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Kansas City Chiefs (Last Year: 7-9)
2012 NFL Season Preview:
QB Brady Quinn, RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, OT Eric Winston, DE/DT Ropati Pitoitua, CB Stanford Routt.
Early Draft Picks:
NT Dontari Poe, G Jeff Allen, OT Donald Stephenson, WR Devon Wylie, CB/S DeQuan Menzie, RB Cyrus Gray.
QB Kyle Orton, RB Jackie Battle, FB Le'Ron McClain, TE Leonard Pope, OT Barry Richardson, C Casey Wiegmann, DE Wallace Gilberry, NT Kelly Gregg, CB Brandon Carr, S Jon McGraw.
2012 Kansas City Chiefs Offense:
If only Kansas City had a talented quarterback. The Chiefs arguably have the best roster in the NFL if the signal-caller position is excluded. Unfortunately for them, Matt Cassel happens to have the greatest impact of any Kansas City player.
Despite his severe physical limitations, Cassel was missed in 2011. He was banged up and ineffective early on, and then suffered another injury, forcing him to miss the final seven games of the season. Tyler Palko was dreadful in immediate relief, and it wasn't until Kyle Orton took over that the Chiefs had some semblance of stability at quarterback.
Cassel is fully healthy again, which means more mediocrity at best. In his final two games of the 2010 campaign, including the playoff contest, Cassel was a combined 20-of-48 for 185 yards, no touchdowns and five interceptions. That's a completion percentage of 41.7 and a YPA of 3.9. Cassel has proven that he's good enough to lead a team to the playoffs, but he's not nearly talented enough to win postseason contests.
There won't be any excuses for Cassel because he's surrounded by a terrific supporting cast. Also returning from injury is Jamaal Charles, one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL. Charles can't handle a full workload, but he's capable of going the distance every time he touches the ball. The problem is that he's coming off a torn ACL, so there's no telling how effective he'll be in his first season back. With that in mind, the Chiefs signed Special Agent Peyton Hillis as insurance. Hillis never lived up to being on the Madden cover, but he's a powerful runner who should be able to serve as a solid complement to Charles.
Tight end Tony Moeaki is also coming off a torn ACL. Tight ends don't have as tough of a transition returning from that malady, so he'll once again serve as a quality intermediate target along with Kevin Boss, who was brought in for his blocking prowess. Of course, Cassel's No. 1 option is Dwayne Bowe, who is holding out because he doesn't want to play for $9.15 million this year. Jonathan Baldwin, last year's first-round pick, is fully taking advantage of Bowe's absence. He's getting all of the first-team reps and has reportedly worked out diligently this offseason. Bowe's holdout could be a blessing in disguise, as Baldwin's extra workcould mean that Cassel will have two No. 1-caliber wideouts at his disposal.
Cassel will have all the time he'll need to locate Bowe and Baldwin downfield. The offensive line, which surrendered 34 sacks (10th fewest in the NFL) received a boost when the front office signed right tackle Eric Winston. The former Texan will offer a huge upgrade over Barry Richardson, who was responsible for eight of those sacks. Winston will play across from left tackle Branden Albert, who struggled with penalties (10) but permitted an average amount of sacks (5).
The other new addition to the starting group is second-year center Rodney Hudson, who will step in for the departed Casey Wiegmann. Those are big shoes to fill, but Hudson played well in relief in his only start against Pittsburgh last season. Flanking Hudson are guards Jon Asamoah and Ryan Lilja. They played well in 2011, surrendering two sacks each.
2012 Kansas City Chiefs Defense:
The undefeated Packers confidently marched into Arrowhead, but walked away with their first loss of the season. Romeo Crennel did a masterful job of shutting down Aaron Rodgers and all of his weapons. Two weeks later, Crennel similarly put the clamps on a red-hot Tim Tebow.
The Chiefs have one of the top defenses in the NFL. It all starts with the pass rush; Kansas City notched only 29 sacks in 2011, which tied for the third fewest in the NFL. However, that number is misleading because 16 of the Chiefs' sacks came in the final five weeks of the season, coinciding with the emergence of rookie rush linebacker Justin Houston. The former Georgia Bulldog was a first-round prospect who dropped into the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft because of off-the-field concerns. He proved why he was so highly regarded by registering all six of his sacks between Weeks 13 and 17. Of course, it helped that he played across from Tamba Hali, one of the most feared pass-rushers in the league.
