Not surprisingly, you go hard on them, especially if they're on defense. The majority of the Chiefs were freshmen this year, so they get a break. The upperclassmen, however, have no such ready-made excuse. It's time for some of them to "graduate" to other institutions.
Tamba Hali – F
No one wants to hear about Hali's injuries. His move to right defensive end was a flop. His move back to left defensive end produced better results, but not by much. Hali disappeared Sunday in Cincinnati at the hands of a right tackle who was starting his first game in three years. In fact, Dennis Roland was starting a game in the NFL for the first time in his entire life.
Was Hali worth the first-round pick the Chiefs spent on him in 2006? It's hard to argue at this point that he is. He appears to be nothing more than a complementary pass rusher. If Hali is going to regain the form he showed in 2006 and 2007, the Chiefs will have to find another Jared Allen.
Turk McBride - D
The only thing that saves McBride from Hali's fate is the fact that no one really expected much of him anyway. Plus, he was a second-round pick, and the Chiefs had been blowing them like party favors under Carl Peterson. You almost expected McBride to fail, didn't you?
McBride started nine games this season, logged zero sacks, and flashed the kind of speed that makes Eric Hicks look good, but on a positive note he did rack up a few roughing the passer penalties. Hey, if you can't get in the quarterback's head legally, make him fear your presence any which way you can.
It's abundantly clear McBride isn't the answer at left defensive end. If there's any hope for his NFL future, it's inside, as a pass-rushing defensive tackle, playing in passing situations. Either way, he wasn't a wise choice in the second round.
Brian Johnston - I
A seventh-round pick, Johnston had the high honor of actually hitting an opposing quarterback legally this season. NFL scientists are still working to determine if he can be credited with a half-sack on Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. Derrick Johnson was in on the play, but I swear Johnston had a hand in bringing him down.
The Chiefs drafted Johnston because he had great measurables (4.66 40-yard dash) for a seventh-round player, and a great motor. People were comparing him to Jared Allen as soon as he was drafted, but that probably had more to do with the color of his skin than anything. Johnston might be a diamond in the rough, or he might just be another run-of-the-mill seventh-round pick. Either way, with such a dearth of talent at defensive end, the Chiefs have to give him a shot to win a job in camp next year.
Jason Babin - C
There's a reason Babin (two sacks in seven games) didn't really impress anyone after the Chiefs picked him up off the street in midseason. It's the same reason the Houston Texans dumped him after three disappointing season. He's just not that good. When you're desperate for a defensive end, and you're fielding one of the league's worst defenses, you tend to pick up players who just aren't that good. But hey, at least he hit a quarterback legally!
Glenn Dorsey - I
There are way too many questions about how the Chiefs used Dorsey this season to pass a grade on him. Yes, Dorsey had a terrible rookie season. But I refuse to believe he went from being one of the most dominant defensive linemen in all of college football, to being a terrible NFL defensive tackle. It just doesn't make a lick of sense given his talent, his character, and his work ethic.
We'll know more about Dorsey when a defensive coaching staff that actually knows how to coach up a defensive lineman arrives in Kansas City. You just hope it happens before Ryan Sims calls up Dorsey and asks him to go for donuts and coffee (hold the coffee) and share stories about Carl Peterson.
Tank Tyler – B+
Well, we can give Gunther Cunningham credit for at least one thing – he was right about Tank Tyler. After struggling early as a rookie, Cunningham was raving about Tank late last season. This year, that improvement continued – Tyler was easily the best defensive tackle on the roster, got consistently great penetration, and improved his pass rush.
I'm not sure if Tyler will ever be a Pro Bowl defensive tackle. But you know what? He's a third-round pick – he's not really supposed to climb to those heights. That's Dorsey's job. If Dorsey fulfills his draft position, Tank will have a long career next to him.
Alfonso Boone – C-
We could list Boone as a defensive end, the spot where he began 2008 and ultimately wound up playing significant snaps during the season, but he's just not a defensive end. He's a defensive tackle, and that's where he did his best work in 2008, playing in a rotation behind Dorsey and Tyler.
Boone was a better player last year during the first half of KC's season, when he frequently penetrated to disrupt running games and put pressure on quarterbacks. He wasn't nearly as effective this season when the Chiefs finally moved him back to defensive tackle. Solution – don't waste time playing Boone at defensive end ever again. Of course, when you're so thin at defensive end you're playing seventh-round picks, it happens.
