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UCLA's quarterback clearly has the talent to succeed as an NFL starter. The question is whether or not he can avoid enough mistakes to become a superstar.

26 Mar 2013

State of the Team: Kansas City Chiefs

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.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

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.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.




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.

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 26 Mar 2013

34 comments, Last at 01 Apr 2013, 11:09am by Dean


by nuk :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 11:47am

Your color scheme is hard for me to remember. Rainbow order would be much clearer to me.

by Theo :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 11:54am

or 7 shades of grey

by cm2006 (not verified) :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 4:39am

Not really.

Blue is blue chipper best of best
Green go, good

Red the worst
Pink a little better than red

Grey 50 50

makes perfect sense

by cm2006 (not verified) :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 4:42am


gray greyed out not on the team
black in blue/green red terms is neither so is avg

yellow is shading toward red

maybe it could be improved increasing shades of badness
yellow orange red
instead of yellow pink red

by DEW (not verified) :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 12:11pm

Hm, a little higher on Sean Smith than I'd think and a lot lower on Alex Smith (really, he doesn't even qualify for black text after a good year and a half?). Possibly the similar last names were confusing?

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 2:25pm

More than a year and a half, a good two years. The second half of 2010 was good for him, and contrary to popular opinion that's when he made his big jump, not with the arrival of Harbaugh. He had some terrible play-calling under Singletary that year, too.

I think most people who are as down on Alex Smith as Benoit is haven't watched him play much, particularly not before Harbaugh arrived. I don't know if this is true of Benoit himself, but his opinions sound like those of half a dozen other pundits that are mostly ignorant about the guy.

Kansas City got a pretty good quarterback, I think, and advanced stats from DVOA to QBR back that up.

Isn't it odd that there are no references to FO stats in these articles?

by theslothook :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 3:34pm

I don't see the hype for smith. 2010- 2011(including his revitalized year) - he threw for 300 yards exactly once(0 times in 2011). Now, that yardage alone isn't a big deal if it weren't for the fact that he had a huge completion percentage and played in a period when passing yardage had never been easier to accumulate. That told me he was throwing a ton of short passes. Lets not also forget that the 49ers broke the fg record that year - really implying that this wasn't exactly a great offense.

The real point to be made though is - there was a qb who looked even better than smith at one point. In fact, his second half dvoa was the best in the league and on par with his predecessor's dvoa. His name was Matt Cassel and he went on to be a spectacular failure. The lesson? Player's around you matter. Smith is on a team that is absolutely loaded with talent. Ben Muth called his line the best hes graded in three years. His receiving core, while not particular deep, has two outstanding receiving options in crabtree and davis. Those two alone probably push the 49ers in to the top 15 in terms of receiving core, if not higher.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 4:52pm

While the line really coalesced into a great unit this year, it still wasn't that great at pass blocking and it was only during the first half of this year that Smith didn't have to put up with Chilo Rachal or Adam Snyder at guard. In previous years Smith was not helped by Anthony Davis and Iupati learning on the job or the coaching by Jim Hostler and Jimmy Raye and the receivers were never particularly good. Cassel had Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and a line that has routinely been amongst the best coached in the game, 'players around you matter' cuts both ways.

"Those two alone probably push the 49ers in to the top 15 in terms of receiving core, if not higher." - Firstly, it really was those two alone for most of the time and it took both of them years to reach their potential, until this year most people would have regarded Crabtree as a marginal starter and you only have to go back a few seasons to find the niners' chapter of FOA declaring Davis to be a bust. Perhaps Smith deserves some blame for that but he wasn't the starter the whole time and they weren't great for anyone else.

As for his lack of 300 yard games, you shouldn't make such a big issue of an arbitrary landmark which has historically correlated better with losing than winning (because teams run when ahead and throw when behind), especially when the 49ers have preferred to run the ball according to the mindsets of Nolan, Singletary and Harbaugh.

I'd be surprised if Smith is the turnover machine Cassel was last year.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 5:12pm

Smith isn't a captain checkdown. His yards per attempt has been climbing since 2009, and was above league average this year. Don't confuse few attempts for short passes.

