Brandon Flowers is no longer a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. At this point I’m sure most KC fans have had a chance to let the news from last Friday sink in. It’s a move that is both disappointing and understandable. It’s disappointing because Flowers had been a very good and very well liked player for the Chiefs. It’s disappointing because they weren’t able to get anything for him. It’s disappointing because pass coverage was already an area of concern for the Chiefs after their playoff collapse against the Colts and now they have released their most accomplished cornerback.
It’s understandable because the Chiefs were strapped for salary cap space with a couple of key players that they plan on building around in need of new contracts and Flowers had a big cap number. It’s understandable because Flowers was coming off arguably the worst season of his career. It’s understandable because Flowers didn’t really fit the system that KC wanted to run and he reportedly wasn’t happy about being asked to play nickel back.
It is what it is. We can certainly debate some more if this was the right thing to do, but nothing we say (or write) is going to change anything now. The fact is that when the Chiefs take the field in week one against the Tennessee Titans, Brandon Flowers will not be in a Chiefs uniform. So now the question that becomes more important to the Chiefs 2014 season is who will man the cornerback position for KC this season and will these players be good enough to keep KC in games and give them a shot to return to the playoffs in Andy Reid’s second season?
As I see it, there are currently five pure CBs and two hybrid CB/Ss on the roster that are the clear favorites to make the team. Could someone bump one of these guys off the roster? Sure. Could John Dorsey hit the waiver wire again after rosters are cut down to add someone? Of course, but if you had to bet $100 on which DBs would make the week one 53 man roster and fill the snaps vacated by Flowers, I believe those players would be:
I’m leaving Eric Berry out of this discussion because I feel he is a pure safety. He is important to the Chiefs pass coverage, but he won’t personally be filling the void left by the loss of Flowers. So if the Chiefs are going to be strong (or at least average) in pass coverage this coming season it’s likely going to be some combination of those seven players that get the job done. Therefore, I thought this might be a good time to stop and take a look at each of these guys to see what KC has to work with.
Sean Smith – 6’3″ – 218 lbs – 6th season – Utah
Sean Smith is entering his second season with the Chiefs after signing as a free agent and having spent his first four seasons with the Miami Dolphins. In my opinion, Smith is an adequate but not great NFL starter. He isn’t a liability but he also isn’t a top coverage corner that can take away the other team’s best receivers. If you take a look at his Pro Football Focus ratings for last season (side note: I love PFF and think there is value in their evaluations, but their grades aren’t law and should only make up a part of your evaluation of a player) you will see that Smith appeared in all 17 games for the Chiefs last season. He had six games where he graded out positively, six where he was middle of the road average, and five where he graded out poorly. That’s about as middle of the road as you can get.
Smith’s height and athleticism for his size are a valuable asset in the NFL as well. So I feel like while Smith’s upside may not be that of a number one CB, I have no problem with him being one of the starters on the outside (other than he’s apparently a knucklehead given his recent DUI arrest). That having been said, if Smith is the best coverage DB that KC has on their roster, that’s probably not a good thing. While KC has a lot of inexperienced players in the secondary, Smith is at least a proven commodity.
Marcus Cooper – 6’2″ – 192 lbs – 2nd season – Rutgers
Unless something unexpected happens, the other likely starting CB along with Sean Smith is 2nd year man Marcus Cooper. Cooper was a 7th round draft pick by the 49ers last year, but because of their incredible roster depth they had to try and sneak him onto their practice squad. John Dorsey was having none of that though and Cooper became one of several players that KC claimed after teams made their final roster cut downs. Cooper went on to play in all 17 games for KC last year, including significant time in ten of them and even started six times.
Through his first nine games Cooper looked like the steal of the century and a contender for defensive rookie of the year. His PFF grade for those first nine games was +10.0. Just to give you a point of comparison for that, there were only 11 CBs in the entire NFL to finish the season with a rating that high. However, things were about to change drastically and not for the better. In weeks 11-13 the Chiefs would face the Broncos twice with the Chargers sandwiched between them. In those three games Cooper was completely exposed. His combined PFF grade for those three games was -13.0. For that three game stretch Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers made Cooper look like a rookie 7th round draft pick. It wasn’t pretty. However, he did stop the bleeding some in the final stretch of the season. While Cooper wasn’t able to recapture his amazing play from the first half of the season, a combined PFF grade for the final five games he played of -0.8 shows that he was able to compose himself after that horrific three game stretch.
The best news for KC fans is that Cooper is still only a 24 year old player that is entering his first offseason with the team. Cooper was learning the KC system on the fly last year (making his impressive start all the more impressive) and now will have the benefit of a full camp with the team. The other thing to keep in mind with Cooper is that he is still relatively new to playing CB. Originally a WR, he didn’t make the conversion to CB until midway through his time at Rutgers. Given the strong play and natural ability he flashed in stretches as a rookie there is every reason to believe that his best days are ahead of him. Besides, despite his really bad three game stretch he still finished his rookie season with a PFF grade higher than many big name veterans including Brandon Flowers, DeAngelo Hall, Charles Tillman, Antonio Cromartie, and Courtland Finnegan.