Ron Edwards - B
The Chiefs signed Edwards in 2006 and made him a starter. He's not a starter. Edwards played much better as a run-plugger in rotation behind Dorsey and Tyler this season. Plus, I hear Edwards is terrific at Tim Krumrie's slap drill. That's got to be worth something, right?
Derrick Johnson - F
Man, this was supposed to be the year DJ became the lightning rod for Kansas City's defense. He had a great season in 2007, leading the league in tackles for loss, grabbing sacks and interceptions, looking like he was close to fulfilling his draft potential. The Chiefs moved him to the weakside, where he belongs. It was time.
What happened? Johnson made a couple of plays in Week 4 against the Broncos and then disappeared for the rest of the season, other than the occasional big hit. The Chiefs tried moving him to middle linebacker weeks after Gunther Cunningham laughed at the notion.
Johnson is still one of the most talented linebackers in the league. But the way the Chiefs have handled him – moving him around to three different linebacker spots in four years – has completely messed with his head. There's still potential for Johnson to be a good player for a long time, but only if he's coached correctly. You hope that coaching arrives sooner rather than later. Johnson is going into his fifth season.
DeMorrio Williams - D
Williams showed potential in Atlanta before the Chiefs snagged him last offseason. In training camp, he really flashed all the great speed we had heard about. He's probably the fastest of KC's linebackers. But like Johnson, for the most part, he was a non-factor.
Williams had the production of one, but he isn't a poor player. Linebackers who run sub-4.5 40-yard dashes don't grow on trees. There's still potential for Williams to be a good player for a long time, but only if he's coached correctly. You hope that coaching arrives sooner rather than later. Williams is going into his sixth season.
Pat Thomas - F
Gunther Cunningham tabbed Pat Thomas as KC's starting middle linebacker before the season. He replaced Napoleon Harris almost by default. The Chiefs' run defense didn't improve, Thomas got injured, and people are now talking about how Kansas City needs to draft a middle linebacker this season.
I'm not going to argue that Thomas is a good player. He was just as invisible as any of KC's linebackers this season. But did the Chiefs really do him any favors by essentially handing him the starting job. In training camp, Napoleon Harris was pretty much demoted to second team after a few days and ignored. There was no real competition.
But if the Chiefs weren't going to give their unproven starting quarterback (Brodie Croyle) any competition in training camp, why should we expect them to do so for their middle linebacker? That's just how this team is (was?) run.
Donnie Edwards - I
The Chiefs' linebackers played better last season when Edwards was on the field most of the year. Banged up most of 2008, Edwards spent much of the season watching from the sideline. Is it any coincidence we're sitting here wondering why KC's linebackers were so god-awful?
You might want to give Donnie an ‘F.' You think he's great, he should be making plays, he's terrible for getting hurt, etc. That's unfair. Donnie Edwards is just another player who had a great career and came to Kansas City to enjoy Carl Peterson's NFL Retirement Home. It's been a great place for aging players who just want to enjoy their last days in the NFL. No pressure, none of those pesky postseasons or anything.
Napoleon Harris - A
Yes, I know Harris is no longer a Chief. But you know what? He made the greatest play of any Chiefs linebacker this season. He did just enough (nothing, which isn't always easy when you're making millions of dollars and constantly surrounded by pressure to perform) to get out of Kansas City. Now he's a starting middle linebacker on the NFL's top-ranked run defense, and he's in the playoffs. Napoleon Harris is the most successful Chiefs linebacker of 2008. There is absolutely no question.
Rocky Boiman – D
Next season, Boiman will frantically search for another NFL defense riddled with injuries.
Brandon Flowers - A
Considering the fact the Chiefs had zero pass rush for most of 2008, Flowers played remarkably well for a rookie. Someday, Flowers will tell his grandchildren how he intercepted Brett Favre twice in the same game and returned one for a touchdown. He will then relate the tale of how he broke the longstanding curse of Carl Peterson's second-round draft picks.
Seriously, Flowers exceeded my expectations. I expected him to struggle against larger receivers and to get toasted down the field a few times a month given KC's terrible pass rush. Instead he stuck to receivers like glue, tackled well, hit like a ton of bricks at times and showed a knack for getting to the ball. Flowers will make the Pro Bowl with a better pass rush.
Brandon Carr – B
Picked in the fifth round, Carr took Patrick Surtain's job early and never gave it back. Furthermore, he played surprisingly well for a late-round pick. The Chiefs frequently asked Carr to cover the largest receivers they faced and he held his own. In fact, he held Brandon Marshall under 100 yards in both Chiefs-Broncos matchups, no small feat, again, considering KC's terrible pass rush.
