Breaking Down All the New Faces on the 2014 Kansas City Chiefs
The 2014 Kansas City Chiefs are a tale of new faces in new places, which has the potential to get them over the infamous hump (see: migraine-inducing, 20-year winless playoff streak) that has annually taunted them for two decades.
Conversely, the experiment also has the potential to crash and burn, penning another depressing, "we'll get 'em next year" chapter in Kansas City's athletic archive.
On paper, the Chiefs defense looks to tout at least one new starter in all three lines of defense (defensive line, linebackers and secondary). Offensively, with the exception of slot receiver, the team's list of skill-position playmakers will return the usual suspects, while the offensive line doubles as the world's meatiest crapshoot.
However, a season ago, lackluster depth served as the proverbial thorn in Kansas City's side.
Despite injuries riddling the postseason offense, it still managed to pin 44 points on a Robert Mathis-led Indianapolis Colts defense.
The defense, meanwhile, veered off the path of success and hightailed it into the nearest ditch. Once Justin Houston was sidelined, a hobbled Tamba Hali failed to generate a pass rush by his lonesome, which, in the Chiefs' case (excluding Eric Berry), exposed the oxymoron known as "safeties."
The new recruits were enlisted to, in one way or another, avert the same tragedy from birthing a sequel.
UDFA: David Van Dyke, CB, No. 27
David Van Dyke, cousin of teammate and fellow cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, was utilized in a variety of roles at Tennessee State—primarily free safety—but he was recruited by Kansas City as a corner.
Having said that, he has the versatility to contribute in either role. If juxtaposed with safeties at the NFL combine, Van Dyke's pro day results, per NFL Draft Scout and NFL.com, would've ranked him No. 3 in the shuttle (4.12 seconds), No. 2 in the 40-yard dash (4.46 seconds) and No. 1 in the vertical (38.5").
Standing at 6'0", 185 pounds—and he'll need to add more muscle to his frame—the rookie has the length to play corner in Kansas City's secondary, though.
While film is scarce, Van Dyke appears to be a dedicated form tackler with considerable closing speed. However, his repertoire as a press-man corner remains a mystery, as Chiefs Spin's Herbie Teope reports that a pulled hamstring hamstrung him—pun completely intended—throughout OTAs:
Chiefs LB Ben Johnson has a “slight hamstring,” DeMarcus Van Dyke now dealing with a hamstring, like his cousin David.— Herbie Teope (@HerbieTeope) June 5, 2014
UDFA: Darryl Surgent, WR, No. 14
At 6'0", 195 pounds, and an ordinary 4.56 40 time, Darryl Surgent desperately needs to distinguish himself as a route-runner.
He averaged 16.4 yards per reception over the span of his career, but that number declined in each of four consecutive seasons. He does come equipped with first-class hands, though.
With four return touchdowns (evenly split between kickoffs and punts), Surgent will need to carve a niche on special teams if he hopes to breach the practice squad.
UDFA: Daniel Sorensen, S, No. 49
Daniel Sorensen is an instinctive, ball-hawking safety with limited athleticism.
His 4.67 40-yard dash, per NFL.com, at the combine likely made potential suitors hesitant to draft him. And on film, there were times when he was dusted on go routes, despite playing in a predominately Cover 2 scheme.
Sorensen is a special teams ace, but from a defensive standpoint, he won't be consistently effective at the next level unless he plays a role similar to that of Husain Abdullah in 2013.
If he roams in underneath zones or the back end of a two-deep look, Sorensen can make an impact. But he doesn't have the skill set to be a dependable single-high safety, which cripples his chances of surviving roster cuts.
UDFA: Cairo Santos, K, No. 5
When Ryan Succop learned that Cairo Santos was signed, I'm guessing his reaction mirrored that of Jeopardy! contestants when they wheeled Watson in.
Just when you think you're a genius, they pit you against digital Doogie Howser. Right when you think you've mastered kicking, they ink a Brazilian soccer player.
If judging by Santos' 2010, 2011 and 2013 seasons, he's an prominent kicker. If judging by 2012, he's a cyborg.
Over the course of his collegiate career, Santos converted 78.2 percent of field-goal attempts. But in 2012, he sliced the uprights in each of his 21 opportunities, winning the Lou Groza Award as the nation's best kicker, as noted by Yahoo Sports' Eric Adelson:
Groza winner Cairo Santos has a fantastic life story: http://t.co/D0TIK4sG— Eric Adelson (@eric_adelson) December 7, 2012
Throughout five NFL seasons, Succop's accuracy rests at 81 percent. However, when reviewing his time at South Carolina, that number retreats to 71 percent.
