Should the Chiefs Draft a Tackle at #21? Not Unless He Can Get Open and Catch Passes Downfield!

You may remember how passionate I was last year that the Chiefs NOT draft a tackle at #5 and how pleased I was when Pioli grabbed Eric Berry who arguably had the best first year of any safety in the history of the NFL (16 starts, 92 tackles, 2 sacks, 13 passes defensed, 4 interceptions/1 for TD, 1 forced fumble) and became a Pro Bowler in his rookie year.  

No matter how disappointing the playoff game against the Ravens was, Berry was fantastic and showed Ed Reed close up that he and Troy Polomalu have competition for the label of “Best Safety in the NFL”.


Here's my post from Feb 24 of last year detailing why the Chiefs shouldn't take a left tackle at #5:


Even though the “draft pundits” are routinely mocking a T or an OLB to the Chiefs at #21 in this year’s draft, I hope to explain to you in this post why that makes no sense and why I have faith in Scott Pioli and staff to realize what the real weaknesses of the team are and draft accordingly.


First, let’s address the issue of the Chiefs offensive line and whether we should draft a tackle (most "experts" propose a right tackle at #21 who could eventually move to left tackle and kick Branden Albert inside to guard when Brian Waters retires, but they forget that we already have Jon Asamoah waiting in the wings to replace Waters).  Let’s also for a moment, ignore the relative quality of talent available even though this is considered to be a weak year for tackles without a consensus #1 at the position.  In fact, no tackle is certain to go in the Top 10 and maybe only a single tackle, Nate Solder, is considered a “safe” pick to make it in the NFL as a franchise left tackle.  Most of the others have questions and are candidates to fail at left tackle and be forced to play the less challenging right side in the NFL.


Instead let’s focus on whether the Chiefs truly have a need at tackle at all.  In the NFL, the left tackle is considered the primary pass protector, while the right tackle is expected to be the “road grader” who allows the running back to pile up yards in big chunks. 


Let’s focus first on run blocking.  We know that the Chiefs had the #1 rushing offense in the NFL last year.  Was that because Jamaal Charles is an insanely great running back or did the Chiefs offensive line blast holes in the defense that even one of us could plod through for at least 4 yards?


The answer is BOTH


According to Football Outsiders which runs an insane number of statistics and analyzes the NFL from every possible angle, the Chiefs offensive line was the 6th best in the NFL last year in run blocking.  The offensive line was exceptional at opening holes for Jamaal (and Thomas Jones) and he was HISTORIC (2nd highest YPC in the history of the NFL) at being able to squirt through them and make as much as possible out of every opportunity.


The Chiefs ran 27% of their running plays to the left side, 51% of their running plays up the middle and 22% of their running plays to the right side.  The NFL average is 25% left, 50% middle and 25% right so we were less likely to run to the right than the average team, probably because Barry Richardson was a first year starter at right tackle.


So how did Richardson do?  Barry Richardson performed exceptionally well as a “road grader” as the Chiefs ranked 2nd in the NFL in rushes over right end (outside the tackle where Richardson has to block his man to the inside).  What more could we ask for?  Only St. Louis with former #2 OVERALL PICK Jason Smith at right tackle (chosen right before Tyson Jackson in 2009 and failed as a left tackle so was kicked over to the right side by last year’s 2nd round pick Rodger Saffold who had a GREAT rookie year) ran better over right end than did the Chiefs.


Richardson and Ryan Lilja also performed pretty well in their first year together as a tandem as the Chiefs were 19th in the NFL in rushes over right tackle (where the right guard blocks to the inside and the right tackle blocks to the outside to clear the hole).  This was the 2nd worst rushing result for the Chiefs last season so I’m sure it’s an area that will get focus.  With Ryan Lilja playing at a Pro Bowl level and Richardson ascending, I feel confident that Pioli will allow the NFL’s most talented offensive line guru, Bill Muir, to tutor Barry Richardson and that Lilja and Richardson will work even better together as a tandem as they become more familiar with one another.  I can’t see Pioli using our precious 2011 first round pick to start over with a rookie right tackle.


