With news of the lock-out sounding like there might be light at the end of the tunnel, I am going to start breaking down the Chiefs roster. I am going to do each position as a group starting with the most important position on the field, quarterback.
Last year heading into the season one of the Chiefs biggest concerns was quarterback play after Matt Cassel’s first year in KC was a major disappointment. KC fans were not yet sold on a career back up being the leader of our beloved franchise. As the year went on though, Cassel silenced his critics on the field by performing at a level that earned him a trip to the pro bowl, even if it was to replace an uninterested Tom Brady. Most of Kansas City has seen enough now to agree with Scott Pioli, that this man is capable of leading a team to success.
Pioli drafted this guy, not for Kansas City who selected QB James Kilian from Tulsa one slot before him, but for New England with the 230th overall pick in the 7th round of the 2005 NFL draft. Pioli has believed in this guy without even seeing him play in college and decided to bring him to Kansas City to lead his new team. The Chiefs could have saved a lot of money had they just got their man with the 229th pick, but that’s where the difference in talent evaluators between Carl and Scott.
What Pioli inherited here in KC was a mess left by Herm Edwards and Carl. We had no quarterback, no defense and our best player was a homophobic running back that had been Herm’s work horse that had nothing left in the tank. Cassel wasn’t exactly set up for success when he got here. He also did nothing to make people in KC feel warm and fuzzy, going 4-12 his first season. Cassel had career worst numbers completing just 55% of his passes and only 2,924 YDS and 16/16 TD/INT. Keep in mind this was a team being built from shambles and not a lot of talent to go around. I am not trying to defend Cassel’s play that year, but the year before when he had adequate talent he put up 3,693 YDS with a 21/11 TD/INT and an 89.4 QB rating, which is very acceptable.
Cassel continues to improve and has become the leader of the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2010 while leading the Chiefs to the AFC West title, Cassel threw for 3,116 YDS 27/7 TD/INT and a 93.0 QB rating. Also, keep in mind when people take shots at his yardage numbers, KC’s offense was the #1 rushing offense, so there wasn’t as much urgency to throw the ball as other teams may feel. The emergence of Jamal Charles and Dwayne Bowe as Pro-Bowl caliber weapons definitely helped in Cassel’s improvement and will be important guys he will utilize this coming season. Another year together is only going to strengthen their chemistry, throw in the second year talent in Moeaki and first round pick Jon Baldwin and Cassel now has the adequate tools to operate at the highest levels possible.
I get the feeling Matt Cassel feels like this is his team and it is going to be up to him to see how far he can take them. I’ve always been a Cassel guy since watching him come in and beat the Chiefs in week 1 when Tom Brady went down in 2008. I think he is poised to be a breakout player of the year, even though he went to the Pro-Bowl last year, I still don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. I’m predicting that we haven’t even seen the start of how good Cassel can be. I have a sneaky feeling he will climb into the higher echelon of QB’s this season and could see him playing in the Pro Bowl again this year. By echelon just to clear up, not Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, those guys are pretty much on a different level than everyone else, but right below them.
My expectations of Matt Cassel next year: 3,890 YDS 30/11 TD/INT 95.5 QB rating. With Bowe, Baldwin, Moeaki, Charles and McCluster as weapons we know will be there, look for KC to have a top 5 offense this year. I also hope that free agency allows people with less than 6 years of eligibility to hit the market and maybe bring in Steve Breaston.
As excited as I am about Matt Cassel for this year, I also worry a little about the Chiefs depth behind him. Ricky Stanzi seems to have all the making of a solid NFL player. Drafted in the fourth round by the Chiefs, many viewed that as a very solid pick. Obviously not a guy that’s going to come in from day one and wow people, but I think will be a great understudy to Matt. You couldn’t get any closer if you tried to find a guy with the same build as Cassel as you have with Ricky Stanzi. Both stand at 6’4 and right around the 225 mark. They both have some mobility that can keep the play going, but they aren’t Mike Vick.
Stanzi was 26-9 at Iowa in his career, posting his best season as a senior. He progressed every season and took a huge step forward his senior campaign. Stanzi threw for 3,004 YDS and 25/6 TD/INT ratio. He was very efficient and one of the best QB’s in the nation. Keep in mind he played in the Big 10, who aren’t exactly known for airing it out. He ran a pro-style offense under Pioli’s good friend Kirk Ferentz, so my belief is that Scott feels like he has a very good read on this guy.
If you ask Mel Kiper what he thinks of Stanzi, he will go on and on about how he thinks in a few years he will be the starting QB for the Chiefs. Scouts do see potential in this guy, but time will be the judge of that. I will go on record saying I am a Stanzi fan and would love to see him take No. 12 so I don’t have to look at Brodie Croyle ever again in a Chiefs uniform. Stanzi might very well be a solid No. 2 for now, but I’ll wait until the preseason to pass judgment on that. It is a little scary knowing that if Cassel goes down my season is in the hands of a rookie.
I could see the Chiefs bringing in a veteran QB to take some snaps in training camp and possibly keep on the roster, but I think they are pretty high on Cassel, Stanzi and will deal with Palco being reserve number 3. They did get a good look at a guy in Todd Bouman when Jacksonville came here last year who proved he was servicable. That would be an affordable safety net, assuming they bring in a more veteran guy.
One thing I am looking forward to seeing at this position is Jim Zorn. The Chiefs brought him in to be the quarterbacks coach and that was the best offseason acqusition. Zorn will benefit all the QB’s and by bringing him in, we won’t skip a beat without Charlie Weis. Zorn is probably the biggest reason I think Cassel will have a great year.
Next up Running Backs.