Matt Cassel was thrown into the fire last year. He hadn't started a single game at quarterback since high school, and then was expected to take the place of New England Patriots All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady.
Now Cassel has been thrown back into the fire, this time for a team with fewer accolades, many fewer, than his previous one.
Will Cassel help the Chiefs return to greatness? Send them back to the postseason? Help them win more than three or four games?
A year ago, Cassel helped the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record, which just missed the playoffs. The Patriots and their faithful saw their hero, their quarterback, the best player in the NFL, go down in Week 1—against, of all teams, the Kansas City Chiefs.
As Brady was taken off the field, Patriots head man Bill Belichick had only one man to go to.
Prior to the 2008 NFL season, the last time Cassel flirted with glory, he was a highly-touted recruit out of Chatsworth High School in California.
ESPN ranked him as the eighth best quarterback nationwide, and the 53rd player overall, his senior year. Cassel had many college offers, but committed to the University of Southern California prior to his senior year of high school.
Cassel spent his entire USC career as a backup to Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer, and Matt Leinart.
Cassel actually was in the running for the starting spot in 2003, but eventually lost it to Leinart. This resulted in Cassel trying to switch to tight end and wide receiver. He also had a start at H-back for the Trojans—the only start of his college career. (Cassel also played baseball at USC, and was drafted in the 36th round by the Oakland A's.)
In his four years at USC, Cassel attempted just 33 passes, completing 19 for 192 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception.
So, as I asked myself a few years ago when I first heard of Cassell: How in the world was he even drafted?
The Patriots took Cassel in the seventh round with the 230th overall pick.
Cassel spent his first three seasons as Tom Brady's back up man. He saw limited snaps in those seasons, but never gave up. Cassel practiced hard, and earned the respect of his teammates. Through 2007 Cassel had saw action in 14 games. His production wasn't bad for 14 games as a backup: 22 for 39, with 253 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 picks.
Cassel always prepared himself well, but I don't believe even he was prepared for the 2008 season.
When thrust into action in Week 1 against Kansas City, Cassel actually played pretty well. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 152 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions.
Patriot fans were very worried about starting a guy who had saw limited time not only in the NFL, but also in college. Head coach Bill Belichick seemed to be the only man, besides the Patriots players, to have confidence in his quarterback.
Many believed the Pats front office would cut a deal to ship out Cassel and some others to get a legitimate NFL quarterback to fill in until Brady was healthy for 2009. It didn't work out that way. Cassel stayed in New England, and what a good choice it was for him.
He may not have taken the Patriots to the playoffs and another Super Bowl appearance, but his play in 2008 was very special.
Cassel completed 327 of his 516 passes for 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In my eyes, Cassel deserved the MVP award for the 2008 season. How could he not? A career backup man from his college days up until last season, look at his numbers, and his team had a 11-5 record.
Many thought the Patriots would either trade Cassel in the 2009 offseason, or re-sign him to continue to backup Tom Brady. The deal was cut, shipping Cassel and Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs for the 34th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
A move some Patriot fans were questioning, and a move Kansas City fans, like myself, are loving.
The big question is, can Cassel come in, help the Chiefs get back to the top, back to competing, and back to winning games?
He will have some solid targets to throw too. He won't have the big play ability of perennial Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez, but he will still have the solid play of Dwayne Bowe, Bobby Engram, and Mark Bradley. He will also be able to hand off to one of the NFL's top running backs, Larry Johnson.
The Chiefs' O-line should be able to protect Cassel, or at least I hope so. His targets should be enough to get him over 3,500 passing yards, and 22 touchdowns. I hope he can stay under 10 interceptions for the year.
Cassel will be a key player for the Chiefs in 2009. They will need his play dearly, especially after coming off the horrific 3-13 season of 2008. I truly believe he can step in and help this team win. He could use some more targets, but I see a 7-9 finish for the Chiefs in 2009. Not great, but much better than 2008.
As Cassel grows in KC, I look for him to continue to get better, and better. I also look for the Chiefs to get better and better with Cassel under center.
Look out for Kansas City in 2009. They could be the surprise team of the year.