If you look to the left side, the rushing results were even more exciting.  The Chiefs were 4th in the NFL in rushes over left end and 5th in rushes over left tackle, so Branden Albert and Brian Waters were a kick ass tandem.  In fact, the only true weakness of the Chiefs offensive line was its “Power Ranking” where our ability to pick up a yard or two when necessary (3rd and short, 4 and short, goal line rush play) was below average (20th in the NFL with only a 57% success rate – Miami was #1 with an 83% success rate).  This honestly is a reflection of our decision to run a zone blocking scheme (with smaller, more agile lineman) and a direct result of our 37-year old, 285 pound center, Casey Wiegmann.  Clearly center is a position of need in this draft and I expect the Chiefs to grab a 300+ LB center with strength AND agility in rounds 2-5.


So no need to select a tackle to improve our running game.  What about pass protection?  Do we need to select a first round tackle to improve our pass protection?


The Chiefs surrendered 32 sacks last year which was tied for 12th in the NFL with the Houston Texans.  In the final meaningless regular season game blowout by the Raiders, we surrendered 7 of those 32 sacks (22% of our total sacks), so you could argue that the distraction regarding Weis’s departure and the meaningless nature of the game impacted the Chiefs final sack total/ranking a lot!  But let’s work with the final numbers.


I decided to create my own calculation of sacks allowed per pass attempt.  Since the Chiefs ran the ball so much, I wondered if our raw sacks allowed total might have been artificially low because Cassel didn’t drop back to pass as often as most.  What I discovered is that the Chiefs were sacked 6.7% of the time that Cassel (or Croyle against SD) dropped back to pass (32 sacks/475 pass attempts).  The best in the NFL were the Indianapolis Colts where Peyton Manning was sacked on only 2.3% of his pass attempts (Archie Manning must have taught his boys to get rid of the ball quickly because Eli Manning was second with 2.9%).  The worst in the NFL were the Chicago Bears where Jay Cutler was sacked an incredible 12% of the time he dropped back to pass.


The Chiefs sacks/per pass attempt percentage was in the upper half of the NFL with some other comparisons being:


Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers = 7%

AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers = 9%

San Diego Chargers = 7%

Cleveland Browns (with Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas) = 7.5%

Miami Dolphins (with #1 overall pick and Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long) = 6.8%

Baltimore Ravens (with “Blind Side” hero Michael Oher at left tackle) = 8.1%

St. Louis Rams (with rookie left tackle star Rodger Saffold) = 5.8%

Atlanta Falcons (with last year’s worst left tackle Sam Baker chosen after Branden Albert in 2008) = 4%

New England Patriots = 4.9%

Houston Texans (tied with Chiefs at 32 sacks but more pass attempts) = 5.5%


As you can see from these percentages, a “franchise left tackle” is not the only piece of the puzzle to great pass protection and low sacks allowed totals.  Sam Baker was horrible at left tackle last year, but Atlanta had a very good sack ratio.  Why?  Because their interior line was very good AND Matt Ryan is an awesome quarterback who understands when to get rid of the ball instead of take a sack.


So I looked next at the Chiefs linemen individually to uncover who gave up how many sacks.  Here are the attributable sack totals for each Chiefs lineman in 2010 (doesn’t add up to 32 sacks because some sacks can’t be attributed to one or two players, some sacks are surrendered by non-starters where stats are unavailable and most importantly, some sacks are attributed to the quarterback for holding the ball too long, but more on that in a moment):


Branden Albert                  7.5 sacks (only 2 in the first 11 games of the year – MIA Long had 6, NE Light had 10, NYJ Ferguson had 2, DEN Clady had 7, BAL Oher had 7, CLE Thomas had 4.5, STL Saffold had 3.5, GB Clifton had 8.5, ATL Baker had 11.5!)

