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Chiefs roster analysis: Defensive line, post-Poe

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This is the third installment of the Chiefs roster analysis here at AP, and today we’ll cover the defensive line.

Tuesday’s article about the Chiefs secondary had about five minutes of relevancy due to Eric Berry signing long term shortly after the article was published. I don’t even care though, I was just glad Berry was signed.

In fact, it was pretty humorous because part of the title declared, “Chiefs secondary is very cheap and very good.” Not anymore!

If you want to go back and read the other articles here are the links:

  1. Linebackers
  2. Defensive Backs

Originally I wanted to post this article on Wednesday, but I learned from the Berry situation and decided to wait until the tag deadline came to pass. Now that we all know Dontari Poe will be hitting free agency (probably) I think it’s safe to write about the Chiefs defensive line.

Defensive Line General Info

Siince the Chiefs operate in a 3-4 defensive scheme I only took into account other 3-4 defensive teams. It wouldn’t be fair to compare a 3-4 defensive end to a 4-3 defense end - totally different defensive roles and all.

So let’s start by looking at the number of defensive line contracts the Chiefs currently have compared to the other 3-4 defenses.

The Chiefs currently have seven defensive linemen under contract. This appears to be a little less than other teams with 3-4 defenses. The Chiefs will most likely look to add a couple bodies through free agency and the draft.

How about the amount of money the Chiefs and other 3-4 defenses are currently spending on their defensive line?

The Chiefs are in the middle of the pack in terms of how much money they spend on defensive lineman. Both Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard account for the majority of the money spent on the Chiefs defensive line.

Below is a list of each Chiefs defensive lineman under contract and their cap hit for 2017. Keep in mind Cory Johnson’s cap hit doesn’t technically count against the cap since his salary is below the ‘51st’ cutoff line.

Defensive Line Cap Hits

Name Pos Age Cap Hit
Name Pos Age Cap Hit
Jaye Howard DE 28 $6,375,000
Allen Bailey DE 27 $6,156,250
Chris Jones DE 22 $1,416,191
TJ Barnes DE 26 $690,000
Rakeem Nunez-Roches DE 23 $615,000
Montori Hughes NT 26 $615,000
Cory Johnson NT 24 $465,000

Now let’s see what percentage of the Chiefs cap space is invested in defensive lineman. This might give a bit of an idea of how much John Dorsey values the position. Keep in mind the cap data hasn’t been updated since the Berry, LDT, and Charles madness. However the Chiefs were very close to the cap before, and I bet they still are.

Once again the Chiefs are in the middle of the pack. I think this may indicate that Dorsey has average talent on the defensive line and he has paid them an average amount of money.

Both Baltimore and Washington don’t spend much money on the DL position and they just let two good defensive lineman hit free agency without applying the franchise tag on them. Perhaps some teams in the NFL just don’t consider 3-4 defensive lineman to be key contributors to success like an OLB or CB.

Defensive Line - Age

Below is a graph of the Chiefs defensive lineman’s age compared to the rest of the 3-4 defenses in the NFL.

Notice something here? 3-4 defensive lineman are incredibly young. The Chiefs are near the middle of the pack and the average age of their defensive lineman is 25.14 years of age.

I know defensive lineman take a beating, but this data is surprising to me. Maybe there’s a good reason teams like the Redskins, Ravens, Cardinals, and Chiefs decided not to sign or franchise tag their talented (but older than average) defensive lineman.

Defensive Line Cost Efficiency

Now let’s take a look at how the Chiefs defensive line has fared in terms of their cost efficiency.

Typically a defensive lineman is asked to do a few things: stop the run and get after the quarterback. We’ll use these three items in tandem with the Chiefs DL contracts to see how cost efficient the Chiefs defensive line is going into 2017.

The numbers will actually be skewed for the Chiefs since Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey did not play much in 2016 and Dontari Poe will possibly no longer be on the team. Also the Redskins, Cardinals, and Ravens numbers will be skewed since they all let talented starters hit free agency. So please take these numbers with a grain of salt.

We’ll start with sacks.

The Chiefs are horribly inefficient when it comes to cost per defensive line sack. The current Chiefs under contract had a total of four sacks in 2016. This number will have to improve, it’s bad. Hopefully getting Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey back will help, but even then huge question marks still arise.

Now let’s take a look at average yards per carry allowed.

The red line represents the idea that teams who spend more on the defensive lineman position should stop the run better on average. Teams close to the line are par for the course, teams below the line exceed expectations, and teams above the line are below expectations.

If you look at the Ravens and Cardinals you’ll see they both exceed expectations. This is partly due to the fact Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell are no longer on their respective teams budget but padded their teams stats in 2016.