By contrast, NE was the only year that Cassel wasn't a checkdown machine.

by theslothook :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 5:58pm

But that was Cassel's first start since highschool. Imagine if Brady had retired or something and Cassel had had another 3 years in that system. I imagine we'd all be pretty convinced he was a very good quarterback - if not a probowler. My general point was - talent around you really can alter perceptions in a highly misleading sort of way.

Sometimes - you need these kind of natural experiments to take place to get an idea of it. Cutler's performance with denver vs chicago, - Colts performance sans manning, etc etc. Even pats performance sans Brady(brady does take a very good unit and make them elite after all).

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 1:16pm

You missed my point. Cassel was better in that first year than he was at KC. He's never been a guy to throw a lot of bombs, but he was much more willing to do that on the Patriots than on the Chiefs.

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 2:49pm

You are actually wrong - according to pff last year - Smith had a larger share of his attempts come from short throws than any other qb. And btw, I don't understand your point.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 7:28pm

And you haven't looked very closely at the overall situation. You note that Ben Muth praised the SF OL, but ignored the fact that he also considered the KC OL to be very good. You talk about the 'talent' around Smith in SF, but forget that Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe aren't exactly chopped liver compared to Gore and Crabtree. And while Moeaki and Fasano might not equate to Vernon Davis, they're not a disastrous downgrade.

The main difference between the Chiefs and 49ers wasn't the quality of personnel on offense (except maybe QB), but the performance on D, and the 49ers' extraordinary lack of injuries for two straight years.

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 7:45pm

Well I did say that KC has good talent too. I admitted as much and I do think its a good fit overall. Just, hard to believe they gave up as much as they did.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 9:29pm

In either of the previous two years I would agree that the compensation was far too much but this year there isn't as much chance of finding a qb elsewhere, I think that makes the deal a bit closer. I doubt the niners get a second most years.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 10:07pm

No, you said that "players around you matter" and then proceeded to explain to all of us that the SF OL, Vernon Davis, and Crabtree were the difference between Smith and Cassel.

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 11:03pm

No i meant SF OL, Davis and Crabtree were the difference between SF's offensive DVOA in 2011 vs 2012. Obviously, I should add that I think Smith's familiarity with the scheme helped immensely too as he had gotten quite adept at audibles.

by theslothook :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 5:55pm

I don't mean to make huge assumptions of 300 yard games. I actually used it only to show that Smith isn't the straw that stirs the drink so to speak. I think the big point was - this was the first year in a long while where the 49ers had a very strong offense and the point to be made was - it wasn't the result of Smith taking a big step as much as it was crabtree and the offensive line really becoming top units/players. The point I ultimately was trying to make was - trying to pretend that the evidence supports Smith being even in the TOny Romo category is not really there. He looked like a competent starter with SF, and I actually think he will be pretty successful in KC as well. But lets not pretend that he's anything more than that. If were on a team like the titans, jaguars, or raiders - those teams would still be looking to draft a future qb within the next year. To me - that's not a good enough player to be trading away such high picks for.

by greybeard :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 1:07am

You showed great restraint here by not bringing up the Giants game. I know it was very, very tempting for you.

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 1:13am

Lol...i'm not a 49er hater you know!

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 1:15am

Lol...i'm not a 49er hater you know! As to the giants game - I am probably reading way more into it that is fair. After all - one game anyone can look like garbage. That said, yes I was tempted but people like you properly roasted me on it and I had to hold back :P. I honestly felt like that game was smith in a nutshell.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 4:01pm

No one was calling Crabtree a top player until the latter half of this year, and no one was calling the SF o-line a top unit until this year. In 2011 the right-side of that line was well below average, Crabtree was considered a marginal starter, and the only consistent target Smith was supposed to have had was V. Davis.

"Competent starter" who's going to be "pretty successful" is more credit than Benoit is giving him, and I'm still not sure who you think KC could have drafted this year in round 2 who would be a better QB than Smith. Competent starters are pretty rare.

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 4:09pm

I'll concede that maybe that's just the going price of a competent starter. Let me put it this way, there's a reason most gms came out and said the consensus is that the 49ers were big winners in this trade - if not outright theft.

by Anonymous13 (not verified) :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 9:23pm

Alex Smith actually was the most accurate QB - when you adjust for throwing distance, according to PFF. He completed 7.4% more of his passes than expected. #2 was Rodgers with 7.2%,#3 was Peyton.
Alex' air yards per aimed throws (adjusted for distance) were 4th highest, and he had the 2nd best 'air yards/aim above expected'.

