I’ve done a 180 on Chiefs ILB Jovan Belcher.
Perhaps 180 is a big drastic because I still think Belcher is a good player. The problem is, after looking at some of the numbers, I am convinced that Luke Kuechly, if he is there, might be the best first round pick for the Chiefs come April.
Before I get into breaking down some of these numbers, I want to talk about why, save somehow obtaining a franchise QB, going with defense in the first round will be essential to Kansas City’s success in 2012. This is now a defensive team, coached by a defensive coach. Despite going with the offensive-minded Todd Haley in 2009, the team’s strength lies on defense. This is thanks to a combination of things. It is partly due to the drafting of the coach before Haley, Herm Edwards, who was also a defensive-minded coach and is the man responsible for bringing you Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali, Glenn Dorsey and until recently, Brandon Carr. Those core players, combined with Pioli pickups of Kendrick Lewis, Eric Berry, and Allen Bailey have the Chiefs poised to become a top ten defense. In fact, they were the 11th best defense in the NFL last season without Berry.
Say what you will about Matt Cassel but, regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, you can’t deny he has limitations. Scott Pioli has done a nice job this offseason ensuring that, barring disaster, Cassel will be surrounded by enough talent and weapons that he should be able to play his best.
But is Cassel’s best good enough to win a Super Bowl?
The answer, probably depends on his defense.
Other than offensive line depth, the Chiefs would be wise to put even more focus on their already talented defense.
For most of the offseason, I’ve scoffed at the idea of Kansas City replacing Jovan Belcher. He is an above average run defender and while he can’t really effectively drop into coverage, Romeo Crennel usually pulls him off the field in passing situations.
Upon closer inspection, however, I think Belcher needs to be replaced and move into more of a backup role. The Chiefs need a player to line up next to Derrick Johnson that can play all three downs. They need a player that can rush forward and eat up a blocker or make a tackle in run defense and who can drop back in coverage.
Jovan Belcher played only 662 snaps last season compared to Derrick Johnson’s 1046. DJ played 100% of the team’s snaps in 13 of its 16 games. He never played fewer than 87%.
Belcher on the other hand, played 100% of the defensive snaps only once. Against the Green Bay Packers, in Romeo Crennel’s signature win, Belcher played only 32% of the defensive snaps. He played 414 snaps in run defense, 213 in pass coverage and 35 as a pass rusher. He finished the season with about as mediocre a Pro Football Focus grade as you can get with a -0.1.
0.0 would have been perfectly average.
Crennel does a fantastic job of working with what he has. He played to Belcher’s strengths, which is fine. Yet, when it came time to defend the pass, Crennel had to yank Belcher. If he had another D.J. type of player at ILB, he likely wouldn’t have to do that.
The San Francisco 49ers are, in many ways, a lot like the Chiefs. They have a defensive-minded head coach, a good defense and running game and a mediocre QB. One of the big difference between the two teams is that the 49ers have two unbelievable ILB’s in Novorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Those two don’t leave the field on third down. Bowman played 1,186 snaps last season and Willis added 958, a lower number because of some missed time.
I think for the Chiefs to really kick their defense up a notch and potentially move it into the top five or six in the NFL, they need to snag Luke Kueckly.
Kueckly stands at 6-3, 242, bringing a lot more size than Belcher at 6-2, 228. The big thing that jumps out at you when looking at the tape are his instincts. Kueckly seems to always be all over the field making every tackle. He has enough speed to drop back and cover a TE or defend the flat. The only knocks I see on him in scouting reports is that he was rarely asked to rush the passer and that he is somewhat limited athletically but every scouting report I’ve read basically raves about him. His limitations are few.
Imagine what Romeo Crennel could do with a guy like that, playing next to a guy like Derrick Johnson.
I’ve had some Chiefs fans tell me that all Kueckly would do playing in Romeo Crennel’s defense is run head first into offensive lineman to eat their blocks so Derrick Johnson can make plays. I’ve been told it would be a waste of Kueckly’s ability and that he would be best served playing DJ’s position, not playing next to it.
To that, I say hogwash.
Jovan Belcher might have been running head first into offensive lineman for Romeo Crennel but he he was also only doing it on first and second down. When he wasn’t running into offensive lineman in 2011, Belcher did manage to snag himself 89 tackles. He had 84 in 2010. Believe me, he’s been asked to do more than keep Derrick Johnson clean.
Kueckly would not only be an improvement on Belcher on first and second down, but on third down as well. He ran a 4.58 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Derrick Johnson ran a 4.52. He sported a 38 inch vertical, which will make throwing over the middle against DJ and Kueckly a nightmare for opposing QB’s.
Adding a guy like Kueckly will give Romeo Crennel even more flexibility on defense. Tamba Hali, Luke Kueckly, Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston could quickly become the best linebacking core in football.
Matt Cassel isn’t likely to win many shootouts with Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning or even Carson Palmer. What the Chiefs can do, is bring Manning, Rivers and Palmer down to Cassel’s level by sending out the most dominant defense in the division.
If it comes down to a choice between Decastro and Kueckly, I think the Chiefs will go with Kueckly.
What do you think Addicts? Is defense the key to the Chiefs’ 2012 season? Is Kueckly the key to their defense?