Is Carr the long-term answer at cornerback? He was victimized on short completions far too often as the season wore on, almost as if he was scared of getting beat deep. Opposing offensive coordinators went after Carr frequently. When the Chiefs find a pass rush, we'll find out more about the two Brandons.
Maurice Leggett - A
It's too bad the Chiefs can't keep Herm Edwards around as defensive backs coach, because there's no question he can pluck them from anywhere. When was the last time you heard of a team with no pass rush fielding three rookie cornerbacks and having all of them play reasonably well?
Leggett took over the nickel role, but might have the talent to start. He's bigger than Flowers and faster than Carr. How can you complain about a rookie who scores touchdowns on defense and special teams? You can't.
Patrick Surtain - C
Somehow, Surtain discovered a way to play halfway decent as an NFL cornerback despite running a 40-yard dash over five seconds. Hey, Ty Law couldn't do it. Surtain has enjoyed his time at The Carl Peterson NFL Retirement Home.
Jarrad Page – B
He still can't tackle, but his coverage remains as solid as ever. At the beginning of the year I expected Page to take a leap from solid, late-round-surprise safety to upper-echelon, Pro-Bowl-potential safety, but it didn't happen. I'm not surprised. When you play Cover 2 defense without a pass rush, the safeties just aren't going to make many plays on the ball.
Page still grabbed four interceptions and laid a few licks. He may never make the Pro Bowl, but it's clear he has a role on a good defense in the league. Page's contract is up. The Chiefs should hang on to him.
Bernard Pollard - C
He still can't tackle, but his coverage remains as unremarkable as ever. The only thing that saved Pollard from a failing grade this year is that yes, he actually did hit a few people toward the end of the season. It's still not enough. Pollard was supposed to be John Lynch. For a safety drafted in the second-round, he's horribly underperformed. It's time to give DaJuan Morgan a look.
DaJuan Morgan - I
As bad as Pollard is, why wasn't Morgan given more playing time this season? In limited doses, he actually showed remarkable ability to come up and stone running backs as an in-the-box safety. The Chiefs' drafted Morgan in the third round and he barely played despite the fact the defense was terrible. In fact, the Chiefs played veteran journeyman Jon McGraw more than Morgan.
Jon McGraw – F
I haven't talked to a single Chiefs fan who has anything positive to say about Jon McGraw. Fun fact: Herm Edwards drafted McGraw in the second round with the Jets in 2002. I have a feeling Jon McGraw was Bernard Pollard before Bernard Pollard was Bernard Pollard.
Connor Barth – A
Finally got his chance when Nick Novak was released. Made 10 of 12 field goals and kicked off well. Sorry, after Dave Rayner, Justin Medlock and Novak, I'm not going to give a kicker who hits 83 percent anything but an A.
Dustin Colquitt – B+
Colquitt apparently had a down year with all the injuries, but still finished 8th in the league in net punting average and dropped 27 inside the 20.
JP Darche – A
If you ever doubted the elite talents of JP Darche, just watch the long snaps after he was placed on injured reserve. The Chiefs may have beaten the Chargers if Darche had long-snapped the game-winning field goal attempt instead of Thomas Gafford. Vive Le France!
Gunther Cunningham – F
The Chiefs finished 31st on defense. The Chiefs' Cunningham-coached linebackers were terrible. The Chiefs brought in John Bunting, who took Cunningham's spot in the booth. Are there any more excuses?
David Gibbs – A
If he's not in Kansas City next season, David Gibbs earned a job coaching defensive backs somewhere else. We haven't seen such great corner play from rookies since The Carl Peterson NFL Retirement Home started over a decade ago.
Tim Krumrie – F
Let's see – Tamba Hali regressed, Turk McBride hit quarterbacks at the wrong time, Glenn Dorsey was completely ineffective, and on one snap last week in Cincinnati the entire Chiefs' defensive line jumped offsides all at once. I hear all of those guys are pros at the hand-slap drill, though.
Mike Priefer – C-
Chose the wrong kicker at the beginning of the year, but might have finally found the right one. I know KC's coverage units were terrible, but coaching up a bunch of rookies to cover kicks is a difficult task. Give Priefer credit for taking the Chiefs' return game from terrible to decent.
Grading the Chiefs – Part 2: Defense and ST
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