At this point in the offseason, it’s no secret that the Kansas City Chiefs boast one of the best depth charts in the NFL. From the offensive backfield, to the receiving corps, the offensive line, the secondary and even special teams, this is a team that has more than its fair share of fascinating depth chart battles. Such is the pleasure of rooting for a really talented football team.
Of course, I could legitimately select any number of positions as fascinating positional wars. But to me, there is no position on this team with the versatility, range of talent, and sheer potential as the players we have at the critical 3-4 defensive end position. The 3-4 end, of course, is typically a big-bodied defensive tackle-sized player whose job is to occupy as many tackles and guards as possible to free up edge rushers and linebackers to make plays.
The past two years, the Chiefs have featured a great one-two punch at the starting level with Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. Last year they had solid additions in Allen Bailey and Amon Gordon. Their have been some other acquisitions at the position worth examining.
It’s likely the Chiefs keep five defensive ends, assuming one or two of those ends have nose tackle versatility. What I seek to do is preview each player battling at this critical position, and project what I think the 2012 depth chart is going to look like.
Glenn Dorsey (6’1″, 297): The 5th overall selection of the 2008 NFL Draft, Dorsey has disappeared in a small market franchise playing a thankless position with relatively zippo media attention. The rap on him is old news to people who follow the Chiefs religiously: his run defense is sterling (he’s the best in the league, per PFF), his pass rushing is nonexistant. That’s about the best you can expect from somebody who was never built to play this kind of defense — he was built to play a completely different defense, the 4-3 Tampa Two. But Dorsey’s ability to shut down the run guarantees him a starting spot all season, even if it is for only two downs.
Dorsey is in the last year of his rookie contract. Under normal circumstances, I’d say the Chiefs are more than willing to let Dorsey walk in free agency. As brilliantly as he plays those first two downs, some 4-3 defense that he’s better suited for will want to play him for three downs. Therefore, his value (contract wise) will attract bigger contracts from 4-3 teams than it could from a team like us who can’t afford to pay a two-down plugger the 5 year, $45 to $55 million deal he’ll likely get in free agency.
However, the Chiefs are likely in the last year of the Matt Cassel Experiment. And if it goes how we all expect it to, we’ll be in the hunt for one of the several QB studs coming out in next year’s draft. It will likely take us multiple draft picks to grab the one we want, making it unlikely we’ll have the second- or even third-rounders necessary to replace a starting DE like Dorsey — and it’s not clear that Allen Bailey is up to the task just yet. The worse Bailey plays this season, the more desperate we’ll be to keep Dorsey in Kansas City.
So I’d expect extensive talks between Dorsey and the Chiefs this year, then, to extend him during the season before free agency ever arrives. It might not go anywhere — I’m betting it won’t, since Dorsey, like Brandon Carr from this year, knows he’ll make more on the free market with multiple teams bidding on him. The Chiefs can’t franchise him either, as they’ll likely be franchising LT Branden Albert instead.
Tyson Jackson (6’4″, 296): Much of what was said in the first paragraph about Dorsey can be said about Jackson, except that Jackson’s talents are tailor-made for this defense. He is a powerful, athletic, long-as-hell defensive lineman who tackles cannot move off the ball. Unlike Dorsey, he doesn’t even occasionally create plays. He exists to do his job and do it so well you will almost never hear his name called — but make no mistake: Jackson’s leaps forward these past couple years are the reason linebackers like Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston tears stuff up these days. Jackson will start across from Dorsey.
Jackson’s ability to play the run, again, ranks him among the league’s best. The Chiefs have an embarrassment of riches against the run. He can stuff the middle, and drag lineman out to the edge to seal off the edge against runners. His passrush, of course, lacks. Unlike Dorsey, however, Jackson has not yet maxed out. He is quicker than most DEs at his position, and does have a power and arm length that should, on paper, add up to a pass rusher.
Watch with baited breath this year, to see if HC Romeo Crennel can bring that out of him. A healthy dose of skepticism is warranted, but it will have a direct impact as to what Jackson’s future with the Chiefs might be. He is scheduled for a ridiculous $14 million in 2013, which is obviously going to force the Chiefs’ hands to extend him for more reasonable money, or cut him.
Unlike Dorsey, however, Jackson will garner little interest from 4-3 teams. He was built to be a 3-4 ends, and few other teams will give him more money than the Chiefs would be willing to. He would be a very manageable extension to make, and I would anticipate this happening by this time next year.
