The way the Chiefs dealt with Beisel this season wasn't an isolated incident. The roster was in a state of flux almost every week. No consistency was established at wide receiver, safety or on the offensive line until late this year. Can you name KC's top nickel back? Derrick Johnson was a third-down linebacker. I've heard of a third-down back, but a third-down linebacker?
At one point Jamaal Charles, KC's top offensive weapon and the obvious bright spot of the entire season, was deactivated. In hindsight, Charles' deactivation makes Todd Haley look foolish. Why was Charles benched? Why was his workload so slight in comparison to Larry Johnson, the NFL's least effective runner at one point this season?
The way the Chiefs handled Beisel and Charles this season should serve as a warning sign concerning the talent evaluation abilities of the current regime. Haley graded far too early, far too harshly.
We won't be nearly so tough on the Chiefs. When the roster is constantly changing, it's tough for any player to play with consistency. As always, grades are based on preseason expectations.
Brodie Croyle – A+
In a shocking turn of events, Croyle stayed healthy for an entire season. Sure, he spent most of it on the bench, but a year ago Croyle couldn't stay on the field for a half. This year, he absorbed numerous brutal hits in preseason and played at a competent level for one full game. Plus, Croyle was just good enough to spark a quarterback controversy early this season. Are you not entertained? The Chiefs will be hard-pressed to find a better #2 quarterback this offseason. Croyle is worth holding onto.
Matt Gutierrez – A
Playing well enough in preseason to make Tyler Thigpen (two interceptions in Week 17) expendable can only be considered a positive.
Matt Cassel – C-
It would be easy to fail Cassel considering the size of his contract and his lack of improvement over the course of the season. But he was the primary victim of the revolving-door policy adopted by the Chiefs' offensive line and wide receiver corps. Cassel was also without the services of Dwayne Bowe for five games this season. Frankly, it's shocking he wound up with only 16 interceptions.
Cassel's first season was disappointing.
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Cassel improved slightly when the Chiefs picked up Chris Chambers, but his last six weeks were terrible – 54.5 completion percentage, four touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a 58.5 rating. At a time of year when Cassel was supposed to be getting better, and when the players around him were improving, he was downright awful.
Giving up on Cassel would be foolish, and pointless, because the Chiefs are locked in. But we need to recognize the need for massive improvement. We need to be tough on Cassel, because his contract demands it. If he thinks Chiefs fans are tough now, just wait until the playoffs are on the line. There's a storm coming next season, and right now the forecast is Grbac-y, with a chance of Scott Mitchell.
Jamaal Charles – A+
Before the season, I wrote about Charles' potential to be a complementary player within KC's offense. I thought he could gain 1,000 total yards, only hinting at the fact he might be a better back than the departed Larry Johnson. Maybe next time I should trust my instincts and go for the gold.
Charles exceeded everyone's expectations this season, rushing for 1,120 yards at a shocking 5.9 yards per carry, catching 40 passes and blocking well for a 200-pound running back. He ran tough, showed vision and made long runs look easy. Most importantly, he stayed healthy.
Charles cut down on his fumbles, but they're still a concern. We need to see if he can hang onto the ball as a marked man over 16 games. That happens next season, when the Chiefs will undoubtedly start him and see how well he handles 300 carries. The scary thing is he has room to improve.
Larry Johnson – A+
You think I'm slipping in one final biased take favoring a player I showed irrational love for over the past four seasons. You're wrong.
The only reason we saw Charles' greatness this year was because of Johnson's midseason twitter meltdown and locker-room drama. Larry may have been a horrible human being this year, but we have to thank him for giving Charles the opportunity to shine. It certainly wasn't Haley's doing.
Heck, even after Johnson was deactivated, the Chiefs could only find six carries for Charles against the Jaguars. What the hell was going on? Thank you, Larry. And congratulations on your 4.4 yards per carry average with the Cincinnati Bengals. Perhaps you aren't as washed up as people think.
Tim Castille – B
Too high? Castille was a late-season waiver-wire pickup. There were absolutely no expectations for him outside the mind of Todd Haley. But he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass and showed decent strength as a lead blocker. Plus, his balloon-ball interception against Denver was hilarious, and showcased Haley's playcalling issues. Are you not entertained?
Dantrell Savage – B
It's not surprising that Savage wound up on the injured reserve list this year. Half the hits he takes on a football field are of the bone-crushing variety. For some reason, he just can't figure out how to protect his body on a football field.