Kansas City's ability to get to the quarterback helped an already-talented secondary comprised of two No. 1 cornerbacks, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr. The latter signed with Dallas, but the Chiefs signed former Raider Stanford Routt as a replacement. It's a downgrade, but Eric Berry's return will make up for it. The No. 5 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Berry tore his ACL in Week 1 last year. Even if he's not 100 percent, he'll still be a major upgrade over the ineffective Jon McGraw. Meanwhile, free safety Kendrick Lewis is a quality player who is a bit underrated.
While the Chiefs excelled at getting to the quarterback late in the year, they were only mediocre in stopping the run. That figures to change in the wake of drafting nose tackle Dontari Poe with the No. 11 overall selection in April. Poe is a physical freak - he ran a 4.8 40 at the Combine despite weighing around 345 pounds - but he's raw. Crennel is one of the top defensive minds in football, so Poe couldn't be in a better situation.
If Poe lives up to his potential - or anywhere close to it - he may be able to help the two bust five-techniques improve. Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson were both top-five selections in their respective NFL Drafts, but neither has lived up to his billing. Both Dorsey and Jackson played very well versus the run last year, but neither could apply pressure on the quarterback. Jackson is owed $14.72 million in 2013, so this could be his last chance.
The two inside linebackers have to be thrilled that Scott Pioli used such a high selection on a monstrous nose tackle because it'll make their lives easier. Everyone knows who Derrick Johnson is, and rightfully so; he was one of the top players at his position last year. Jovan Belcher, meanwhile, is very underrated, as proven when ESPN ignorantly predicted that the Chiefs would select Luke Kuechly in the 2012 NFL Draft. Belcher is a young, improving player who is a force in run support.
2012 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule and Intangibles:
The Chiefs brought back the Arrowhead magic that was missing between the 2007 and 2009 seasons. In that span, Kansas City was 4-20 as a host. Since 2010, that record is 10-7, which is very good considering that Tyler Palko quarterbacked some of those contests. The Chiefs knocked off the undefeated Packers at home late in 2011, which was very impressive.
It's a good sign that Romeo Crennel was 2-1 to close out the year. In his three years with the Chiefs, Todd Haley was 3-8 after Dec. 5.
Dexter McCluster scored a touchdown on a punt return in his first game ever (a Monday nighter versus San Diego), but he hasn't found the end zone on special teams ever since. Javier Arenas, meanwhile, has been very effective on punt returns. He averaged 12.8 yards per attempt last year, which is highly impressive for not getting to the end zone.
Kicker Ryan Succop drilled 24-of-30 attempts last year, including a perfect 3-of-3 from 50-plus. However, he was just mediocre from 40-49, going 7-of-12.
Dustin Colquitt punted well in 2011. He maintained a 45.9 average with 27-of-89 tries inside the 20.
The Chiefs have their work cut out for them in terms of their schedule. Their first five opponents are the Falcons, Bills, Saints, Chargers and Ravens, all of whom could very easily quality for the playoffs in 2012 (though San Diego could be in its annual early-season swoon). Things get easier after that, fortunately, with matchups versus Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati (home) and Oakland twice.
2012 Kansas City Chiefs Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2012 Kansas City Chiefs Analysis: The Chiefs would be a Super Bowl contender if they had a very good quarterback. Matt Cassel isn't very good, but Kansas City is still a playoff-caliber squad with him under center. He's proven that he can lead a team to the postseason, and he should be able to do that in 2012. It's winning in January that will be the problem.
Goals Entering the 2012 NFL Draft: Excluding the obvious hole at quarterback, the Chiefs have two positions of weakness: interior offensive line and nose tackle. Luckily for them, they may have a choice between David DeCastro and Dontari Poe at No. 11. There are also second-round prospects at those positions (Kevin Zeitler, Alameda Ta'amu) who could be available.
2012 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Throughout the entire pre-draft process, my source with the Chiefs continuously tried to convince me that the team would select Dontari Poe, but I stubbornly refused to believe it. How could Scott Pioli, who believes in the Bill Belichick mantra, spend such a high pick on someone who was so mediocre on tape against inferior competition? Belichick would pick David DeCastro to bolster the offensive line, so I thought that's what Pioli would do.
Apparently not. I don't see how anyone can validate selecting Poe so highly. He was a Combine superstar, but so was Mike Mamula. There's no denying his potential, but he did nothing against crappy Conference USA opponents. It's not like Jason Pierre-Paul where the prospect in question didn't have much playing time, and thus was an unknown commodity; Poe was on the field a lot, but did nothing versus players who won't even cut it in the Arena League.
It's also hard to get behind the rest of Kansas City's draft. Jeff Allen is a project, and there were better guards available at No. 44 (Peter Konz). Donald Stephenson, like Poe, also has major potential, but he's really inexperienced. Devon Wylie was a reach in Round 4.