Translation: The Chiefs have two capable but semi-erratic kickers.
If the offseason duel goes down to the wire, kickoffs may come into play and prove to be the deciding factor. Early in his career, Santos struggled at the task, but by his senior year, he showcased a night-and-day improvement. Last season, per NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki and Pro Football Focus (PFF [subscription required]) the Succop and his Brazilian cohort both booted 47 touchbacks.
Conversely, at 69. yards to Santos' 64.4, Succop owned the greater average distance.
If a seesawing, neck-and-neck competition unfolds, and there are no discernible differences between the two, Andy Reid will always favor the younger, cheaper prospect.
Regardless, Santos provides Succop with the steepest offseason opposition that he's seen throughout his five years in Kansas City.
UDFA: Albert Wilson, WR, No. 8
Albert Wilson has a legitimate shot at cracking the practice squad.
He's a shifty slot receiver with, unlike Dexter McCluster, top-tier straight-line speed.
He doesn't, however, possess the equivalent in the hands department. Wilson is an average pass-catcher who occasionally turns his eyes upfield before securing possession. Also, every now and again, defenders successfully rerout him at the line.
But out of 2014 UDFAs, Wilson may boast the best chance to survive the 53-man cut.
Few names on the Chiefs roster match his open-field elusiveness, and his skill set—particularly his speed, agility and vision—checks every box as a potential kick and/or punt returner.
While it's anything but a guarantee, spotting Wilson throughout the regular season would hardly be shocking.
UDFA: Charcandrick West, RB, No. 35
Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis are cemented as the Chiefs' No. 1 and 2 halfbacks, which likely leaves Cyrus Gray, Joe McKnight and Charcandrick West in a three-way dogfight for the final vacancy.
In college, the incoming UDFA looked like the second coming of Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson. He routinely barreled through packs of tacklers like a souped-up steamroller, showing off distinctive speed in the process.
Versus inferior talent, West more or less ran like a slightly taller and heavier Ray Rice (back when he averaged more than 3.1 yards per handoff).
Obviously, last year's average of 6.2 yards per carry is scheduled to take a hit. Pro linebackers aren't going to ricochet off him like fearful pinballs.
Per TWC SportsChannel's Nick Jacobs, West is already standing out from the pack, though:
2nd O vs 1st D in team. Charcandrick West was able to showcase his speed as his found a crease on the cutback and exploded for a 30yd+ gain.— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) June 13, 2014
Gouging Kansas City's front seven for 30-plus yards, particularly with second-stringers paving lanes, is a stone's throw away from a minor miracle.
Even at this padless, two-hand-touch stage, West is well on his to becoming a favorite for (at the very least) the practice squad. But ultimately, blocking, receiving and special teams play will determine his fate.
Free Agency: Weston Dressler, WR, No. 13
Slot receiver Weston Dressler is a wild card.
Considering he's migrating from the CFL—where receivers can accelerate upfield prior the snap—it's all but impossible to project how he'll fare against press coverage.
Furthermore, if there's one misconception about him, it's rooted in his age. Dressler just turned 29 last week—the same age as Dwayne Bowe.
While someone like Wes Welker continues to hoard receptions at age 32—last season, hauling in 73 catches and a career-high 10 touchdowns—he also began learning the ropes in 2004.
Before tweaking his hamstring, Dressler churned out a few noteworthy efforts at OTAs.
However, the wideout's true litmus test won't arise until the pads are strapped in training camp.
Free Agency: Jeff Linkenbach, G/OT, No. 74
If you're crossing fingers in hopes of Jeff Linkenbach being the second coming of Geoff Schwartz, save time and pop that fantasy's bubble.
Otherwise, you're bound to become more disappointed and disillusioned as Week 6's bye rounds the corner.
Linkenbach was signed to bolster O-line depth, and he's like Schwartz in that he can play guard or tackle on either side of center. He's just not nearly as effective when doing so.
The veteran's skill set shares a lot of commonalities with that of Jeff Allen. When they're beaten, it tends to stem from defenders gaining leverage at the point of attack and rag-dolling them in the process.
Versatility is always welcomed, it just isn't always constructive. (If you beg to differ, feel free to bang your head—literally or figuratively—to this KFC freestyle from former NBA starter Delonte West, which is potentially NSFW—it's almost eight minutes long, and I didn't lose a bet.)
