Kansas City Chiefs: Can Tamba Hali Become an Elite Pass-Rusher?
The Chiefs selected Hali out of Penn State with the 20th pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft, and he has since tallied 53.5 career sacks and 22 forced fumbles.
While Hali has been the best Chief at getting to the opposing quarterback since his arrival into the league, his name regularly fails to be mentioned when discussing the premier sack artists across the entire NFL—perhaps falling somewhere in the second tier.
However, most of the leading pass-rushers in the league either make up one integral part of a dominant front seven or play for teams that work with regular leads late in games, forcing their opponents to pass the ball more often in order to catch up on the scoreboard. Thus, they create more opportunities to sack the quarterback—neither of which the Chiefs have been familiar with in recent years.
That could all change for the Chiefs in 2012.
Coming off a middling 2011 season in which the Chiefs sputtered out of the gate ill-prepared and were hit hard with the injury bug, the team enters the 2012 campaign with a much more direct agenda.
With expectations riding high—and for good reason after general manager Scott Pioli orchestrated one of the best offseasons in recent memory—the Chiefs are in a good position to take back the AFC West title and possibly come away with their first playoff victory since 1994.
If things go as planned, the Chiefs will be playing the majority of their games with a lead as their schedule becomes manageable throughout the entire season. This means that Hali and Co. will be afforded an increased chance at sacking the opposing quarterback, something Hali took advantage of in 2010 while recording a career high 14.5 sacks.
However, the one difference with this year’s defense is that the front seven has a chance to take a huge leap forward and become a special unit.
In addition to Hali, Derrick Johnson is coming off a Pro-Bowl season and outside linebacker Justin Houston finished his rookie campaign strong, totaling 5.5 sacks while making 10 starts.
Houston slipped to the Chiefs in the third round of last year’s draft not because of ability, but due to off-the-field issues flagged by testing positive for marijuana at the combine. Once considered a first round talent, his continued progression will force teams to pay attention to both sides of the pass rush and shy away from double teaming Hali.
However, the most critical factor in Hali’s quest to garner the respect he deserves as one of the league’s best pass-rushers is the potential contribution of rookie defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
While the jury is still out on Poe, he possesses the prototypical size, speed and strength to dominate at the nose tackle position in the NFL. If that happens as early as this season, the entire defense—not only the front seven, or specifically Hali—will profit significantly from a regular push in the trenches.
Hali has all the makings to become one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, but the additional help and development of those around him could rekindle memories of Derrick Thomas around Kansas City.
And those familiar with No. 58 know just how breathtaking those memories were.
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