit. Like, ever. He just doesn't quit trying to get to the quarterback until the whistle. Of course, most backups play like that, but it's still fun to see.

Peter G. Aiken Getty Images Sport


When I reviewed Jerrell Powe's snaps against San Diego, I was disappointed to an extent. Per PFF he'd had a great game, and while watching the film I just didn't see it. I felt that PFF had over-stated his impact. After all, "hurries" is a pretty subjective stat, right?

The opposite happened when I reviewed Catapano's snaps. I went in with pretty low expectations and came away... well, impressed. In fact, by my count Catapano had multiple "hurries" that PFF missed (again, it's a very subjective stat). He's active. He's fast. He's (kinda) powerful. He seems to have a good grasp on the game mentally. I really liked what I saw out of his pass rushing snaps.

Seattle just showed us the value in having multiple pass rushers who can be rotated and kept fresh throughout the game. And Catapano showed me enough in limited action to make me believe he's a part of the pass rushing solution next season.

"So MNChiefsfan, does this mean we DON'T need to draft a defensive lineman in the first round? Are you seriously saying Catapano's the answer?"

Well... no, sorry. There's no way in Hades I want Catapano out there when teams are running the ball. He's just not big enough or strong enough to hold the line. Of course, Bailey has come a long ways in that area, so I SUPPOSE one could say Bailey could take the first and second down snaps and Catapano comes in on third down. But then we're stuck in a situation where teams can get matchup advantages on the Chiefs by running a hurry-up offense, which is blech (to put it technically).

Unless Catapano can throw on 15-20 pounds (which seems incredibly unlikely, considering his build), he's not going to be a three down lineman. So at the end of the day, I'm still all over the "defensive line in the first round."

However, Seattle just showed us the value in having multiple pass rushers who can be rotated and kept fresh throughout the game (Cliff Avril was a rotational player. You can't make this up). And Catapano showed me (a skeptic to begin with) enough in limited action to make me believe he's a part of the pass rushing solution next season, even if it's as a purely situational guy.

Speaking of fixing defensive problems ... who does AP want to see reviewed next? For your convenience, I'll attach a good ol' fashioned poll at the bottom. Because I'm that wonderful.

It's Game Time.

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