After catching wind of the bad news about Daniel Sorensen’s injury late Tuesday evening, most Kansas City Chiefs fan were hustling and bustling around checking out the free agent safety market due the relatively strong unsigned class.
Another member of the AP Nerd Squad, Craig Stout, got down in the lab and dug up three interesting potential fits for the Chiefs at safety in an article that went up immediately Tuesday night.
Attached to the bottom of his article was a poll asking Arrowhead Pride readers what they would do in the Chiefs’ current situation. The overwhelming answer was to sign FA safety Eric Reid—74 percent as of this writing—and we’ll certainly get to him later on, but the second most common answer was to “stand pat. From where I’m standing, standing pat is the way to go moving forward based on the Chiefs’ current roster and state of the safety group.
The depth chart
Eric Murray - The third safety, by most accounts, and the most experienced safety with the Chiefs is the obvious next man up, which may not be a terrible thing. It has to be remembered that Eric Murray is entering his third year in the NFL while undergoing a positional change.
He has all the physical and mental traits required to be a good safety in the NFL; he just has to continue to progress in putting them all together. Here’s a guide to how Murray can accomplish just that this year, especially now with larger timeshare with the base defense.
Leon McQuay - Another player who has undergone a positional switch. Although he did play safety and cornerback at USC, Leon McQuay is another young player still developing. McQuay didn’t see action in his rookie year until the final game of the regular season against the Denver Broncos but had some nice moments that caught some people’s eye.
He has a good natural feel for playing the ball but needs to improve with reading his keys and not fixating on a specific offensive player. Getting some more live action as a sub-package defensive back should help push along his development.
One of Leon McQuay's bigger issues entering the NFL was his ability to read all of his keys and ID routes, hopefully this is a sign of progress. McQuay doesn't bite on the run fake and picks up the WR on the motion behind the LoS. Comes down to force the incompletion at catch pnt pic.twitter.com/tELuFUEOrM— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 8, 2018
Robert Golden - A veteran safety brought in this offseason for his leadership ability and outstanding special teams play, Robert Golden may not be the flashiest of players, but he’ll bring his all and always put the team first. More of a box safety reacting to what he sees, Golden can definitely help in the run game if the Chiefs decide they need a bigger safety to help play down in the box.
Jordan Sterns - Jordan Sterns is another second-year safety that has shown up this training camp and by all accounts been quite impressive and making plays. Sterns isn’t the most explosive or fluid athlete on the field but plays with an aggressive demeanor and a bit of an edge when filling run lanes. He’s a dynamic run defender that is best suited to play close to the line of scrimmage (LoS) or in an overhang position, as he’s capable of filling outside or inside run lanes as a safety.
Armani Watts - The newest addition to the Chiefs’ safety room, at this moment in time, is Armani Watts, a rookie fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M. The scouting world was rather split on Watts’ ability to translate to the NFL, but one thing is for certain: he’s a playmaker that has a knack for playing the ball well.
That’s something the Chiefs haven’t exactly had at safety outside of Eric Berry in a little while. Watts has some traits that make him appear to be a good fit as a deep safety or closer to the box which is a good trait to have for Bob Sutton’s defense.
I really would like Armani Watts (near safety) in a deep halves heavy scheme. He has good eyes, good instincts, and comes downhill on the ball very well. Limited to half the field, Watts can showcase his playmaking abilities very well. pic.twitter.com/9Y1clcFeJY— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) April 28, 2018
Dorian O’Daniel - Not really a safety, but Dorian O’Daniel looks to play in that realm as much as he does as a pure linebacker for the Chiefs. Touted as a coverage linebacker, O’Daniel really spent the majority of his career at Clemson lined up as an overhang/slot defender playing a heavy amount of underneath zone coverage and aggressively filling run lanes. He certainly isn’t an option to receive snaps on the back end of the defense, but on three-safety packages, he could see some run as the de facto third safety with his movement and coverage skills.
Dorian O'Daniel brings some much need speed and explosion to the Chiefs front 7. This is great range from @Dorian, who starts in the slot and gets out wide so fast he's outside the receiver working back inside. Love how he puts his fut in the ground to deliver the big hit! pic.twitter.com/H50qfpBN4x— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) May 2, 2018
When the Chiefs safety depth chart is laid out, there becomes a pattern that many of these guys are young and developing and excel at a specific area of safety play (much like Dan Sorensen).
On one hand, this makes reaching out to a free agent safety appealing, but there is a quadfecta of reasons sticking with the current roster may be the way to go:
- Despite a stronger free agent safety group compared to most years, the majority of these players excelled in one of three roles attributed to safeties in today’s NFL. Whether it be as box safeties, man-cover defensive backs, or deep-centerfield-type guys, this safety class was almost exclusively limited players rather than complete players. Sutton and the coaching staff have been forthcoming that the idea of “free and strong” safeties don’t exist to them. It’s just two safeties that need to be interchangeable and fulfill multiple roles. While the current roster may not have a ton of guys that fit that mold, neither do the remaining free agents—still resulting in a committee approach, just at a higher cost.
- The current players on the team, as briefly mentioned in point one, do specialize in specific areas of safety play. Just working down the list, you can find a player that performs well at any role of a safety, from single-high players like Murray, Watts and McQuay, to slot cover guys like O’Daniel, Murray and McQuay, to box defenders in Golden, Sterns and O’Daniel—there are options for every role. There might be a slightly better option for a specific role out on the FA market but....
- Bill Parcells always had this concept of “progress stoppers,” which were solid, veteran players who were good enough to win jobs from incomplete players. Oftentimes, these veterans beat out younger players who were still trying to develop and hone their skills and while the veteran player earned the playing time, they were not a difference-maker nor were they providing something unique to a team. On top of that, they would thereby take reps away from younger players needing those snaps to improve their game, resulting in a “stalling out” process of their development. As nice as it would be to see a Tyvon Branch, Jarius Byrd or Steven Terrell land in KC to be an immediate upgrade to at least the second wave of safeties on the roster, would the small boost in performance they provide be worth jettisoning another year of live game experience for any of these young guys? Bill Parcells used to heavily believe the answer to that question is “NO” and I find it hard to find much of a reason to go against him.
- The final point here is the all about the exception to every other reason listed above, and that exception is Reid. Skirting around anything off-field, Reid is a good, starting NFL safety that provides versatility at the position with past play in every role. He has dealt with a few nagging injuries over the years and a constant changing of his role while in San Francisco, but he’s always excelled and been a dynamic player when healthy. Reid would be the perfect fit next to Eric Berry, as both have the ability to play deep, play some man to man in the slot against tight ends, and both are excellent run defenders near the box. The definition-less-like defense Sutton wants out of his safeties would be alive and kicking if he was a Chief. The issue, and why he is on the reasons we shouldn’t sign a safety, is simply for the fact that he doesn’t appear long for the NFL, at least this year. Reid is the type of multiple-faceted safety the Chiefs should have been looking for all offseason, and even though they have new additions, no one on the free agent market really fit that bill which circles us back to the first three reasons.
At the end of the day, the Chiefs are in an odd position of continuing down the path they set themselves on and running with younger, developing players who excel at a specific role or signing a veteran free agent who also excels at a specific role.
It’s a matter of what you weigh heavier in the current state of the team: consistency and a proven track record or development and potential?
As long as the Chiefs have Eric Berry healthy and on the field, they should be more than willing to roll the dice on a deep, young crop of safeties alongside him.