1. LB Vernon Gholston, New York Jets
Another rookie? Because the Jets are currently going through a rebuild like the Chiefs, it's not hard to see why Gholston might be the player to watch when Kansas City visits New York in Week 8. There's a great chance Gholston comes in and plays extremely well immediately in Eric Mangini's 3-4 defense. Shawne Merriman did much the same as a rookie with the Chargers in 2005, playing Gholston's position.
Again, Chiefs rookie left tackle Branden Albert will have his hands full. Gholston's brute strength will test Albert's ability to handle the bull rush. Fortunately, the Jets' defense is going through an overhaul, so if the Chiefs can block Gholston, there isn't much else to be concerned about (unless you think the overweight Kris Jenkins is some kind of threat).
Stat to note:
Gholston logged 14 sacks in 13 games with Ohio State last season, a school record.
2. WR Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay
Despite the fact he's 36 and plays on a thoroughly mediocre offense led by a weak-armed quarterback, Galloway continues to put up consistent numbers and remains one of the NFL's most dangerous deep threats. The Buccaneers lined up comparative slugs around their only true offensive weapon last season, but Galloway still averaged 17.8 yards per catch and caught six touchdown passes.
Galloway was second in the NFL in yards per catch last season and reeled in eight catches over 40 yards, second only to Randy Moss (despite the fact he caught 41 fewer passes than Moss). Did I mention he dropped only five balls all season?
Ancient NFL veterans can fall off the cliff at a moment's notice (see Eddie Kennison), and Galloway has been injury prone in the past, but if he continues to play as he did a year ago, he'll test the Chiefs secondary. Kansas City has plenty of corners who can probably stay with Galloway in the short zones, but none who can likely stick with him down the field. And if he gets behind a safety, it's over.
Stat to note:
Galloway has three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons.
3. LB Shawne Merriman, San Diego
Merriman answered most of his critics last year, going off the juice (supposedly) and still racking up 12.5 sacks, leading San Diego's defense all the way to the AFC Championship. Once again, a big test for Branden Albert, but more importantly, for everyone on the Chiefs' mostly young offensive line.
The Chargers blitz Merriman from everywhere. At some point, it's likely each member of KC's line might be required to pick him up on a given play. It's a good thing Chan Gailey favors big, nasty linemen, because Merriman rolls right over the smaller variety.
Stat to note:
Merriman recorded four sacks against Kansas City in 2007, and has six against the Chiefs for his career.
4. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans
The Saints had a down year in 2007, but not because of Brees. Forced to throw early and often because of his poor defense and faced with relentless pressure because of New Orleans' poor running game, Brees weathered the storm while leading the NFL in pass attempts.
With the return of feature back Deuce McCallister, count on Brees getting his running game back this season. That should mean the Saints offense will flourish, and present a big challenge for KC's defense in Week 11. Brees has the arm strength and pinpoint accuracy to slice the Chiefs' Cover Two up, both down the middle and in the hole down the sideline between the corner and safety. And he has plenty of weapons at his disposal.
In his last two seasons with the Chargers, Brees absolutely roasted the Chiefs' defense, totaling almost 900 yards passing and six touchdowns in three games. He switched conferences, but remains a dangerous quarterback capable of taking advantage of a young secondary.
Stat to note:
Brees set career highs in 2007 with 4,423 yards passing and 28 touchdowns.
The Dirty Dozen – Part II
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