Nov 1, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Edgar Jones (99) and San Diego Chargers linebacker Demorrio Williams (58) tangle after a kick-off during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Gunning For The Chiefs

We’re gonna shoot you out of the gun and we’re gonna go right at the heart of the guy and stab him. You should have hazard duty pay for that kind of job.

- Pete Rodriguez, former Seattle Seahawks Special Teams Coach

With the news that Knile Davis, Devon Wylie and perhaps even Dexter McCluster are competing for the roles of kick and punt returners, Addicts are getting excited about finally having an effective return game. But there’s another oft-forgotten aspect to the Kansas City Chiefs’ special teams unit that we ought to take a close look at: who will be our game-changing gunner?

The gunner is that nut who breaks through the double team on punt coverage, races down the sideline, avoids 1-3 more blockers, and spears the punt returner just as he fields the punt. Former Atlanta Falcons Special Teams Coach and current Chicago Bears Special Team Coach Joe DeCamillis says, “It’s mayhem in about four seconds. You want to try to go off a double-team and blow the returner up. It takes a special kind of guy to do that.”

A successful gunner is part sprinter and part bull, and has an aggression that cannot be matched. Think Steve Tasker, the perennial Pro Bowler from the Buffalo Bills who practically invented the position of gunner. Tasker tackled so hard, he caused fumbles more often than not. And he was absolutely committed to getting to the returner – he simply would not be denied.

Gunners are almost without exception backup players – often defensive backs, wide receivers and even linebackers. A great one can change field position for you, cause turnovers and trigger swings in momentum.

Gunners are so undervalued that it is difficult to find statistics on them. The closest I found was Special Teams Solo Tackles. In 2012, the seven best players in this category were:

  1. Lorenzo Alexander, Washington, LB
  2. Spencer Paysinger, Giants, LB
  3. Bryan Braman, Houston Texans, LB
  4. Curtis Brown, Steelers, DB (tied for third)
  5. Anthony Allen, Ravens, RB
  6. Tramaine Brock, 49ers, DB (tied for fifth)
  7. Alan Ball, Texans, DB (tied for fifth)

This list is dominated by linebackers and defensive backs, with just one offensive player in the mix. Last year, no Chiefs player was in the top 100. It’s time for that to change.

Who will step up this year? We need a player who is fast and has that particular character trait of refusing to be denied. Here are some options:

  • Jalil Brown: Brown is 6’1″, 204 lbs and runs a 4.52 forty. At the University of Colorado, Brown was a starter at cornerback, a team co-captain and a standout coverage player on special teams. He’s got the right combination of size and speed and has a history of special teams play.
  • Shaun Draughn: Draughn is  6’0 and 205 lbs. In addition to running back duties at the University of North Carolina, Draughn also played special teams and even safety in some games. We all know that Draughn is a tough runner. He also has defensive instincts, which is a great quality for a gunner.
  • Neiko Thorpe: Thorpe is 6’2” but just 185 lbs. He was known as a great tackler at Auburn; in his sophomore year, he started all thirteen games at cornerback, recording 84 tackles, with 56 of them being solo. Thorpe also played on special teams at Auburn.
  • Edgar Jones: Jones, at 6’3″ and  262 lbs, is the only one on this list with NFL gunner experience. In 2012, he had a good season – seven tackles and two fumble recoveries on special teams, including that memorable return for a touchdown in the Tampa Bay game. In college, he led Division I-AA with 12.0 sacks, so you know he has the sort of indomitable will you need in a gunner. Coming out of college, Jones ran just a 4.75, but had enough game speed to return a few kicks and punts for Southeast Missouri State.

The incumbent, Edgar Jones, should get the edge this offseason. But I would love to see Neiko Thorpe and Jalil Brown compete for a chance at being the next great Chiefs’ gunner as well. Thorpe and Brown are faster than Jones, but Jones brings a proven track record that is hard to argue against. In the end, my favorite special teams player, Edgar Jones, wins out.

Addicts, who do you think can be the Chiefs’ next gunner?!

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  • Stacy D. Smith

    Edgar Jones was excellent on special teams last year. Can’t wait to see what Dave Toub does with that unit as a whole.

    • Chris Tarrants

      Exactly, I think of Toub teaching a guy like WYLIE and I can’t help but have images of Hester running through my mind

      • Stacy D. Smith

        Okay, I’m not THAT excited. Hahaha.

        • Chris Tarrants

          You wouldn’t get excited if we had a Hester clone? Or how about “the human joystick2.o” Hall was electric and seeing that arrowhead on his Helmet zigging and zagging, planting and spinning! God it would be amazing to have that feeling again of sitting on the edge of your recliner waiting because you know there is a chance of a big one being broken! I had that feeling a few years ago with Javier and Dexter but it faded after week 3 lol and I just stayed in my chair because I knew there really wasn’t a chance

          • Stacy D. Smith

            If we had that, sure, I’d be excited about that. Wylie hasn’t shown me anything to give me that kind of excitement though.

          • Chris Tarrants

            Week 15 and 16 I believe it was last year is when I got really excited about Wylie, he reminds me of a fast Wes Welker. He wasnt used the right way at all last year but then again who was? Don’t forget it was the same coaching staff that gave Charles 5 touches in the game and afterwards didn’t even know why or how many he actually got lol! We have some young electric speedsters on this team. I know I can’t expect Hester numbers week one but the idea that it would happen gets the fair on my neck standing straight up

          • Stacy D. Smith

            I’m more excited by what Toub can make of McCluster in the return game.

  • ladner morse

    Great post Miles! Neiko Thorpe has 4.34 speed and the attitude to do the job. You say he’s “just” 185 but, Steve Tasker was just 185 and he was also only 5ft 9 inches tall. I say Neiko can get there the fastest so he’s my choice. Speed thrills!

  • superman_25_58

    I see it being Jalil Brown IMO. He was getting better and better last year on special teams and I see him continuing to blossom into a Good/Great gunner (head hunter) IMO.

  • Calchiefsfan

    You know the funny thing is I watched a highlight video of Wylie on special teams in college, not returning kicks but playing gunner! And he was awesome! It was actually hilarious to watch him speed down the field, no blocker could touch him, he was too shifty. Then he would lay the hit on the returner. If the return guy tried to take it to the outside Wylie would catch him from behind. I doubt if he’ll be used that way this year but it was really funny to watch, totally unexpected.

    • Calchiefsfan

      Here’s a link. Mostly offensive plays and returns but there are some where he is in coverage on returns so you can get an idea. All I can say is this guy is fast and really, really shifty.

  • sidibeke

    Can we bring Benny back? That dude was CRAZY!

  • ArrowFan

    We all know who NE’s gunner is. Sorry couln’t help it. I never thought about the position statisticaly I’m not sure if solo tackels realy quantifies it. Jones and someone else because it realy takes two gunners to cover the field and do it right.

  • slapnuts

    jalil struggled on the corner but man he was always flying down the field on special teams! Hope he can stay on the team…like Neiko Thorpre too….watched him play at Auburn and he was solid contributor throughout.