Free Agency: J'Marcus Webb, OT, No. 73
J'Marcus Webb is a prime example of how intangibles can hold just as much weight as physical talent.
CBS Sports' predraft (2010) analysis of Webb accurately outlines his makeup:
Positives: Prototypical body, natural athlete despite his size. Has lateral movement, nice anchor and arm length to extend and keep rushers at bay. Strong run blocker who is capable of turning his man and getting out into space to neutralize defenders. Could play left or right tackle with his athleticism/strength combination.
Negatives: Project player. Has all of the physical tools but work ethic and intelligence are major issues. Bad body language at Texas vs. the Nation practices turned off teams, but he turned on his game on for a few seconds once the ball was snapped and looked like a player. Played at Texas, had to transfer to JUCO then West Texas A&M.
At a mammoth 6'7", 333 pounds, Webb has an ideal build for offensive tackle, as well as the length to complement it.
The veteran has made progress throughout each year in which he's received significant playing time. However, while he has evolved into a relatively well-rounded but inconsistent tackle, he remains one of the most penalty-prone lineman in the league.
Andy Reid's roster is saturated with youth, but his most challenging project may come in the form of a fifth-year pro.
Free Agency: Joe McKnight, RB, No. 30
Exiting high school, and with Reggie Bush jumping ship to the pros, Joe McKnight was touted as USC's ankle-snapping savior. Both Scout and Rivals listed him as the country's No. 2 (overall) high school recruit, and judging by his past body of work, they had every reason to.
Once he arrived on campus, though, McKnight was encircled by on- and off-field controversy. His erratic college career had no shortage of lows, ranging from injuries and fumbling woes to internal investigations for alleged gifts.
However, he periodically flashed beams of brilliance, resembling 2007's "next big thing."
The New York Jets plucked him in the fourth round, and his career subsequently nosedived.
Fumbling issues continued to sporadically haunt him, and his first wave of national headlines stemmed from conditioning concerns.
But all things considered, it's not as if McKnight has looked like a shell of his former self. Coaches just can't trust him to protect the football.
To frame his flaw into perspective, if there's one knock on Jamaal Charles' game, it's that the All-Pro also tends to get stripped from time to time. Throughout his NFL career, he averages one fumble per 54.9 carries; McKnight averages one per 18.7.
That being said, if he rectifies the habit, the former Heisman hopeful still brings ample value to the table. Over the course of his three-year stint with the Jets, McKnight averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 10.4 yards per reception.
But John Dorsey's primary motive in signing him wasn't due to his offensive prowess. Rather, it was based on his special teams play.
McKnight didn't partake in a single snap last season. But prior to that (2012), his 27.5-yard kick return average ranked sixth among 2012 players with double-digit attempts. In 2011, his 31.6-yard average slotted him at No. 2 among the same candidates.
McKnight's return skills also netted a touchdown in each of the aforementioned seasons.
His detractors will paint him as a talentless bust, while his apologists will protest that he hasn't been given enough opportunities. And both sides of the argument can present persuasive cases.
Irrespective of that, one thing is certain: McKnight opened eyes at OTAs, including those of the Kansas City Star's Terez Paylor:
I'll say this about Joe McKnight: his speed on kickoff returns is intriguing. I like his burst.— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) June 5, 2014
Free Agency: Chris Owens, CB, No. 20
A season ago, if PFF's database is used as a gauge, the most effective corner in Kansas City's current secondary wasn't Sean Smith or Marcus Cooper. Prior to his departure, Brandon Flowers didn't lay claim to the title either.
Chris Owens did.
John Dorsey's under-the-radar and undersized addition is an instinctive, agile slot corner who can change direction on a dime.
He allowed receivers to reel in 70.9 percent of targets last year, which is nothing to write home about. However, said receivers combined to average only 7.8 yards per catch—a number that ranked Owens No. 3 of 110 qualifying (those who partook in at least 25 percent of defensive snaps) cornerbacks.
Only a handful of NFL corners have the potential to line up across from Wes Welker—whom the Chiefs will see at least twice next season—and successfully shadow him.
Owens is one of them.
Free Agency: Joe Mays, ILB, No. 53
Joe Mays treats humans like mobile pinatas, substituting candy with bone fragments.
During his stint with the Chiefs, Tony Moeaki was victimized by two cringeworthy hits that triggered "OK, maybe they're not overpaid" responses, both of which were authored by Mays.