Despite that, he never fumbled this season. Savage runs with quickness and surprising power for his smallish frame. For a brief moment this season (before Charles blew up), Savage looked like a decent third-down back. He has potential as a backup.
Mike Cox – C
Cox still has the best hands of any Chiefs' fullback since Tony Richardson, so it shattered my world this year when he actually dropped a pass. In his defense, Matt Cassel threw a bad ball.
But fullbacks have to block, too. Cox didn't show much improvement as a lead blocker this year. He'll have to fight with Castille for his job next season.
Kolby Smith – F
All Smith had to do this season was prove he could stay healthy. He failed.
Javarris Williams – I
Does anyone have a clue what Williams does well? He flashed an impressive physique at training camp, but I don't remember any broken tackles in six carries. The Chiefs need a bruiser to complement Charles. It'd be nice if Williams could grow into the role this offseason.
Terrance Copper – A
Copper was a key part of one of the league's best special-teams units. He caught a 50-yard bomb against the Broncos. He might be the only wide receiver that escaped Haley's wrath this year. Let's reward him.
Chris Chambers – B
I'm 100 percent convinced Chambers is the second coming of Eddie Kennison, whom the Chiefs picked up late in 2001, sparking offensive improvement. Did you know Cassel averaged 214 yards per game with Chambers in the lineup? Not great, but worlds better than the 165 yards per game he was averaging prior.
Extrapolate Chambers' 2009 numbers with the Chiefs out over 16 games and he would have gone well over 1,000 yards. If he's not re-signed, Scott Pioli and Todd Haley are insane.
Bobby Wade – C
People dislike Wade because he dropped everything under the sun this season and proved to be the slowest Chiefs' punt returner since Eddie Drummond. But I saw a player who was forced into starting duty (Wade is a slot receiver) too often and asked to return punts because asking anyone else to do it was begging for a fumble.
Wade's butterfingers ought to make us question just how much responsibility Matt Cassel (inaccuracy) and Todd Haley (player psychology) have to do with KC's drop problem. Before Kansas City, Wade was known as a sure-handed third-down target. He certainly wasn't in the league for his speed or size. What changed this year?
Dwayne Bowe – D+
Dwayne Bowe couldn't stop the drops.
Jamie Squire - Getty
Bowe is who he is, a possession receiver who's not going to overcome insurmountable odds – a new quarterback, a new offense, a bad offensive line and a lack of surrounding threats. Where he failed was in letting us down off the field and not correcting his issue with drops. There's no reason to get down on Bowe. If the offense around him is clicking next season, he'll fall right into line.
Lance Long – D
Long isn't Wes Welker, and he certainly isn't 5-foot-11. He's not even Bobby Wade, although he can probably drop passes at the same rate.
Mark Bradley – F
Bradley dropped one pass for every two catches and actually managed to get cut from the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL. It was an embarrassing performance worthy of a failing grade. But like Wade, how much of it was truly his fault?
A year ago Bradley was a productive complementary threat for half the season and didn't appear to have horrible hands. Cassel and Haley arrive in Kansas City and suddenly he turns into garbage? Like Wade, there's more to this than a pair of hands.
Quentin Lawrence – I
Lawrence showed blazing speed on reverses and no playmaking ability on kickoff returns. However, the Chiefs never gave him an opportunity to start dropping passes with everyone else. Hopefully he finds one next year, he's too fast not to get a chance.
Leonard Pope – B
His Holiness looked impressive running down the field and didn't play half bad given the chance, snagging 20 catches and one big touchdown against the Steelers. Perhaps most impressively, he didn't contract the drops disease that spread to almost every other eligible receiver.
Pope's blocking isn't awful for a tight end with such a lanky frame. The Chiefs should let him compete for the starting job next season, he's only 26.
Brad Cottam – D
Cottam clearly has talent, and flashed it at the end of the season, if only briefly. The thought of the Chiefs attacking defenses in the redzone with his massive frame, in tandem with Pope's, is fun to dream about. So why a low grade?
The knock on Cottam in college was that he couldn't stay healthy. So far, he can't stay healthy in the pros. Todd Haley doesn't like players who can't stay healthy. Cottam's task next season should be proving he's the next Jamaal Charles instead of the next Kolby Smith.