The Chiefs are near the line. It’s hard to gauge what this means for the Chiefs since both Howard and Bailey were out, but Poe was also playing in 2016. I would err towards the side that the Chiefs run defense is a problem. They are spending too much money for the output being generated. Hopefully Bailey and Howard get healthy and fix the problem, but once again huge question marks remain.

The above graph does give good reasoning for why Dorsey did the right thing by not retaining Poe. The Chiefs run defense was not great with Poe and spending more money on the position with no foreseeable upgrade would not have been a wise business decision.

Now let’s take a look at run stuffs. For clarity I defined a run stuff as a running play where the defense allowed two or fewer yards and a touchdown was not scored.

This graph is slightly different than the yards per carry graph above. The red line represents the idea that teams who spend more on the defensive line should have more run stuffs. Teams on the line are par for the course, teams above the line exceed expectations, and teams below the line are below expectations.

If you look at the Chiefs data point they are well below the line which is bad.

With Poe on the team the Chiefs simply weren’t getting the job done in the run game. Consider this a little more evidence that Dorsey was justified in not giving Poe a large deal.

Trimming Some Fat?

With the Chiefs being so tight against the cap and potentially having interest in improving their ability to sack the quarterback as well as stop the run, they may want to part ways with some of their current defensive lineman.

Below is a table showing the top two most expensive Chiefs defensive lineman under contract and their dead money/cap savings if they were to be cut.

Potential DL Cut Info

Player Cap Number Dead Money (pre-June 1) Cap Savings (pre-June 1) Dead Money (post-June 1) Cap Savings (post-June 1)
Player Cap Number Dead Money (pre-June 1) Cap Savings (pre-June 1) Dead Money (post-June 1) Cap Savings (post-June 1)
Jaye Howard $6,375,000 $2,500,000 $3,875,000 $2,500,000 $3,875,000
Allen Bailey $6,156,250 $4,000,000 $2,156,250 $2,000,000 $4,156,250

Just looking at these two contracts, it would appear if Dorsey were to cut a defensive lineman it would most likely be Jaye Howard.

However I’m not sure Dorsey would cut either of these defensive lineman until a suitable replacement was found. Also Dorsey may not want to cut them at all due to their sizable amounts of dead money.

Potential Free Agents

If the Chiefs have any cap room available they may be interested in some mid level free agent stop gaps at the nose tackle and defensive end positions. I honestly doubt Dorsey would be interested in acquiring a player like Brandon Williams or Johnathan Hankins due to the large price tag that would likely come with either of them.

Unfortunately after looking through the free agent prospects on the defensive line, specifically nose tackle, there are no suitable replacements that would have much value. Lawrence Guy from the Ravens was the only player I thought may be a good fit for the Chiefs, but he is listed as a defensive end. Guy would potentially be a depth signing by the Chiefs if they decided to go that route and keep both Howard and Bailey.

In terms of free agency, the Chiefs are in bit of a pickle regarding their nose tackle position. Perhaps someone currently on the Chiefs roster will be able to fill the role nicely, but as of now it’s yet another large question mark looming over the Chiefs defensive line.

Poe might be the Chiefs best option if the price is right. Dorsey has said he would like to keep Poe in Kansas City.

The Draft

Since there isn’t much doing in terms of defensive line free agents, lets take a look at a handful of potential draft prospects who could potentially play NT for the Chiefs.

Name College Height Weight Proj. Round
Name College Height Weight Proj. Round
Dalvin Tomlinson Alabama 6-3 312 2-3
Montravius Adams Auburn 6-3 308 2-3
Vincent Taylor Oklahoma State 6-2 310 3-4
Jarron Jones Notre Dame 6-5 315 4

According to CBS Sports, there aren’t a lot of top tier talented defensive tackles in this year’s draft. Each of these prospects are likely to be a significant step down from Poe.

Scouting reports for each player from NFL.com can be found below:

Of these four players Jarron Jones appears to have the most upside, but he comes with character concerns. Some scouts also believe he would be better in the NFL as a 4-3 defensive tackle and not a nose tackle.

Conclusion

OK, let’s recap what we discussed.

  1. Due to injuries in 2016 and the likely loss of Poe to free agency, there are huge question marks surrounding the Chiefs defensive line in 2017
  2. Dorsey is likely to find a nose tackle in free agency or in the draft.
  3. It’s likely Poe’s replacement will not be an upgrade over him.
  4. The Chiefs defensive line needs to improve on their run defense from 2016.
  5. The Chiefs defensive line needs to improve on their pass rush from 2016.
  6. There aren’t many solid options for nose tackle in the draft or free agency (unless the Chiefs want to pay a lot of money)
  7. 3-4 defensive lineman on average are very young. If the trend continues I’d think Dorsey is more likely to draft defensive lineman than grab a free agent.

Now I’m off to start building the data for the Chiefs offensive position groups. Should be a lot of fun!