I also have to wonder why the Chiefs didn't obtain a quarterback of some sort. Ricky Stanzi couldn't even beat out Tyler Palko when Matt Cassel went down. A selection should have been used on someone to groom to eventually upgrade the weakest position on the roster.
2012 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
11. Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis: C Grade
Ugh. Does Scott Pioli watch film? How can he spend such a high pick on a Combine star who did absolutely nothing on the field? I won't ignore Dontari Poe's upside, but he has major bust potential. David DeCastro would have been a much better selection.
44. Jeff Allen, G, Illinois: B Grade
I knew the Chiefs were going with an offensive lineman, but I did not expect Jeff Allen at this spot. There are mixed opinions on Allen; some major boards had him in the 70s, while others ranked him in the 40-50 range. Allen needs to be developed, but he has potential to play left tackle. This is important for the Chiefs, who could be losing Branden Albert next year.
(Check update below)
74. Donald Stephenson, OT, Oklahoma: B Grade
Another tackle? Donald Stephenson fits the range and could even emerge as a potential starting left tackle, but then what did Kansas City draft Jeff Allen for? I don't think you take a backup tackle in Day 2.
Update: Just got word that the Chiefs view Jeff Allen as a guard prospect, so this selection makes more sense.
107. Devon Wylie, WR, Fresno State: C- Grade
Devon Wylie is a slight reach here; he was more of a Round 5-6 prospect. The Chiefs were looking for a slot receiver because Steve Breaston probably won't be around following the 2012 season.
146. DeQuan Menzie, CB/S, Alabama: A- Grade
DeQuan Menzie can play both cornerback and safety. Coincidentally, the Chiefs needed depth in both areas, especially the latter, since Romeo Crennel loves having three safeties on the field. Menzie was ranked No. 80 on Mike Mayock's big board, so he provides really good value in Round 5.
182. Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M: A Grade
The Chiefs signed Peyton Hillis, but there's always a chance he could retire to become a CIA agent. They needed a third running back, and Gray could have easily been chosen in Round 3 or 4.
218. Jerome Long, DT, San Diego State: C- Grade
Jerome Long wasn't ranked anywhere. I'm not sure where this pick came from.
238. Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan: A- Grade
This is not a need, but Junior Hemingway offers solid value in the middle of Round 7. One major big board had him at No. 163, and he was ranked No. 209 on the consensus chart.
What Romeo Crennel did at the end of the year was pretty impressive. In two of the final three weeks, he shut down Aaron Rodgers and Tim Tebow. Not that those quarterbacks are close to one another, but the latter did go on and defeat the Steelers seven days afterward. With numerous key players coming back from injury, the Chiefs will be a playoff contender in 2012. Unfortunately, their quarterback situation will prevent them from ever being ranked among the league's elite.
Rams sign OT Barry Richardson
Steelers sign TE Leonard Pope
Chiefs re-sign CB Travis Daniels
Chiefs re-sign ILB Jovan Belcher
Chiefs sign OT Eric Winston
Chiefs sign QB Brady Quinn
Chiefs sign TE Kevin Boss
Chiefs sign RB Peyton Hillis
Chargers sign FB Le'Ron McClain
Cowboys sign CB Brandon Carr
Cowboys sign QB Kyle Orton
Chiefs re-sign NT Amon Gordon
Chargers sign ILB Demorrio Williams
Chiefs cut ILB Demorrio Williams
Chiefs franchise WR Dwayne Bowe
Chiefs sign CB Stanford Routt
Chiefs re-sign TE Jake O'Connell
Quarterback: It's a shame the Chiefs couldn't hire Josh McDaniels to work with Matt Cassel again. Cassel will be the starter next year, but he's very mediocre. He doesn't have the physical tools to consistently lead his team deep into the playoffs. Ricky Stanzi, a fifth-round pick in 2011, isn't much of a ray of hope, given that he couldn't unseat Tyler Palko as the starter once Cassel went down. Signed Brady Quinn
Right Tackle: Barry Richardson was one of the worst starting linemen in the NFL last year. I'm sure the Chiefs would love to land Riley Reiff with the 11th-overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. Jonathan Martin would work as well. Signed Eric Winston; drafted Donald Stephenson
Nose Tackle: Kelly Gregg turns 36 this year. Jerrell Powe, drafted in the sixth round last April, barely played. If Kansas City isn't too optimistic about Powe, it could use its second-rounder on Dontari Poe. Drafted Dontari Poe
Cornerback: Brandon Flowers, bastard of Highgarden, was re-signed to a big contract in September. The Chiefs will also have to lock up free-agent Brandon Carr. If he leaves, they'll need a new starting cornerback. Signed Stanford Routt; drafted DeQuan Menzie
Guard/Center: Casey Wiegmann will turn 39 in July. He's mulling retirement, so if he follows through, the Chiefs will need an interior offensive lineman, depending on where they want to utilize 2011 second-rounder Rodney Hudson. Drafted Jeff Allen
Tight End: Tony Moeaki was injury-prone at Iowa, so it wasn't a surprise to see him tear his ACL in the preseason. Moeaki is talented, but unreliable. A mid-round pick could be used on a tight end. Signed Kevin Boss
Running Back: Jamaal Charles will be back from a torn ACL. There were already questions about his ability to carry the load, so the Chiefs should find another capable back to split carries with him. If Trent Richardson isn't available at No. 11 overall, a mid-round pick could be used on a complement. Signed Peyton Hillis
Rush Linebacker Depth: Justin Houston really came on at the end of last season, but the Chiefs won't have much of a pass rush if either he or Tamba Hali goes down with an injury next year.
