It's good to be the Carolina Panthers: trending upwards in DVOA, with an easier schedule and postseason path moving them past the Patriots as our Super Bowl favorites.
26 Mar 2013
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 "starters" for each unit rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
The 2012 Chiefs weren’t as bad as their 2-14 record indicated. They were often on the wrong side of sloppy and, at times, even unlucky turnovers. That’s obviously a problem, but it’s a problem that doesn’t tend to carry over into the next season. That said, the dire ineffectiveness of Matt Cassel coupled with the receiving corps’ inability to get open downfield would have hamstrung this offense. No matter how well you run the ball, you can’t win anything of substance in today’s NFL if your passing game stinks. New head coach Andy Reid knows this. That’s why one of his first orders of business was to make a change under center. Unfortunately, a limited veteran and rookie market compelled him to give up the No. 34 overall pick plus a future high-rounder for Alex Smith. That’s too steep a price for a quarterback who must always be protected with safer play-calling.
QB: Alex Smith, Chase Daniel; Lost: Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn
RB: Jamaal Charles, Shaun Draughn, Cyrus Gray; Lost: Peyton Hillis
Alex Smith is best characterized as a "rich man’s Matt Cassel." He has limitations but at least he won’t turn the ball over. As Smith showed the past two years in San Francisco, he can win when there’s a strong run game to fall back on. But he also showed that he can’t win (on a regular basis, anyway) when the game plans hinge on his arm. In his 14 years in Philadelphia, Reid never could bring himself to craft run-first gameplans week in and week out. If he wants to get this subtly solid offense back on track, he’ll have to change his mindset by making Charles and the zone running game the backbone.
WR: Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin, Donnie Avery, Dexter McCluster, Devon Wylie; Lost: Steve Breaston
TE: Tony Moeaki, Anthony Fasano, Steve Maneri; Lost: Kevin Boss
$26 million guaranteed is probably a bit too much for retaining Bowe, but it made sense to bring him back. Despite all the drops and the occasionally incongruent routes, Bowe is still a tough one-on-one matchup, particularly on inside patterns. Baldwin hasn’t yet turned his flashes into the constant illumination that’s needed to justify his 2011 first-round status. It’s concerning that he’s been so heavy-footed on downfield routes. In a vacuum, McCluster has the athleticism to be a star utility weapon. Problem is, football isn’t played in a vacuum. He’s yet to flourish in any role, which is why the speedy-but-injury-prone Avery was signed. At tight end, Moeaki must rediscover his 2010 (i.e. pre-knee injury) form. If he’s 100 percent, he has the all-around skills to handle the classic tight end duties that Reid’s system demands. If he can’t get on track, Fasano, who will see plenty of action as a No. 2, will get the first string reps.
LT: Branden Albert LG: Jeff Allen C: Rodney Hudson RG: Jon Asamoah RT: Donald Stephenson
Backups: Geoff Schwartz, Rich Ranglin; Lost: Eric Winston, Ryan Lilja
If the Chiefs do take Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher with the first pick, it will be because they’re very high on one of those players, not because they’re low on Stephenson or Albert. Last season, Stephenson did show a concerning tendency to lose technique and bend at the waist late in the down, but he also held up well at times in isolation. It’s too early to make a final determination on him. The other tackle, Albert, has been sturdy on the left side and would be excellent on the right side if the Chiefs do take a tackle at the top of the draft. Inside, Allen struggles to redirect in a phone booth, but he’s good on the move. Hudson and Asamoah also do well on the move given their size. That, in fact, is the key to Kansas City’s run game. They have a meaty front five that can zone-block with cohesive outside flow.
Despite the somewhat tepid pass rush and a susceptibility to allowing long drives in critical moments, the Chiefs had a pretty good defense in 2012. It was smart of Reid to hire former Jets assistant Bob Sutton to coordinate this unit. Sutton will retain the 3-4 scheme that Kansas City’s most expensive defenders –- Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Dontari Poe –- are built to play in. Expect a lot of Sutton’s defensive concepts to take advantage of the fact that this unit is vastly more effective in man coverage than it is zone.
DE: Mike DeVito, Tyson Jackson, Allen Bailey, Dan Muir; Lost: Glenn Dorsey, Ropati Pitoitua, Shaun Smith
DT: Dontari Poe, Anthony Torribo, Jerrell Powe
Jackson certainly hasn’t lived up to his draft status, but that doesn’t make him a bum. DeVito was a great addition; he can attract double teams, penetrate, and shed blocks. Bailey is an intriguing inside and outside player in sub-packages, but not an every-down force. Poe made encouraging progress as a callow rookie last season. He moves extremely well in tight quarters. The next step for him is learning to do it against elite competition and on a regular basis. It helps that backup Powe can be an occasional playmaker in handling 40 percent of the base package snaps.
OLB: Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Andy Studebaker, _______
ILB: Derrick Johnson, Cory Greenwood, _______, ________ Lost: Brandon Siler
Hali is a tireless edge force who plays with near-perfect leverage. Houston is evolving into a standout complementary rusher. Both players are very good against the run. They’ll have to drastically improve in coverage if Sutton’s scheme is anything like the one he learned under Rex Ryan. Inside, Johnson is one of the few dime linebackers in the league who can single-handedly keep an offense’s ground game in check. Improved instincts mixed with his speed and fluidity have made him a perennial Pro Bowler. The Chiefs just need to find someone to play alongside him in the base 3-4 and a few guys to back him and his teammates up.
CB: Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith, Dunta Robinson, Javier Arenas, Jalil Brown
S: Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis, Jose Gumbs; Lost: Abe Elam, Travis Daniels
Flowers is a tremendous one-on-one corner, particularly out of press technique to the boundary. He’s not a true shutdown corner, and he pretty much only plays the left side, but he can handle most No. 1 receivers with minimal safety help. Smith is lanky and athletic, but some fear he’s too much of an underachiever. He’s very viable on the outside, as well, though he must tighten up against comebacker type patterns. Robinson is a solid tackler who works better in off-coverage and zone concepts. There’s talk that he’ll play free safety, which makes sense. That would allow Arenas to stay in the slot where he’s more of a playmaker. At strong safety, Berry is a good rover, but he must improve his technique in man coverage. He had a lot of trouble against upper-level tight ends last season. Antonio Gates, Jermaine Gresham, Heath Miller, and Tony Gonzalez combined to catch 21 of 24 passes for 271 yards (12.9 yards per reception) against Kansas City. All other tight ends combined to catch 38 of 65 passes for 405 yards (6.2 yards per reception).
K: Ryan Succop, P: Dustin Colquitt
Colquitt was the most valuable punter in the league in 2012 but wasn't nearly that good in previous years.
34 comments, Last at 01 Apr 2013, 11:09am by Dean