Brian Waters                     1 sack

Casey Wiegmann              0 sacks

Ryan Lilja                            1.5 sacks

Barry Richardson              5 sacks (1st round Packers pick Bulaga had 11!  DEN Harris, who I consider an upgrade to Richardson had 3.5, BAL Yanda had 6, PIT Flozell Adams had 6.5, STL Smith had 4, ATL Clabo had 5, NO Stinchcomb had 7)

Ryan O’Callaghan             0 sacks

Leonard Pope                    1 sack

Jake O’Connell                  1 sack

Thomas Jones                   1 sack


Total                                    18 sacks


So as you can tell, the Chiefs had a very good interior line for pass protection in 2011 with Waters, Wiegmann and Lilja only surrendering 2.5 sacks on the year.


So where are the other 14 sacks?  I found another excellent source where someone had studied every sack that happened in 2010 and timed how many of them happened in less than 3 seconds and how many happened on plays that lasted longer than 3 seconds.  3 seconds is considered to be the longest a quarterback should hold the ball before throwing it to a receiver or throwing it away.


Guess how many Chiefs sacks happened after 3 seconds thereby being “charged” to the quarterback? FOURTEEN.  That’s right, according to this source, Matt Cassel held the ball for more than three seconds and was sacked 14 times which represents 44% of the sacks surrendered by the Chiefs in 2010.


This was the FOURTH WORST PERCENTAGE in the NFL meaning that only three quarterbacks (Michael Vick,Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco) were responsible for a larger percentage of their team sacks allowed total that Matt Cassel (Flacco was at 63%!!!!)


Why would a smart QB like Matt Cassel hold the ball so long resulting in these sacks?  Because Dwayne Bowe and Tony Moeaki were covered, that’s why.  This stat DEMANDS that the Chiefs get a great free agent or rookie wide receiver to pair with Dwayne Bowe.  The fastest way to reduce the Chiefs sack total is NOT to draft a tackle to replace Barry Richardson or Branden Albert.  The fastest way to reduce the Chiefs ALREADY LOW sack total is to find a receiver who can get open when Bowe is doubled and Moeaki is covered.  A receiver who spreads the field and must be respected deep so that Cassel zings the ball to someone before the defense gets to him.  Hence the subject line of this post.


So I think it’s clear that the Chiefs shouldn’t use #21 to draft a tackle and that they must address both wide receiver and center before the 2011 season.  It’s possible that the Chiefs might draft C Mike Pouncey at #21 if he’s available.  It may be that Pioli believes one of the wide receivers after A.J. Green and Julio Jones (Jonathan Baldwin, Leonard Hankerson, Torrey Smith, Titus Young, Randall Cobb, etc.) is worth #21, but I don’t think so.  If free agency occurs, expect the Chiefs to be active at WR because there’s a lot of options out there who would make the Chiefs offense amazing in 2011.


So, if #21 is not a tackle and it’s not a wide receiver and it’s probably not a center, what position is it?  Many would have you believe that the Chiefs need to grab a “pass rusher” in the form of an OLB or a DE (which is ridiculous because the absolute BEST 3-4 defensive ends might get 5 sacks in a season) to compliment Tamba Hali and his 14.5 sacks in 2010.


I disagree and here’s several reasons why:


#1 – The Chiefs have a #3 overall pick invested in Tyson Jackson and he was progressing nicely last year before he got hurt and he played well late in the year when he was healthy again.

#2 – The Chiefs have an excellent situational rusher at DE in Wallace Gilberry who had 7 sacks while playing primarily on third down only.

#3 – The Chiefs have two promising young linebackers competing to replace Mike Vrabel in Andy Studebakerand Cameron Sheffield.  Studebaker has played extremely well in my mind when given the chance (reminds me a little bit of a poor man’s Clay Matthews) and Sheffield was impressive before he got hurt last year.  Why would you use a precious first round pick to add another rookie to this mix unless you’re ABSOLUTELY SURE the rookie linebacker is a stud?  Chiefs pick too late at #21 to have a chance at a stud pass rusher.