Inside Linebacker Depth: Kansas City is also thin in this area.
2012 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Eric Winston, OT, Texans. Age: 28. Signed with Chiefs
Eric Winston is a talented right tackle who would be a great fit for any team running a zone-blocking system. He surrendered seven sacks in 2011, but four came when T.J. Yates was inserted into the lineup, so that number is inflated. Winston's best trait is his reliability; he hasn't missed a start since 2006.
Stanford Routt, CB, Raiders. Age: 29. Signed with Chiefs (3 years, $19.6 million; $4 million signing bonus)
One of the most overrated players in the NFL, Stanford Routt is often discussed as a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback, but he definitely shouldn't be. Routt has good coverage skills, but is often penalized. He was whistled for 17 infractions in 2011 alone (it easily could have been a lot more), which led all players at his position.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns. Age: 26. Signed with Chiefs (1 year, $3 million)
Peyton Hillis is a tough runner with good pass-catching ability when healthy, but the problem is that he's always banged up. He's just way too unreliable, and his fumbling issues don't help.
Update: Hillis reportedly has thought about quitting football to become a CIA agent. Umm... what? Teams will definitely question his dedication.
Kevin Boss, TE, Raiders. Age: 28. Signed with Chiefs (3 years, $9 million)
Kevin Boss is a decent end zone target (16 TDs last three years with Giants) and a solid blocker.
Brady Quinn, QB, Broncos. Age: 27. -- Signed with Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs. Age: 27. Franchised by Chiefs
Dwayne Bowe is a dynamic talent and one of the better receivers in the NFL. His production is remarkable considering the mediocre quarterbacks he's worked with throughout his professional career.
Brandon Carr, CB, Chiefs. Age: 26. Signed with Cowboys (5 years, $50.1 million)
Brandon Carr allowed a completion percentage of 49.4 in 2011. He is a No. 1-caliber cornerback who will be rewarded with a big contract this offseason.
Jovan Belcher (RFA), ILB, Chiefs. Age: 25. Re-signed with Chiefs (1 year, $1.927 million)
Jovan Belcher is a very underrated player. He's a slight liability in coverage sometimes, but he's terrific in run support.
Le'Ron McClain, FB, Chiefs. Age: 27. Signed with Chargers (3 years)
Le'Ron McClain is only a decent run-blocker. He barely got any carries last year despite the injury to Jamaal Charles.
Casey Wiegmann, C, Chiefs. Age: 39.
The Chiefs will welcome back Casey Wiegmann if he still wants to play, but at 39, his performance could fall off at any point without warning.
Kyle Orton, QB, Chiefs. Age: 29. Signed with Cowboys (3 years)
Kyle Orton has proven that he can be a solid game-manager when surrounded by a quality supporting cast. That's all he is though.
Kelly Gregg, NT, Chiefs. Age: 35.
Kelly Gregg did a great job stuffing the run early, but wore down as the season went on. He'll be 36 in November.
Barry Richardson, OT, Chiefs. Age: 26. -- Signed with Rams
Wallace Gilberry, DE, Chiefs. Age: 27. -- Signed with Buccaneers
Divisional Rival History: Denver Broncos: The home team always wins. Well, it used to anyway. The host claimed 16 of the previous 20 matchups prior to 2011. The road team captured both victories last season. Oakland Raiders: The road team has somehow won nine of the previous 10 meetings. Aren't Arrowhead and the Black Hole supposed to be intimidating places to play? San Diego Chargers: The host has been victorious in 21 of the previous 28 battles. San Diego has won seven of the past nine matchups - and it would have been eight out of nine if Philip Rivers hadn't botched a routine snap in Arrowhead.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2012 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)