Statistically, these are not the numbers of elite QBs, if only because all 4 elite QBs fared worse by these metrics.


by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 6:02pm

Andy's our film guy, and he wanted to do this from his perspective. However, we will be trying to address whenever his scouting reports differ significantly from FO stats. For example, the Chiefs were 11th in DVOA against tight ends last year, so I wanted to add some numbers to show why that ranking hides the trouble that Berry had with the top tight ends. Even after opponent adjustments, the Chiefs were much, much better than average against run-of-the-mill tight ends but worse than average against the best tight ends.

I also understand what you are saying about Smith, but most people seem to agree that the structure of the San Francisco offense really helped him. Also, remember that his massively improved 2011 still improved him only to slightly above average (3.1% DVOA). He really has only one year, 2012, with very good numbers.

by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 1:35am

It wouldn't surprise me if the Chiefs were to improve dramatically with the changes they made and switch Cassel for Smith should be a big deal.

But, why does everybody, even this site which had a terrible, bottom of the league ranking on defense as well as offense and understate how terrible they were last year on both sides of the ball. I think they can be much improved, but it would have been more interesting to hear about what caused this dropoff from somebody who has studied the film.

Anyhow, they were much better the year before by DVOA, but I was hoping that there would be more discussion explaining that side of the ball.

Overall, I've enjoyed reading this, though.

by theslothook :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 2:09am

To me- The 2012 chiefs are eerily similar to the 2010 Carolina Panthers. A team that had otherwise pretty solid core of players but was hamstrung by horrific qb play and unlucky bounces.

Having watched two chiefs games in particular - I believe brady quinn being named the starter made them even worse than Matt Cassel. Brady quinn was beyond abysmal. While we're at it, we should add Crenel has now proven himself to be a significantly below average head coach to boot. The two combined can easily wreck an otherwise talented team.

by big_jgke :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 1:49pm

I wrote this yesterday, but any chance of changing the 'lost' players to the colour-coded talent rankings? It would definitely give a fuller perspective on team personnel changes.

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 03/26/2013 - 2:25pm


by BlueStarDude :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 8:18pm

If Carson Palmer is adequate then shouldn't Alex Smith be, too? Wouldn't Smith be closer to Palmer (I'd argue he's ahead of him) than to Chase Daniels who is also a JAG? Or maybe Smith and Palmer are both JAGs (Palmer's DVOA after all was close to replacement level).

by young curmudgeon :: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 9:14pm

re the linebacker comment: Technically speaking, instinct is an innate action/ability, performed correctly on its first appearance. So speaking of someone's "improved instincts" doesn't really make sense. Of course, in common parlance, we often talk about "football instincts, basketball instincts, etc.," so everyone knows what you mean. However, as a biologist, I wish we had another way to say it that wasn't misleading about a useful concept.

by tunesmith :: Thu, 03/28/2013 - 4:51pm

I'm having trouble telling the difference between Adequate, Just A Guy, and Needs An Upgrade. Conceptually, it seems that Just A Guy would be either Adequate or Needs An Upgrade. If you're less than adequate, doesn't that deserve an upgrade? I know, total nitpick but I'm having trouble keeping the categories straight in my head.

by cm2006 (not verified) :: Sun, 03/31/2013 - 4:58am

what about changing the term "just a guy" to "hanging on barely." There is a category for players like that in my mind.

Red is for the Vikings (my team) MLB, CB, DT and WR. Just a guy for the Vikings is OG. I hope we focus there somewhere after our 4th pick. If we don't upgrade it won't be the end of the world.

by Dean :: Mon, 04/01/2013 - 11:09am

I find all the criticisms about the colors to be rather frustrating. The fact of the matter is, you're seeing a system that actual NFL personnel guys use, and you're complaining about it. To name one specific example, former Rams Gm Tony Softli specifically grades top players as Blue and Green. I also know for a fact that he has a category for "just a guy" although I don't know for certain what color he assigns to it.

You finally get the real thing and you complain. Must be the internet.