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Six pack: Kansas City Chiefs defensive line

The first in the series during the 2016 offseason, Craig takes an early look at the Chiefs Defensive Line and what to expect during the 2016-2017 season.

Welcome to the first six-pack of the 2016 Chiefs season! This offseason, I decided to do something a little different. Rather than hibernate, I decided to take a look at the different position groups and look at the Base Expectations and Expected Results (BEER) for each of them.

I'll hit on six different topics, share some of YOUR thoughts on the position group, and hopefully get some good discussion going on to tide us over to the start of the season!  Without further ado, let's open up this Six Pack!

1. Stock Report

Without question, the 2015 Chiefs Defense was a really good squad.  Ranking in the top ten in most defensive stats in the league, this defense really showed its stuff last season with a lot of young players.  Perhaps the most exciting part of the defense is the young defensive line.  So how should we expect the 2016 Chiefs defensive line to compare to 2015?  For me, their stock is UP.

Yes, the defensive line lost veteran run stopper Mike DeVito this offseason to retirement, and that is a major blow to the defensive rotation.  However, that's the ONLY real step back this line made since the end of the 2015 season.  Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey, and Jaye Howard are a year older, another year in the system, and a year stronger.  Rakeem Nunez-Roches showed flashes in limited playing time last year.  Finally, the Chiefs first pick in the draft this year was a monster defensive lineman, Chris Jones.  That's a five deep rotation with a TON of potential for growth, especially under Britt Reid, who has shown that he's able to get the most out of his defensive lineman.  This doesn't even take into account any surprises the Chiefs may get with Nick Williams, David King, or other "fringe" players on the roster.  While DeVito's presence will be missed, it's hard not to think that this defensive line isn't even better in 2016 than in 2015.

2. Lineup / Playing Time

In the Chiefs base 3-4 defense (even when it's run less than half the time), the defensive line is pretty cut and dry.  Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey, and Jaye Howard are your starting linemen.  Poe will play mainly 0-tech or 1-tech, sometimes switching with Howard to play 3-tech or 5-tech.  There will be overloads to different sides of the line, but for the most part, that lineup is going to get a lot of run.  Teams will no what's coming, but those guys will still be able to win their battles on skill alone.  RNR and Jones will rotate in on occasion, but that's the 3-4 defensive line.

When the Chiefs switch to the sub package, that's when things get interesting.  The Chiefs like to switch to a hybrid dime, leaving only two defensive linemen on the field.  Poe has spent the more time on the field in the past, taking one of those spots as he's solid against the run and the pass.  Bailey was the go-to guy in years past when it came to the sub packages alongside Poe, and he's certainly developed the skills to compliment him.  However, Jaye Howard arguably played better than the both of them in 2015, and was a one-man wrecking crew at times in the sub package.  Chris Jones looks tailor made to rotate in during sub packages with his strength and speed, and should contribute more in the dime than in the 3-4.  It truly is an embarrassment of riches, and one that prompted fellow contributor His Dirkness to put me on the spot with the question: "Rank the 2 DL sub package options". This is tough, but here goes my Top 5 options:

Sub-Package Lineman #1 Sub-Package Lineman #2

Dontari Poe                               Jaye Howard

Jaye Howard                               Allen Bailey

Dontari Poe                                 Allen Bailey

Jaye Howard                                Chris Jones

Dontari Poe                                 Chris Jones

It's fair to say I'm a fan of the options available for the Chiefs at DL this season.  I expect that Poe will be the leader in snaps for this squad, but I don't expect Howard will be far behind.  I expect a gap back to Bailey, then another large gap back to Jones and RNR.  If I had to guess, I'd say the other options won't offer much other than spot duty in blowouts.