Some stars put the "D" in defense; he puts it in Deebo.
Mays is a two-down thumper who's slightly less athletic than Akeem Jordan but more physical.
He's a veteran leader who, like most strong-side inside linebackers, comes packaged with coverage-related limitations. However, he clogs up running lanes and fills the locker room with another resonating voice.
Free Agency: Vance Walker, DE, No. 99
By Week 17, defensive end may sprout the most evenly allocated snap count of any position.
Mike DeVito is a run-plugging road block.
Last season, Mike Catapano's undersized frame limited him to a meager 97 snaps. This offseason, he's noticeably larger, which will undoubtedly score him some extra opportunities.
Meanwhile, Allen Bailey followed suit and bulked up to 300 pounds, recently feeding him the lion's share of first-team reps.
As a result, the starting job has become a sparring match for Vance Walker.
Initially, he was taking second- and third-team reps, which can be attributed to a variety of factors. (For starters, he's transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4.)
Walker has recently received a share of reps with the starters, though.
While he has carved a niche as a pass-rusher—recording 32 quarterback hurries last season, which ranked No. 5 among defensive and nose tackles—Walker is serviceable but inconsistent against the run.
Being that, per Spotrac, the Chiefs can gain $1.75 million by parting ways with him next offseason, 2014 isn't a season that the newcomer can take lightly, especially when Bailey—who's entering a contract year—appears revamped and refocused.
Round 6, No. 200: Laurent-Duvernay Tardif, G/OT, No. 76
NFL.com's Gil Brandt summarizes why fans should keep tabs on Laurent Duvernay-Tardif:
At his pro day, Duvernay-Tardif ran the 40 in 4.94 and 5.08 seconds. He had a 31 1/2-inch vertical and a 9-6 broad jump. He ran the three-cone drill in 7.30 seconds and had 33 bench-press reps. Duvernay-Tardif was not at the combine, but those numbers were as good as any offensive linemen there, including Taylor Lewan.
Yes, his name sounds like someone who dresses like Hamburglar, smokes cigarettes like Cruella de Vil and/or ties damsels to railroad tracks (while twisting a handlebar mustache). He could also turn your limbs into a pigmented pretzel for likening him to a French Cruella de Vil.
Joking aside, Duvernay-Tardif will become one of his head coach's favorite prospects. Andy Reid is revered for developing and flipping passers, but people tend to forget that he once roamed the field as a guard and tackle for BYU.
Coincidentally, Duvernay-Tardif has spent time rotating between the same positions, though he'll likely debut at guard.
He's an eye-opening athlete who, in college, part-timed as a med student.
The Northerner will be tasked with buffing out a number of rough edges, particularly pertaining to his handwork, and the American rules will present a handful of hurdles to overcome.
But Duvernay-Tardif totes an NFL-ready frame, freakish tangibles and a contact-craving mindset. If he fine-tunes the nuances in his game, the sixth-rounder will (eventually) make for a seamless fit in Reid's screen-heavy offense.
Round 6, No. 193: Zach Fulton, G, No. 173
At first glance, Zach Fulton looks the part of offensive tackle, but guard accentuates his skill set.
As far as cons are concerned, the colossal rookie needs to improve his footwork and general technique (e.g. hand placement) in pass protection, as he occasionally loses his balance against quicker opponents.
And if he hopes to climb the ladder in Andy Reid's offense, he'll be forced to improve his second-level blocking in the screen game.
On the flip side, Fulton is an effective, ill-intentioned road grader in the ground game. His arms are virtual meat hooks, and if he gains leverage, whoever is on the opposite end is a second or two away from having their ego humbled.
He's also more athletic and lighter on his feet (when moving laterally) than one would assume.
Personally, there's little doubt in my mind that, long before his rookie contract expires—perhaps within the next year or two, even—Fulton will be vying for starting consideration.
Round 5, No. 163: Aaron Murray, QB, No. 7
In a nutshell, Aaron Murray's game draws a lot of parallels to that of Alex Smith, though they're not mere clones of each other.
At 6'0", Murray's biggest detriment is his average height, which will always be deemed the culprit on tipped passes at the line. And occasionally, he also allows the pass rush to dictate his decision-making.
However, Murray has operated a pro-style offense within the SEC, giving him a leg up on the typical rookie quarterback. He flaunts a rapid release with pinpoint short-to-intermediate accuracy.
While his right arm doesn't moonlight as a cannon, his deep passing is largely undersold, and he became renowned for his back-shoulder throws.
