The Kansas City Chiefs have a problem in DE Wallace Gilberry.
Gilberry is good. He is really good, in fact. The problem is that he is playing in the wrong defense.
We’re going to break from our traditional roster evaluation format here a bit today in talking about Gilberry. We’ll of course evaluate Wallace as we have with the others but we are skipping the whole ascending player part. Gilberry is an ascending starter in the NFL, there is no doubt about it. Unfortunately in 2010, he was used as a reserve.
That isn’t a knock on the Chiefs. I think Gilberry started coming into his own early in the season, partly thanks to the absence of Tyson “Tin Man” Jackson. In fact, had Tin Man not gotten injured in Week 1, the Chiefs may never have found out that they had struck gold with Shaun “Perv” Smith either.
Coach Todd Haley said early in the season that Gilberry was one of the guys fighting to be a starter. After looking at the numbers I realized that Haley wasn’t bullshitting. He was serious.
One of the things the Chiefs did this season that impressed me was limited Tyson Jackson’s playing time. He played less than half of the snaps after he came back from injury so that Shaun Smith and Gilberry could get on the field more often. This was smart by the Chiefs because they put the best players on the field while they also tried to develop Jackson, a guy they have a lot of money invested in.
Through this process, here is what they learned:
1. Jackson is developing but VERY slowly. He is a problem.
2. Shaun Smith is better. This is good but also bad. Smith is getting old and is a temporary fix.
3. Wallace Gilberry could be a Pro Bowler in a 4-3 defense. Again, bad because the Chiefs run a 4-3.
Let’s take a look at Gilberry’s numbers from Pro Football Focus:
Gilberry averaged about 31 snaps per game. The defense played anywhere from 62 snaps to 90 snaps a game, usually falling somewhere in the 60’s or 70’s.
QB Sacks: 7
QB Hits: 6
QB Pressures: 29
Batted Passes: 1
Missed Tackles: 2
*Stops are the number of solo defensive tackles that constitute a defensive failure, including sacks. So if you subtract Golberry’s 7 sacks from his stops you get 9 plays where Gilberry blew things up.
Run Defense: -4.0
Pass Rush: +17.0
I’ll get to Gilberry’s poor rush defense grade in a minute but first let’s focus on how good his overall grade is.
Based on the regular season rankings, PFF ranked Gilberry as the 6th best 3-4 DE in the NFL. Ahead of Brett Keisel and ahead of Shaun Smith, Glen Dorsey and Tyson Jackson.
Here is a comparison for you. The best in the 3-4 DE business this season according to PFF was 49ers DE Justin Smith. The below numbers are for the regular season only. Gilberry’s above numbers included the playoff game.
Obviously Smith was far and away the best 3-4 DE in the NFL but Gilberry came remarkable close to Smith’s numbers in sacks and pressures in 200 fewer snaps.
Where Gilberry fell short this year was in his run defense. That brings us back to the fact that Gilberry is playing in the wrong defense. He is just too undersized to be a full time, effective DE in a 3-4 defense. Jared Allen is 270 pounds and Gilberry is 278. He should be playing DE in a 4-3 defense. He has grown so much as a pass rusher that he could probably be an excellent pass rushing specialist, similar to Allen, in the right scheme.
The reason Gilbery only saw limited action in KC last year was because he was simply too small to have in for most running downs. Wallace was brought in mainly as a pass rusher for passing downs but when teams ran on those downs he struggled. That is indicated in his run defense grade.
So what should the Chiefs do with Gilberry?
They could try having him lose a few ponds and move him to OLB. Unfortunately, there are obvious problems with this move. GIlberry would have to learn a new position and there would be an obvious learning curve. While the Chiefs had success converting Tamba Hali to a successful linebacker, keep in mind that he is far from a complete player at the position. Hali is a one trick pony, albeit an elite one trick pony. He isn’t particularly strong against the run and the last thing you want to see is Hali dropping in to coverage. Gilberry would likely have similar struggles and the Chiefs would be very vulnerable with two OLB’s who couldn’t cover or play the run well. Add to that that Jovan Belcher also struggles in coverage (we’ll get to him another day) and the Chiefs would have a huge weakness on defense.
Another option would be to just leave Gilberry in his current role as a situational pass rusher. The problem with that is that Gilberry is still vulnerable against the run. That means the Chiefs would have to put someone else in on running downs, however teams don’t always run when they are supposed to. Thus Gilberry would hardly ever be on the field on first downs and if the running down DE doesn’t excel at rushing the passer then teams could attack the Chiefs through the air on first down and only have to worry about stopping Hali.
The last option the Chiefs would have available to them is to trade Gilberry to a 4-3 team in need of a pass rusher. The problem with this move is that the Chiefs probably wouldn’t get back what Gilberry is really worth. Pass rushers are valuable but Gilberry’s limited 3-4 numbers wouldn’t likely be enough to get the Chiefs a really high pick. What would likely happen is the Chiefs might be able to squeeze a 3rd rounder out of Wallace only to see him go on to produce a double digit sack season in a 4-3.
The wild card option that will never happen is that the Chiefs just switch back to a 4-3 defense. They could move Hali back to DE to join Gilberry as the team’s bookend pass rushers. Dorsey could go back to his natural position as a DT and Shaun Smith and Sweet Ron could help him plug up the middle. Then the Chiefs could roll with DJ, Belcher, Demorrio Williams and Andy Studebaker at linebacker and play them in whatever combination works the best.
The obvious problem with our wild card option, other than the fact that it will never happen, is that Romeo Crennel is a 3-4 and would likely depart. Losing Romeo would just be foolish. As would switching an entire defensive system to suit one player but hey, I’m playing jazz here.
Thus I ask you (and please vote in the poll below) what the hell should the Chiefs do with Wallace Gilberry?
Chiefs Roster Evaluation: