1. Offensive Tackle
One name is synonymous with eye-rolling in Kansas City: Barry Richardson.
The former Clemson Tiger finished the 2011 season as Kansas City’s starting right tackle after Ryan O’Callaghan was placed on injured reserve. To his credit, Richardson is dynamic and capable of playing every position on the offensive line. However, Dana White could place a piñata in The Ultimate Fighter house, and it would still be beaten less than Barry Richardson.
Much like his aforementioned counterpart, Ryan O’Callaghan is an efficient backup, but far from the long-term answer.
Kansas City will undoubtedly attempt to fill this void in an offensive tackle-heavy Draft. Although the name “Devon Still” is becoming more popular by the day amongst Chiefs fans, right tackles such as Bobby Massie (Mississippi) and Levy Adcock (Oklahoma State) should still be on the board entering the second round.
2. Defensive End
The last time Kansas City had a threatening pass rush, Chiefs fans were sporting Jared Allen jerseys and mullets were fashionable at Arrowhead... well, to an extent.
In 2011, Kansas City finished the year in a four-way tie for 27th with 29 sacks – 12 belonging to Tamba Hali. Justin Houston, a rookie from Georgia, ranked second on the team with 5.5. What do they have in common? They’re both outside linebackers.
The Chiefs’ defensive ends accumulated 6.5 sacks throughout the season. The starting tandem of Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey produced only one (provided by Jackson). Obviously, 3-4 defenses tend to favor the linebacking corps, but one sack between a team’s starting duo is egregious.
Addressing the problem via April’s Draft is a possibility – especially if North Carolina’s Quinton Coples is still available – but Pioli may give the two first-round picks another chance to redeem themselves. Pioli will be forever linked to Jackson considering the defensive end out of LSU was his first pick as Kansas City’s general manager. Dorsey’s deal expires after the 2012 season, so he will be looking to make a favorable impression this year to gain leverage in contract negotiations.
There are several young prospects on the free-agent market this upcoming offseason, including Mario Williams, Calais Campbell and Cliff Avril. However, Arizona is expected to use the franchise tag on Campbell if the two can’t agree to terms on a contract, and the same holds true for Detroit and Avril. Williams, who is the most attractive option, would cost Houston nearly $23 million to retain his services if the tag is applied. Considering that the Texans are only $7 million under the cap, this scenario appears impractical.
Kansas City has the cap room to sign Williams, but he may not be the best fit. The 27-year-old made the switch to outside linebacker last season while Houston’s defense transitioned to a 3-4 under Wade Phillips. With All-Pro Tamba Hali and the emergence of the younger, cheaper Justin Houston, the Chiefs won’t be scouting the free-agent market for an outside linebacker. The question is: would Mario Williams be willing to revert back to playing defensive end in a 3-4 that is primarily predicated on run-stuffing up front?
During the 2010 season, Matt Cassel proved that he is capable of leading Kansas City to the Playoffs. However, his playoff performance in the first round against the Baltimore Ravens reaffirmed his critics’ doubts. In the 30-7 pummeling at the hands of Baltimore, Cassel completed just 9 of 18 passes for 70 yards with three interceptions. This past season – before being placed on injured reserve in Week 10 – Cassel’s production regressed in comparison to his career statistics; his quarterback rating plummeted from 82.5 to 76.6.
Following Cassel’s season-ending injury, Tyler Palko started four games and swiftly set back the reputation of undrafted quarterbacks for the foreseeable future. Kurt Warner, this guy is not. Pop Warner? Perhaps.
The well-traveled Kyle Orton made his first start in Week 15 against the then-undefeated Green Bay Packers; coincidentally, it was also Romeo Crennel’s first game as interim head coach. Saying that Kansas City’s fans’ expectations were low would be an understatement, but Arrowhead’s magic renewed itself in a 19-14 victory for the Chiefs. Orton and Crennel finished the 2011 season with a 2-1 record.
So, which direction steers Kansas City back on path in the road to the Playoffs?
Matt Cassel’s six-year, $63 million contract in 2009 is front-loaded, so retaining him is a foregone conclusion. However, General Manager Scott Pioli hinted that Cassel will have to earn his starting position back during the offseason.
“There will be increased competition at every position, including the quarterback position,” Pioli said.
Ricky Stanzi, the second-year product from Iowa, is the only other quarterback currently signed. Other than Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III – who are likely to be chosen within the first four picks of the Draft – there are no incoming rookies that will have the lofty expectations of starting out of the gate. Look for Kansas City to hit the free-agent market with Kyle Orton as the frontrunner.
Also, if Indianapolis decides to follow an “Out with the old, in with the new” approach, expect #Peyton to be trending in Kansas City.