Welcome back to the Six Pack! After a week off in Broncos country, I'm back for this week's Kansas City Chiefs position group: the Safeties! 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 this week with a more "veteran" group than the last post, today we're covering the Chiefs Safety position group. Last year, the Chiefs leaned heavily on their veteran safety depth, moving Ron Parker to corner and surviving a Husain Abdullah injury, utilizing Tyvon Branch and Daniel Sorensen in bigger roles. The team allowed Branch to sign elsewhere, Abdullah retired after the 2016 season, and the team didn't focus on the position heavily in the draft or free agency. The quality depth at safety (or sudden lack thereof) should drive their stock down, right? Nope, I'm saying their stock for 2016 is UP.
This team gets to start Eric Berry as a deep safety or an in the box safety (amongst other positions, but let's ignore them for now). He'll be more motivated than he's EVER been to perform and show that not only is he worth the money he's asking for, but that there should be no doubt as to his health going forward. Just watch the man's incredible comeback performance last year, then turn the intensity up. He's going to be scary good this year. The Chiefs also get to play Ron Parker where they'd prefer him to play, at a natural safety position. Some people have forgotten how well he played at safety for the Chiefs in 2014, playing the deep safety for the 2nd ranked Chiefs secondary. He'll offer quite a bit to this group, simply by shifting back to his best position. Daniel Sorensen has another year under his belt, and an offseason where he'll be expected to contribute 3rd safety snaps. Stevie Brown was picked up this offseason, and the team will hope he returns to his 2012 glory days. The Chiefs also moved a pair of cornerbacks, Jamell Fleming and Marcus Cooper, to safety this offseason in the hopes of recreating the magic they found with Ron Parker.
2. Lineup / Playing Time
Here's where things are going to get interesting, so stick with me...I don't think the Chiefs will utilize the "3rd Safety" as much as they have in the past. Going back to my last post, I talked about several guys who could factor in as a hybrid CB/S in Keivarae Russell, DJ White, and Eric Murray. All three got the "could be a safety" treatment coming out. The year before, the Chiefs drafted Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson, guys who project more as pure corners. They also tripled down on inside linebackers last year, with Justin March, Ramik Wilson, and DJ Alexander. I'm looking at these picks, and I believe a shift in philosophy is coming.
Eric Berry is (somehow) still an underrated deep safety. So is Ron Parker. Either can play single high in a Cover 1 scheme, and the team won't be worse off for it. They did it regularly over the past two years. However, with the loss of Sean Smith, the Chiefs will be starting two young corners on the outside. I can definitely see a change needed toward implementing two deep safeties to help both outside corners. Rather than automatically going to a 3CB/3S sub package, they can lean harder on a 3CB/2S/2ILB sub package, or roll with a 4CB/2S sub package where one of the young hybrid guys can play deeper and have Berry come forward. So while I've heard a lot of talk about the lack of safety depth on this team, I'm projecting/hoping we end up seeing a functional change in the coverage scheme to help out the young corners and help the banged up pass rush get a little more time to get to the QB.
I think Berry and Parker end up playing damn near every snap for the Chiefs defense this year. I think Sorensen will see a little time on the field here and there (the 3 Safety sub package won't COMPLETELY disappear), and I think Fleming and Cooper make the squad as 4th/5th safeties. Brown doesn't quite make the cut.
There are quite a few strengths the top two safeties on the Chiefs roster have. Eric Berry is an all around stud. He's incredibly versatile, playing deep safety, in the box safety, linebacker, and cornerback last year in an All-Pro effort. He's a leader on the team that does just about everything right. Just having him on the field for this team, fully healthy, is a major strength for this team.
Ron Parker is a highly underrated safety in his own right. After bouncing around the league, he landed in Kansas City as a cornerback. After a year on the bench, he found his spot as on the field before Safety injuries forced the Chiefs hand and he became a strength. In 2015, he was slated to get even more time at safety before Gaines went down hurt, and once again, was forced into a spot as the nickel corner. His versatility is a MASSIVE strength, and the Chiefs want him locked into a specific role this year as a safety. He's quick, reads the ball well in the air, and is a great blitzer. His play will continue to be one of the quiet highlights of a good defense.
So yeah, the two starters are a really strong pair. But it's very unproven after that. Daniel Sorensen has shown small glimpses of promise, but if Berry or Parker go down injured for any amount of time, there will be a pretty severe step down to Sorensen. Marcus Cooper has made his career off of some stellar play a couple years ago, and he's got the size and speed to translate, but has zero safety experience. Fleming has similar characteristics, and the Chiefs seemed to like him a little better than Cooper last year. However, he's even more of an unproven commodity. Finally, Stevie Brown hasn't been able to stick with a team since he tore his ACL, even getting cut from some pretty poor secondaries. It doesn't bode well if any of the backups have to see any significant time.
5. Around the League
This one is a fun one. Safety pairings are hard to rank, and most top pairings have a great player at one spot, and then a pretty good player at the other. In this regard, the Chiefs are no different. So where do they fall? I feel pretty safe putting the Seahawks tops in the league with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Both can make a legitimate case for best at their position in the league, and the rest of the pairings in the league can't. The Patriots have a really good pairing in Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, and they have a good safety in Harmon that they bring on in sub packages. Green Bay (Clinton-Dix and Burnett) also deserves mention, and Denver (Ward and Stewart) is pretty strong as well. My prediction for this season? A solid third behind Seattle and New England, just ahead of Green Bay.
6. Stat Predictions / Expectations
Alright, time for BEER #6! This is like cracking open that old standby beer that you can't get enough of (Hellooooo, Dale's Pale Ale!) and remembering how great it really is. As noted above, I'm cutting Stevie Brown, and I'm keeping 3 safeties behind Berry and Parker, just in case Parker needs to get moved to an emergency position again. However, I don't predict Sorensen, Cooper, or Fleming will see much time at all on the defensive side of the ball. Parker and Berry will both rival DJ and Poe's snap counts this season. To the numbers!
Eric Berry - 68 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 14 PBU's, 4 INT's (1 for TD)
Ron Parker - 80 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 8 PBU's, 2 INT's
Daniel Sorensen - 21 tackles, .5 sacks, 2 PBU's
Marcus Cooper - 13 tackles, 2 PBU's
Jamell Fleming - 15 tackles, 3 PBU's
That's it for this week's Six Pack!
What are your opinions / predictions on the 2016-2017 Safety position group?
I've come to the end of the defense, so I can stop right here, but if I get enough people who want me to continue, I can start on the Offensive side of the ball next week with the Offensive Line. Let me know below or hit me up on Twitter @barleyhop. If I do end up doing a post next week, send me your comments, questions, or predictions on Twitter and I'll use the best for the post!