#4 – Successful 3-4 defenses are built around a 3 man defensive line that does three things – 1. Occupy all of the offensive line blockers to free the linebackers to make plays, 2. Set the edges to prevent run plays from getting around the defensive line so the linebackers can shoot the gaps and stop the ball carrier inside and 3. PUSH THE MIDDLE OF THE OFFENSIVE LINE BACK TO STOP THE RUN OR PUSH THE POCKET INTO THE QUARTERBACK TO FLUSH HIM TO THE RIGHT OR THE LEFT MAKING IT EASY FOR THE PASS RUSHING LINEBACKERS TO SACK HIM.


Have you seen any push in the middle of the Chiefs defensive line over the last 3 years?


Do you really want 32 year old Ron Edwards at NT again in 2011?  Anthony Toribio?


With Dorsey and Jackson developing into successful 3-4 defensive ends under the watchful eye of 3-4 expert Romeo Crennel, wouldn’t it be amazing to have a stud NT to develop along with them so our d-line would be set for the next 5-7 years?


How many more sacks could we get in 2011 (by the way, the Chiefs were TENTH in the NFL in sacks in 2010 with 39 sacks and that was with AARP member Mike Vrabel starting the entire season at OLB and recording NONE!  ZIP, ZERO, ZILCH) if our NT pushed the center back into the QB flushing him into the waiting arms of Hali or Studebaker once in a while?


How much rush yardage did we surrender last year because Ron Edwards was knocked on his ass by the opposing center?


How many games did we lose in the fourth quarter last year because our defense got tired? (answer is 3:  Indianapolis, Houston and first Oakland game)


I beseech Scott Pioli to give Romeo the NT that he desperately needs and I pray that the Chiefs choice at #21 in the 2011 NFL Draft is NT Phil Taylor from Baylor.  He has prototypical size for the position (6’ 3” and 337 pounds), is very strong (31 reps at 225 lbs) and surprisingly fast (5.09 in the 40 which is shocking for someone who weighs almost 340 lbs).  He’s bigger, stronger and faster than one of the other prospects the Chiefs might consider – Jerrell Powe (6’ 2” and 335, 27 reps and 5.25 in 40) and more polished and NFL-ready than the other - Kenrick Ellis (6’ 5” and 346, 26 reps and 5.2 in 40).  He was dominant against the quality competition in the Senior Bowl and impressively athletic at the Combine and his pro day.  He has character issues in his past, but grew up and made something of himself since transferring from Penn State to Baylor


16 of the 32 NFL teams currently run the 3-4 defense and nose tackle is the position in shortest supply.  There are a very small number of human beings on the Planet Earth who are 6’ 2” – 6’ 4” tall, 330+ lbs of MUSCLE with quick feet, foot speed and endurance.  Last year, we passed on Terrence Cody (chosen by the brilliant Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore), probably thought that Torell Troup would drop to us in the third (he didn’t – grabbed by the Bills five picks after we chose Dexter McCluster) and chose Cameron Sheffield in the 5th instead of Cameron Thomas (chosen 4 picks later by San Diego) who showed flashes at NT for the Chargers.


We NEED a great NT and this is the time!  The only realistic threat to take Phil Taylor before our pick at #21 (unless Jets or Steelers trade up above us) is the Chargers at #18 and they hopefully like Cam Thomas enough to address another position in the first.


Vince Wilfork was also chosen at #21 by Pioli and as the anchor of that 3-4 defensive line he’s made even average linebackers look talented.  A great NT plugs up the middle and occupies two blockers so the defensive ends can set the edge and the linebackers can attack the running lanes and rush the QB.  A great NT makes his defensive ends better.  A great NT makes his linebackers more productive.  A great NT makes it harder for the offense to run the ball.  Makes it harder for the QB to settle in the pocket as the center is pushed back into his lap.  A great NT makes a good 3-4 defense, a GREAT 3-4 defense.  Plus a great NT has a LONG career compared to a great RB or CB where age rapidly steals their “burst”.


I’m not as sure about Phil Taylor as I was about Eric Berry, but I think Phil Taylor could make the Chiefs a GREAT DEFENSE for the next 5-7 years!

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