Allen Bailey (6’3″, 285): Bailey was such a strong draft choice in 2011, I was honestly expecting him to outdo 1st round WR Jonathan Baldwin for the Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie of the year (they would both get beat out by Houston). The reason is simple: Bailey has the size for the position, combined with extreme athleticism the likes of which virtually no other 3-4 DEs in the league possess. He is also extraordinarily strong, and so far that speed/strength combination has made him a potent pass-rusher, recording numerous pressures in limited sub-package exposure last season, his first.
Bailey will certainly make the team, but it will be interesting to see what capacity he ends up earning by season’s end. He has proven to be the best passrushing DE we still have on the roster (bon voyage, Wallace Gilberry). At this point, Bailey needs to get his two-gap responsibilities down so he can be an equally imposing run defender. The sooner he learns that this season, the more comfortable this team will be with letting Dorsey walk in free agency.
Amon Gordon (6’2″, 305): Every defense Romeo Crennel runs love to have guys that can line up at the 0-tech just as easily as the 5-tech. Gordon is hardly a serviceable DE, but he can play both the end and the nose position in a pinch, at one point even being marked down as the team’s starting nose tackle this offseason (before 1st rounder Dontari Poe overtook him this week). But outside of that versatility, it’s not clear how much help Gordon provides this team outside of that versatility.
Not that he’s completely worthless. He made numerous plays last year in goal line formations, submarining underneathe offensive lineman and breaking the line. But if Gordon makes the team, it will be as a nose first, and an end second.
Ropati Pitoitua (6’8″, 315): I thought Pitoitua was an exciting acquisition if you’re looking for more power at the DE position. The thing is, I don’t think our DE corps is particularly lacking for power. Dorsey and Jackson bring plenty of force, Gordon shapes up as much as a nose tackle as an end, and Allen Bailey is coming along nicely.
But I suppose you can never have too many quality, powerful veterans. Towards the end of last season, a measurables analysis was done across the NFL, and it was revealed that the Kansas City Chiefs were the lightest team in the NFL. Adding Pitoitua does numerous things, and he is a really good player. But if you keep him on board, you’re definitely moving up those rankings. (The Chiefs were the tallest team in the league, however, so Pitoitua helps us perhaps retain that particular crown.)
Jerome Long (6’5″, 285): Long was one of my favorite stories after the Chiefs draft haul was all said and done. A 7th rounder this year out of San Diego State, Long did put up some great numbers in terms of backfield penetration. He’s also married to a darn near Olympic athlete, which clearly reflects a family-wide work ethic that will make him a hit in training camp. Long was clearly an investment for the future. At this moment in time, his size and skillset fits exactly with what Allen Bailey is capabile of doing. In the likely event that Allen Bailey can handle full time starter duties, Dorsey will be let go and Long will serve as future depth. If, that is, he comes along alright. I fully suspect Long to end up on the practice squad.
Brandon Bair (6’7″, 272): Bair was, for me, the UDFA steal of 2011. He was a lanky backfield destroyer for Oregon. Known for heady play out of the backfield and the vertical ability to knock down any pass south of the sun, Bair comes on board maxed out at a paltry 272 lbs. His game, therefore, must be constant pressure, all the time. And with both starter jobs locked up, Allen Bailey on board, and another draftee this year with his exact skillset in Jerome Long, Bair needs to flash, and he needs to flash now. It hasn’t happened yet, but things are very, very early.
Ethan Johnson (6’4″, 300): Johnson was a lone bright spot for an otherwise unremarkable Fighting Irish defensive line. Johnson may have benefited from Te’o playing behind him, however, so he needs to show those sacks he ended up racking up were clearly his work. Johnson brings great size, but average athleticism. His game is power, technique, and relentlessness. Every year of course, the Chiefs bring in a couple of guys who just look like bodies in camp, and this year Johnson looks the part. But the Chiefs are also hurting for more passrush from their defensive line. Johnson’s ability to excel in that arena could do him wonders.
Dontari Poe (6’3″, 346): Worth mentioning is the nose tackle the Chiefs brought in this year with their first round pick. Poe is a hefty 346 lbs, but he is much more Haloti Ngata than he is Casey Hampton. He is built for havoc and athleticism, not merely holding ground and winning in the phone booth. Poe features that classic versatility that Crennel loves. The only question is… how will this team choose to utilize it.
Crock’s Depth Chart Projection:
Starters: Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson
Rotational: Amon Gordon, Allen Bailey
Practice Squad: Jerome Long