The Chiefs released their first regular-season depth chart Tuesday. I took the liberty of grading the team by position and giving something of an expectation for each as, finally, the games are upon us (I don't know about you, but Thursday is going to be something of a holiday for yours truly).
So... here we go.
Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Ricky Stanzi
"Inexperienced" is the word when it comes to the quarterback position for the Chiefs. Beyond Cassel, the team literally has zero in-game service time from its backups. Though both Palko and Stanzi showed flashes of greatness in the preseason, don't be surprised if the GM Scott Pioli looks for help from an outside source (former Jaguar and newly-available, David Garrard, anyone?). Also, as you should, expect Cassel's play to be a microcosm of the team's 2011 season. Much like the consensus that a much tougher schedule may mean the team will win less despite getting better (presumably), Cassel's 2010 campaign, at least statistically, will be virtually impossible to replicate in 2011.
Running Backs. A-
Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, Le'Ron McClain, Jackie Battle
Ok. This is just simply getting stupid. Somehow, after proving to be one of the NFL's most electric players in 2010, Charles is still listed second on the depth chart, behind Jones. I'm beginning to think there's a clause in Jones' contract granting him a month alone with Todd Haley's wife if the team ever lists him as a reserve. Hey... I'm just saying. At any rate, the A-minus grade was given simply because the outlook for the Chiefs' rushing-attack would look drastically different without Charles, even with the signing of McClain (which I loved). And, speaking of life without Charles, expect that to be the major storyline for this year's Chiefs. Charles was dinged up on a regular-basis in 2010 and the team has already been bitten by the injury bug in 2011. Bold prediction: Charles misses at least three games.
Wide Receivers. B-
Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban, Terrance Copper, Jonathan Baldwin, Keary Colbert
The emergence of Bowe as an elite NFL wide-out has been as shocking to yours truly as to anyone. Just two years ago some believed the then-outspoken "Bowe Show" would be cut from the team. Instead, Haley has helped turn Bowe's career around, to the point where the fifth-year star led the league in reception touchdowns a year ago. Still, mirroring that in 2011 will be a tough feat. The Breaston acquisition should help things, though going by the preseason alone, you wouldn't even know he was on the roster. The key here is getting Baldwin ready and healthy by mid-season, when the schedule just gets brutal. My guess is that won't happen, and it will take at least a full season for Haley to get Baldwin career moving in a way similar to Bowe's. Baldwin's impact in 2011 shouldn't be much different than that of Copper, which means we'll only hear his name when he drops a pass.
Tight Ends. D-
Leonard Pope, Jake O'Connell
This would be an F had it not been for Cassel's incredible tendency to use Pope on third down last year (That is, of course, with little-to-no success). But hey, at least we know Pope can catch a pass. Much will be made of Haley's against-the-grain preseason strategy against the Packers Thursday, allowing most starters to play into the 4th quarter. Because of that, Tony Moeaki is out for the season (and Cassel has a cracked rib) and the Chiefs' offense lost a key contributor, particularly on third-down. Is this a fireable offense for Haley? Maybe. Will he be the team's head football coach in 2012? You betcha.
Offensive Line. B-
Branden Albert, Ryan Lilja, Casey Weigmann, Jon Asamoah, Barry Richardson, Jared Gaither, Rodney Hudson, Steve Maneri
The Chiefs have high hopes for the second-year guard, Asamoah this season, and they showed it by cutting Pro Bowler Brian Waters in the offseason. It was a classic Patriot Way move by Pioli, but it will only pay off if Asamoah can live up to the team's expectations. In the preseason, he did not. I still expect Asamoah to be a solid interior-lineman for years to come, but judging by the preseason, the team may have jumped the gun on this one. Maneri will start the season on the practice squad, so the Chiefs are essentially taking a flier on Gaither, with their only other sub being Hudson, who's a rookie. With Richardson seemingly regressing, expect Gaither to take over at right tackle by week 2, and expect Gaither to be on IR by week 6.
Defensive Line. D+
Tyson Jackson, Kelly Gregg, Glenn Dorsey, Allen Bailey, Jerrell Powe, Wallace Gilberry, Amon Gordon, Brandon Bair
The addition of Gregg should help, but as was the case last year, the defensive line remains the Chiefs' biggest and most glaring weakness coming into this season. I bitched when Pioli elected to essentially go status-quo with Jackson instead of upgrading in free agency, and I'll go as far as to say it will cost the team drastically in the win-column in 2011. The sooner the Chiefs admit their mistake in drafting Jackson third-overall in 2009, the better. Watching him get dominated up and down the field by the Packers' first, second, and third teamers Thursday was downright embarrassing. Bailey should be starting by October. Yuck.
Andy Studebaker, Jovan Belcher, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Cameron Sheffield, Demorrio Williams, Justin Houston, Cory Greenwood
It's finally safe to refer to the Chiefs' linebacking corpse as a strong-point. Studebaker and Belcher should take great strides this season. Johnson is now a team-leader and is the backbone of the entire defense. Hali led the AFC in sacks last season and is primed repeat in 2011. And we haven't mentioned Houston, who could team with Hali to form one lethal pass-rushing combination. A simple Youtube search of the former Georgia Bulldog could help justify the early comparisons to the late Derrick Thomas.
Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr, Javier Arenas, Travis Daniels, Jalil Brown
The secondary's stock is on the rise, and it starts with the emergence of Flowers and Carr as dependable corners. With today's NFL being more and more pass-heavy, however, Arenas must improve greatly to justify not addressing this position in free-agency. And with the new kickoff rule, Arenas must improve simply to justify him occupying a roster spot at all. Also, it's time Flowers became something closer to a household name. 2011 should be a Pro Bowl campaign for the young star.
Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis, Jon McGraw, Sabby Piscitelli, Donald Washington
One thing people will tend to forget when it comes to grading a team before the season is the potential for young players to get better. And, in the case of the Chiefs' young safeties, A LOT better. As rookies, Berry and Lewis manned the defensive-backfield with the ease that of five-year veterans. These two should improve vastly in 2011, eliminating some of (few) rookie mistake of a year ago. What I love most about them, especially Berry, is their willingness and eagerness to hit somebody. Anybody. I just love it. I do. It's about time the Chiefs' defense became synonymous with the word "tough" again. It's been too long.
Dustin Colquitt, Ryan Succop, Thomas Gafford
Succop's range may be a bit limited, but he's fairly consistent and he's likable. If he's not collecting multiple touchbacks per game with the rule change this season, though, that's an issue. Colquitt continues to be one of game's better punters.
Dexter McCluster, Javier Arenas, Steve Breaston, Jerheme Urban
If it were up to me, Arenas would be returning both punts and kickoffs. He seems to be more natural at it than McCluster, and it would benefit the offense (sans Moeaki, mind you) to have McCluster fresh and healthy. In any event, what's not to like about these two with the ball in their hands in space? Absolutely nothing. It will take a special-teams driven victory or two for the Chiefs to be playoff-bound in 2011. The team had just one return for a score in 2010, and that was by McCluster in the first game (Arenas had one called back in Oakland). That won't cut it in 2011.
Overall Average: B-
This is the first year I've graded the team by position, but had I done it last season my guess is they would graded out to something close to a C average. So the conclusion is the team has improved, but have they improved enough to overcome a much tougher schedule? We'll get an idea about that come Sunday.
Look for my 2011 record predictions for the Chiefs and the rest of the NFL, including playoff and Super Bowl picks, tomorrow.