Welcome back to the Six Pack! This week's Kansas City Chiefs position group is the Cornerbacks. As always, I'll discuss six different BEERs (Base Expectation and Evaluation Report) and get some discussion going to last us 'til Week 1! Let's crack 'em open!
[Previously: Defensive line]
[Previously: Outside Linebackers]
[Previously: Inside Linebackers]
1. Stock Report
Back at it again this week with one of the most fun position groups to talk about: the Cornerbacks. It's a group with the eldest member clocking in at two accrued seasons, and the player with the most experience on the field is the Chiefs first round pick from last year. The organization addressed the position in a big way in the draft this past year and are counting on some young players to step up in a big way to replace lockdown corner Sean Smith, lost in Free Agency to some team on the West Coast that sucks. Needless to say, he was a big part of the 2015 successes, so I'm saying that their stock for 2016 is DOWN.
Listen, there's next to no chance any one of the Chiefs young cornerbacks can step in and replace Sean Smith this season. He was an excellent player that allowed Bob Sutton to do all sorts of things in the secondary that he likely won't have the luxury to do in 2016. However, this secondary has unlimited potential. My boy Marcus Peters was the 2015 Defensive Rookie of the year, and even if he goes through a sophomore slump, he's still going to be a very, very good corner for this team. There's little to think he can't perform at a high level again this season, though. Phillip Gaines (PG-23, y'all!) has shown well when he's been on the field, and fellow writer MNChiefsFan recently discussed what to expect from him. Steven Nelson, a 2015 3rd round draft pick, didn't play a lot last year, but equated himself well in limited snaps. He's been discussed frequently by the Chiefs staff this offseason as playing a significant role as the nickel corner. The Chiefs also spent 3 draft picks on the CB position in 2016: my draft crush Keivarae Russell, Eric Murray, and DJ White. I won't be surprised to see the rookies contribute fairly regularly this season. While the stock may be down this season, there's no doubt in my mind that these young guns at the CB position are only going to be a strength in 2017 and beyond.
2. Lineup / Playing Time
I can very safely say that Marcus F. Peters is going to be the #1 corner for this team, and he's going to play damn near every defensive snap in 2016. After that? Well, the team is going to have to count on a healthy season from Phillip Gaines. As of yet, PG-23 hasn't been able to stay on the field for the majority of a football season, and is returning from an ACL injury suffered in Week 3. I have really liked what he has brought to the table in years past, and believe he could be a major player for this team...if he can complete a season. He's pretty safely the #2 CB when healthy.
And then things get interesting. Steven Nelson is the type of physical corner that Sutton loves, and has really focused on becoming the nickel corner to fit in with MP-22 and PG-23. However, I really liked Nelson as a boundary corner coming out, and if Gaines can't go at any point this season, I feel fairly comfortable sliding Nelson out to the #2 spot. Keivarae Russell was a guy that I LOVED coming out this season, due to his ability to play inside, outside, and potentially some safety. He's got a nose for the ball, isn't afraid to come into the box to make a tackle, and has great hips to run with wide receivers. He could definitely factor in at the nickel position this season if Nelson or Gaines run into some problems. Eric Murray is another interesting player, who is tough and a ridiculous athlete. He could factor in as a third safety, and I'd expect him to get on the field as a gunner on Special Teams. DJ White has also made a bit of a name for himself this offseason, making lots of plays in OTA's. He's another guy that the Chiefs might find a roster spot outside of a traditional corner for this season.
Ultimately, I think Peters, Gaines, and Nelson are going to get the lion's share of the playing time, with Russell getting lots of rotational snaps for niggling injuries throughout the season. I think White definitely makes the 53, and they may try to sneak Murray on the practice squad.
This group of corners has a lot of diverse strengths. Marcus Peters is a playmaker. Phillip Gaines can erase wide receivers. All of them, though, are incredibly physical corners. Bob Sutton definitely has a type of player he's acquired to build this secondary: a guy who is going to bring a physical jam on the line and who is going to wear you down all game long. Every time the Chiefs have acquired a corner under Sutton, you can pretty much bank on "good jam" and "not afraid to hit" being in their scouting reports.
This group also has some serious swagger. You may not feel like this is a strength, but I want my corners mean, cocky, and in the wide receiver's head all game long. Marcus Peters isn't afraid to go after a guy all game long. Steven Nelson has been known to talk a little trash as well. Most of the rookies drafted by the Chiefs carry a confidence with them that they're going to be the man on the field, and there's nothing you can do to stop them. I love that out of the Chiefs corners. They're going to give it to you for 4 quarters, and you're going to feel it mentally and physically.
I nitpicked the Chiefs Defensive Line in the first post, saying that they were young with not a ton of experience. If I'm saying the DL is young, this position group might as well still be in the womb. Without looking at the exact statistics, I feel pretty safe in saying that the Chiefs CB's have the least amount of snaps of any team in the league. There are going to be their fair share of games where these guys make rookie/young mistakes. It may even cost this team a game or two. Marcus Peters was a revelation last year, but with a full year of tape, will teams be able to game plan? If things go south, will the group be able to band together to fight through adversity? The truth is that we don't know a whole lot about how this young group will react to success or failure without leaning hard on the veteran presence of the safety position group.
5. Around the League
Five BEERs in, and it's time to wildly project this year's team against the rest of the league. Last year, the Chiefs came in 9th in the league against the pass, a very strong performance. Since I'm projecting this year's squad to be worse this year, they won't finish in the top ten. However, as this is such a young group, I'll break it down a bit more.
The first half of the season this year should feature some pass happy opposition with Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville. Coupling that with a young group (and maybe even some rookies starting) and a pass rush that is less than full strength, I think the unit as a whole will be between 20-25 in the league. The back half of the season features less pass-proficient offenses, and ideally a healthier, more productive pass rush. With that, I think they're able to climb back up to 15th in the league by the season's end. That's not a bad spot to be in, with some serious growth toward the top 10 in 2017.
6. Stat Predictions/Expectations
This week's BEER #6 this week is like a great sour (Russian River Supplication...mmmm) that is still a bit young tasting. You can see the potential of a fantastic beer, but it's just not quite there yet.
As I discussed above, I think Murray lands on the practice squad, so I won't try to predict his stats. Peters plays all 16 games, and Gaines stays pretty healthy for 13 games. Nelson plays a big role as the nickel corner, moving outside for the 3 games Gaines doesn't play. In those three, Russell moves into the nickel corner role. White gets plenty of reps on special teams and gets a few snaps here and there as a 4th CB or a 3rd safety.
Marcus Peters - 58 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 17 PBU's, 8 INT (2 pick six)
Phillip Gaines - 40 tackles, 0 sacks, 2 TFL, 11 PBU, 3 INT
Steven Nelson - 34 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 TFL, 7 PBU, 2 INT
Keivarae Russell - 13 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 TFL, 5 PBU's
DJ White - 9 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 TFL, 3 PBU's
That's it for this week's Six Pack!
What are your opinions/predictions on the 2016-2017 Cornerbacks group?
Next week, I'll be covering the Chiefs Safety position group, and we'll hopefully know some more about Eric Berry's contract situation (or lack therof)! As always, if you'd like your comments, questions, or predictions included in next week's post, send me an email at lastphoenix [at] gmail [dot] com or a message on Twitter @barleyhop. I'll look through them and use the best for next week!