3. Strengths

"Strongest unit on the team."   -@HisDirkness

My goodness, where to start here?  Not enough can be made of the power possessed by the Chiefs defensive line rotation.  Poe recently bragged that he was out lifting Anthony Sherman during Derrick Johnson's celebrity event.  That's...uhhh...a big deal.  Jaye Howard routinely moves 320 pound offensive linemen like they are tackling dummies. Chris Jones' power has been widely touted coming out of college.  Allen Bailey's nickname is Hulk!  Not only are they a powerful bunch, the Chiefs have done a great job of acquiring defensive linemen with immense speed.  One of the reasons I argue that Howard was the best defensive linemen for the Chiefs last year was his ability to track the play with his lateral speed.  We all know that Dontari Poe is fast from his eye-popping combine numbers, but it seems like he's got a full highlight reel of beating running backs and mobile quarterbacks to the edge and making a play.  The Chiefs have definitely acquired a "type" of defensive lineman with incredible physical tools.

But arguably even more important is the insane depth on this line.  The Chiefs picked a defensive lineman in this year's draft that would be an automatic starter for almost every team in the league, and he'll likely see less than half the snaps for the 2016 season!  I listed my top five sub package above.  There are teams that would kill for five legitimate defensive line rotations, let alone the ability to leave out a recent first and second round pick in the rotation.  The Chiefs will almost certainly be able to have fresh defensive linemen all season long, and that is without question the biggest strength in this defensive line squad.

4.  Weaknesses

I hate to be a homer on the first article of the year here, but there's not a whole lot of weaknesses on this defensive line.  That said, they are very young players.  While that hasn't appeared to have a negative effect on the team, there is something to be said for experience and knowledge of the game that some of these players just haven't been exposed to as of yet.  Allen Bailey is the "elder statesman" of the group, and though he's got six years of experience, very few of them have been as a first choice starter.  From a pure snaps perspective, Poe is by far the most experienced, and he's currently looking for a big payday with his contract expiring next season.  While I don't think it will have a negative impact on the unit as a whole, it's definitely something to keep an eye on.

5.  Around the League

It's BEER #5, and here's where we can have some fun.  Looking at the top three DL for the Chiefs (Poe, Howard, Bailey), there are very few teams around the league that can stack up to it.  There are certainly those who have star players that top them, but as a cohesive unit, there are very few that can match it.  The Rams, Jets, Bills, and Dolphins can definitely make a claim for the top spot in the league at this position group, and one that's hard to argue.  Adding in the depth of Jones and RNR to the equation, it's down to the Rams and the Chiefs in my book, with a nod to LA for the top spot.

6.  Stat Predictions/Expectations

"I expect Allen Bailey to eat a player on the field this season."   -@heisenbeers

Just like the bottom of your favorite six-pack, it's time for wild speculation and incredulous claims that almost certainly won't come true.  As I stated in BEER #1, I think this defensive line only gets better this season.  Jaye Howard led all linemen with 57 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season.  There's no reason to think that he doesn't lead the linemen in those statistics with his style of play.  However, with fresher, healthier versions of Dontari Poe and Allen Bailey, the gap won't be as large as last season.  I think they'll bring Chris Jones along slowly, and His Dirkness agrees, stating "RNR outsnaps Jones through Week 8".  I do think that the unit's sack numbers will go up from 14 in 2015, as the line will be healthier and will bring more havoc.  My predicted numbers:

Dontari Poe - 48 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 TFL, 5 PBU's

Allen Bailey - 44 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 8 PBU's

Jaye Howard - 55 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 6 TFL, 2 PBU's

Chris Jones - 21 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 0 PBU's

Rakeem Nunez-Roches - 13 tackles, 0 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PBU's

Well everyone, that's the very first six-pack of the offseason!  What are your opinions?  Who shows up strongest in this year's unit?  What are your predictions for the season?

Next week, I'll be covering the Chiefs Outside Linebacker position group, so if you'd like your comments, questions, or predictions for next week's post, send me an email at lastphoenix [at] gmail [dot] com, or a message on Twitter @barleyhop.  I'll sift through them and use the best for next week!

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