KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
By Luke Hoover
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
In Todd Haley's second season as head coach, the Chiefs made a dramatic turnaround, surging from worst to first in the AFC West. The six-game improvement in 2010 was sparked by the continuing influence of "the Patriot way" that GM Scott Pioli has brought to Kansas City.
That influence, in the form of new coordinators Charlie Weis (offense) and Romeo Crennel (defense), can be linked to big jumps in the statistical success of the offensive and defensive units. Under Weis' tutelage, quarterback Matt Cassel went from looking like a bad trade in 2009 to playing like a Pro Bowler in 2010. Additionally, the playcalling of Weis and the talents of running backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones led to the league's best rushing attack. All told, Kansas City surged from 25th in total offense in '09 to 12th in '10 thanks largely to the improvement of Cassel, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe's breakout season and the revelation that was Charles' 6.4 yards per carry.
As much as the offense improved, the defense actually made bigger strides in 2010. With Crennel running the show, the Chiefs gave up only 20.4 points per game, or just over six points fewer than in 2009. That touchdown-a-game difference gave them the 11th-best scoring defense last season, a far better ranking than their '09 finish of 28th. Crennel's unit found success because of a more aggressive defense that led to the emergence of playmakers, including rookie safety Eric Berry and veteran linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, both of whom had career years. Hali benefited most from Crennel's blitz schemes, notching 14.5 sacks, or six better than his previous best and tops in the AFC.
Weis and Crennel were vital to the Super Bowl success of the Patriots in the early 2000's, and their impact on the Chiefs was evident in year one. Unfortunately, Weis opted to return to the college ranks at the end of last season, so it's possible the Chiefs will plateau or even decline as an offense. However, with the groundwork laid, with a little luck the growth could continue. Haley did guide the Cardinals' offense during their 2008 Super Bowl run after all, so if new offensive coordinator Bill Muir struggles, Haley can step in to call plays.
The upside for 2011 is high in Kansas City. Though they've lost a key veteran leader on both sides of the ball (offensive guard Brian Waters and outside linebacker Mike Vrabel), they have built an impressive amount of young, athletic talents who are brimming with potential. And while their tougher schedule, which was decidedly soft in 2010, will be a much more telling litmus test, the new leaders they've found in Cassel and Johnson should guide them to a successful season, and quite possibly another division title.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (26) Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
A great red zone weapon at 6-4, 230, could be the No. 2 receiver in time.
2. (55) Rodney Hudson, C/G, Florida State
The future starting center will be an apprentice to Casey Wiegmann.
3. (70) Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
Raw as a linebacker, should provide extra pass rush opposite Tamba Hali.
3. (86) Allen Bailey, DE, Miami (FL)
A powerful, athletic end, who needs to refine his technique at the next level.
4. (118) Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado
His size (6-1, 205) gives him the flexibility to play some safety as well.
5. (135) Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa
Will compete with Tyler Palko for the No. 2 QB spot.
5. (140) Gabe Miller, LB, Oregon State
A good athlete for his size, but a slim chance of making the final roster.
6. (199) Jerrell Powe, NT, Mississippi
A massive space-eater who will back up Kelly Gregg.
7. (223) Shane Bannon, FB, Yale
Could make the final 53 for his special teams play.
Steve Breaston, WR (Cardinals)
A terrific slot receiver, he should immediately take pressure off Dwayne Bowe.
Le'Ron McClain, FB (Ravens)
Huge blocking upgrade, and should do the short-yardage work.
Kelly Gregg, NT (Ravens)
Immediately steps in to anchor the defensive line.
Brian Waters, G, (FA)
Losing the leader of their offensive line could hurt the team's top-notch rushing attack.
Mike Vrabel, LB (FA)
His leadership will be missed most, as his skills were declining.
Ron Edwards, NT (Panthers)
Will be missed for his experience and depth on the defensive line.
CHARLES IN CHARGE
Matt Cassel is certainly a talented quarterback, but even though he is coming off his first Pro Bowl, he is not the key to the Chiefs' offense. Jamaal Charles drives that train. He is so explosive that defenses must key on him whenever he is on the field or risk getting burned by a long run. He has risen to the elite class of running backs, yet last season he was often treated like the complementary back to Thomas Jones. His 230 carries were 15 fewer than Jones recorded and despite his 6.4 yards per carry average, he received a measly five goal-line carries. Meanwhile, Jones toted the rock a pedestrian 3.7 yards per try, while hogging 15 of the attempts in close. Bottom line, the Chiefs need to worry less about Charles breaking down (he's missed just one game in three seasons) and more about putting their best player on the field to keep defenses on their toes and the ball in their hands. Charles is primed for a season of 2,000 total yards and double digit scores if given the touches, so suffice to say he is a fantasy first-rounder.
CASSEL ON THE CUSP?
After an impressive second season in Kansas City, there has to be some consideration as to whether Cassel can take that next step to fantasy stardom. He was there in the touchdown department last season with a healthy 27, but his yardage was well below the top quarterbacks. Cassel has proven at times that he can absolutely rack up the yards, having gone for nearly 3,700 in his first 15 starts with New England and in posting three career 400-yard games. With the Chiefs upgrading a thin receiving corps by adding a legit No. 2 in Steve Breaston and another red zone target in 6-foot-4 rookie Jon Baldwin, Cassel actually has the weapons to rack up his first 4,000-yard season. If the Chiefs' offense becomes more balanced after leading the league in rush attempts, watch out for the rise of Cassel.
For a seven-week stretch in 2010, Dwayne Bowe was an unequivocal fantasy force, racking up 725 yards and 13 scores, or the same total points as the No. 13 receiver in standard scoring leagues compiled over the entire season. While this stretch was amazing, it came against many of the leagues' worst pass defenses. Against better competition, Bowe was often nowhere to be found. But his world has changed in the offseason. The additions of Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin should take a huge weight off his shoulders, and for the most part, double teams off his routes. In the grand scheme of things his numbers may change little, but added consistency will make him an every week starter and full-time stud.
Rising: Steve Breaston has a shot to be the clear No. 2 receiver if rookie Jon Baldwin struggles, giving him the chance to rack up big yards out of the slot.
Declining: Thomas Jones will turn 33 before Week 1 and should trail Jamaal Charles in touches. It doesn't help that Le'Ron McClain likely will steal goal line carries.
Sleeper: Tony Moeaki may have just scratched the surface of his potential (556 yards, three touchdowns) as a rookie, but must compete in a deeper receiving corps.
Supersleeper: Dexter McCluster was underutilized last season, and if given the opportunities, he could be a dynamic playmaker out of the backfield or the slot.
Derrick Johnson, LB
After a breakout season with over 120 total tackles, he could be in line for more in 2011.
Eric Berry, S
A Pro Bowler as a rookie, this defensive playmaker does it all.
Tamba Hali, LB
One of the premier sack specialist in the league, his meager tackle numbers make him a high-risk, high-reward play.
RotoWire Rank: 13