Like Smith, Murray can evade pressure and move the chains with his feet as well.
The Chiefs aren't going to retain four quarterbacks, despite all of them being worthy of consideration. Obviously, Smith's spot is anchored, and Chase Daniel's—for another year, at least—isn't far off from being the same.
Given that Tyler Bray arguably outplayed the veteran backup last preseason, and seeing as how he has reportedly matured within and outside of the sidelines, according to Taylor, the second-year gunslinger should be favored for the third spot.
Make no mistake, Murray is equipped to become a starter at some point in time. But he's a rookie who's rebounding from an ACL tear.
He hasn't shown any residual effects from it, but it makes little sense to—given his situation—force him out of the frying pan and into the fire, particularly when the Chiefs already have the luxury of three capable quarterbacks.
Round 4, No. 124: De'Anthony Thomas, WR, No. 1
In terms of scheming, De'Anthony Thomas is basically Dexter McCluster, only with a few more bells and whistles. Or rather, the same bells and whistles—just upgraded.
Like his predecessor, Thomas primarily lined up as a rusher in college, though he occasionally alternated between that and slot receiver.
And slot receiver is what he's destined to become.
It's not a revelation. John Dorsey didn't spend his third pick of the draft to pluck a third-string rusher, particularly when the Chiefs are already dripping with talent at the position.
The same, however, can't be said for the slot. Weston Dressler comes into camp as an unproven CFL project, and Junior Hemingway—who continues to see snaps on the inside—doesn't boast the role's prototypical build.
Contrary to popular belief, McCluster isn't a Mach-like burner. He's a shifty, nimble-footed weapon with grade-A acceleration, and though he's an antonym for "sluggish," the bite-sized playmaker isn't ever going to dust quicker corners via straight-line speed.
The transition won't be a seamless, and Thomas will need time to acclimate. But once he digests the ins and outs of Andy Reid's offense, Alex Smith will have another game-breaking talent at his disposal.
Round 3, No. 87: Phillip Gaines, CB, No. 23
Phillip Gaines is a lengthy, stunningly fast (4.38 40 time) cornerback who has clear starter potential, but whose ascension will hinge on his ability to overcome a drastic leap in talent.
As CBS Sports' Rob Rang notes, the third-rounder isn't going to simply step in and offset Brandon Flowers' departure:
To be clear, Gaines isn't going to replace Flowers on his own. Frankly, there isn't a corner on the Chiefs' roster as talented as Flowers and his loss will hurt. Committing to a scheme takes time and the right players, however, and Gaines should help Kansas City's transition to the man-press scheme which should make them better suited toward stopping the big, talented receivers like Demaryius Thomas, Keenan Allen (and perhaps Cody Latimer) of the AFC West.
While his hands won't be confused with Cris Carter's, he owns ball skills feature a unique knack for batting away passes at the last moment—even if receivers initially secure possession.
Gaines needs to improve his general technique, from tackling to jamming, but he embodies the tangibles to become a standout corner in due time.
Until then, if he cracks the lineup, don't be surprised if defensive coordinator Bob Sutton takes a page from the Seattle Seahawks notebook and injects a heavier dose of Cover 3—a scheme that would accentuate Gaines' strengths and minimize his current flaws.
Round 1, No. 23: Dee Ford, OLB, No. 55
When you think of mild-tempered pianists, one thinks of an easygoing musician who takes a row of keys and crafts audible art.
When you think of elite SEC edge-rushers, one thinks of players with a drool-worthy appetite to attack people in "Here's Johnny!"-like fashion; rip their heart out like Kano, and howl like that sadistic, soulless laugh that blares at the end of "Thriller." (Thanks for the nightmares/future therapy bills, sir.)
They're not supposed to be the same person.
Then, Dee Ford came along and sledgehammered stereotypes.
On the field, Ford has already become the eye of a headline hurricane, wearing Derrick Thomas' college jersey and sparking comparisons (between the two) from Tamba Hali, as Paylor relayed:
Tamba Hali on Dee Ford: "If anybody reminds you of Derrick Thomas' first step, it's him."— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) May 28, 2014
Juxtaposing a Hall of Famer with an offseason rookie is Exhibit A for jumping the gun. That aside, the skill sets include their share of similarities, as both were regarded as one-dimensional defenders but premiere pass-rushers in college.
Furthermore, though, Ford's first step flashes a brand of quickness that made Thomas the most beloved name in Chiefs history.
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