The Last Of The 32nd

Let me preface this column by saying I believe Greg Wesley is an underrated player among NFL safeties. I don't think he's given the level of respect among Chiefs fans he probably deserves.

I don't know where the perception that Wesley is a poor player comes from. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that when he screws up – man, he really screws up.

Getting run over by Browns quarterback Derek Anderson in Cleveland last year didn't help his reputation, and he probably punched his ticket out of town when he gave up an 87-yard touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens a week later.

Despite those gargantuan gaffes, Wesley is not a bad football player. I'm not going to lie and say he's been unfairly denied invitations to multiple Pro Bowls (although he, and not Jerome Woods, deserved Hawaii honors in 2003), but he's a far better safety than he is given credit for.

It was never more evident this week when the Chiefs released defensive end Eric Hicks and traded bust-of-the-century Ryan Sims. With the departure of those two veterans, Wesley is now the last surviving member of the 32nd-ranked defense the Chiefs fielded in 2002.

I believe it to be no coincidence it happened this way.

Wesley really doesn't deserve to be remembered in the same light as the rest of "The 32nd." I think he was by far the most talented player on that defense, and it showed, as he grabbed six interceptions to lead the team that year.

Now, did #25 flash onto our TV screens whenever that defense gave up a big play? More often than not, yes, but as a safety, Wesley has always been the last line of defense. Don't blame him for the inept play of his teammates that allowed "offensive superstar flavor of the week" to torch KC's defense back in 2002 (and subsequent years).

Just how pitiful were the not-so-brave men of the 32nd? Other than Sims, who missed most of the season with a broken elbow, there was but a single first-round draft pick among the starters - defensive end Duane Clemons, who pretty much had his worst season as a pro that year.

Defensive lineman John Browning, Wesley and William Bartee (also dumped this offseason) were the only other first-day draft picks. Lew Bush, Scott Fujita, Eric Warfield and Jason Belser were all second-day draft picks, and there were two un-drafted free agents – Hicks and the aptly named Mike Maslowski.

That's right. Over half of that defense's starters either came from the second-day of the NFL draft, or not at all.

Now compare to today's defensive lineup. Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Napoleon Harris, Ty Law, Bernard Pollard – all first or second-round draft picks. Tank Tyler and Ron Edwards (the probable opening-day starters at defensive tackle), and cornerback Patrick Surtain – first day picks in the third round. Ironically, Donnie Edwards and Jared Allen – maybe the best players on the defense – are second-day picks.

That leaves only Jarrad Page, a steal in last year's seventh round. Will he be better than Wesley? I guess we'll find out in 2007, but don't think Page doesn't have some big shoes to fill.

Wesley's 13 interceptions over the last three seasons compare favorably to top safeties like Minnesota's Darren Sharper (17 picks), Baltimore's Ed Reed (15) and Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins (11). Of that group, Wesley trails only Dawkins in forced fumbles.

Bottom line – Wesley was a playmaker. Maybe he wasn't perfect, but he certainly doesn't deserve to be lumped in with the rest of the 32nd.

Over his entire Kansas City career, all Wesley has known, for the most part, is bad defense. The Chiefs ranked 20th or worse in total defense in six of his seven seasons. Now that the Chiefs are finally surrounding him with some talent, I find it ironic – and a little bit sad - that he's most likely leaving.

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