Jake O'Connell – D
The Chiefs spent two seventh-round picks on O'Connell, who dropped passes all season long until he finally shocked us all by snagging two balls in his last two games. The sole fact he finally held on to the football should save him from a failing grade. But there's something else going on here.
I don't believe O'Connell is an ordinary late-round pick, or even an ordinary tight end for that matter. The Chiefs see something in him. In Week 2 against the Raiders, he was practically the centerpiece of their passing game, drawing multiple targets, including 30 yards down the field and in the end zone. O'Connell was split out wide like Tony Gonzalez.
Despite his drops, the Chiefs made an effort to keep him around this season. Is O'Connell another example of inept talent evaluation from the current regime, or a diamond in the rough waiting to explode like the next Jay Novacek? A sixth-round pick, Novacek caught two passes in two years before going on to five consecutive Pro Bowls.
A ludicrous comparison? Is it possible I've gone completely insane, or is O'Connell someone to watch next season? Either way, I just spent 200 words on a fourth-string tight end. Is there any doubt whatsoever you're reading the most comprehensive and insightful Kansas City Chiefs report card available?
Sean Ryan – F
At midseason, I called for Ryan's benching and Todd Haley granted my request immediately. You know you lack talent when a man who once hyped Devard Darling wants you off the field.
Ryan was poor in pass protection, dropped passes and made Pope look like a Pro Bowler. His most memorable play? Stiff-arming a woman who attempted to grab a football out of his hands after a touchdown, instead handing the souvenir to a child. At least he was someone's hero.
Wade Smith – B
Smith looked like Will Shields compared to Mike Goff this season. He blew open a giant hole on Jamaal Charles' 76-yard touchdown gallop against the Buffalo Bills. He's the perfect jack-of-all trades backup, but the Chiefs should probably look elsewhere for a starter.
Branden Albert – C
Albert started the year 40 pounds lighter, learning new technique and a new playbook. His play dropped off the face of the earth, and at one point he looked like darn-near the worst left tackle in the league. People gave up on him and started thinking about OSU tackle Russell Okung this April.
I admit it – I was one of those people. Albert's improvement over the last month of the season was shocking. He left Aaron Schobel, Kamerion Wimbley and Elvis Dumervil sackless, and Matt Cassel was sacked just five times in the last four games. Watch any of Charles' long runs – Albert is probably in space, taking out a linebacker, or sealing someone off at the line of scrimmage.
You're a fool if you want Albert moved inside to guard, his college position. The Chiefs would be wasting a high pick on Okung or any prospective left tackle. Albert just finished a difficult year and came out a better player. Watch him dominate in 2010.
Ryan O'Callaghan – C
Big Irish is confusing. On one hand, he wasn't nearly as awful as Ndukwe or McIntosh. Clearly, he solidified the Chiefs' right tackle position. But then you look at the statistics, and he allowed nine sacks in 12 games. That's indefensible.
O'Callaghan isn't awful, but seems to have a penchant for getting flat beat on a particular snap and allowing a sack in just about every game. He's like the ticking time bomb of offensive linemen, waiting to go off. His feet are slow enough that the Chiefs need an upgrade (regardless of what Brian Waters says).
Ike Ndukwe – D
A few weeks after Damion McIntosh and Rudy Niswanger conspired to sprain Matt Cassel's knee in preseason, Ndukwe attempted football assassinations on both Brodie Croyle and Cassel to open the regular season. How Croyle survived the Baltimore Ravens with Ndukwe and Goff blocking the strongside in Week 1 is a mystery. The fact that Cassel's knee survived a second shot from the grassy knoll at Arrowhead in Week 2 is a testament to his durability.
Why not fail Ndukwe? It's fairly obvious he shouldn't even be playing offensive tackle. He's a guard. He was a guard in Miami. The Chiefs had him playing right tackle this season out of sheer desperation. Unfortunately, all it did was make their quarterbacks run desperately. Ndukwe deserves a chance at guard in Kansas City.
Brian Waters – D
Waters showed signs of decline.
Jamie Squire - Getty
Waters, like Albert, improved. But Waters turns 33 this year and has a long history of nagging injury. He was bad at the beginning of this season, and might be worse at the start of next. The Chiefs need to think about replacing him sooner rather than later.
Waters thinks the Chiefs don't need any upgrades on the offensive line. But last season, he tried to convince us that Herm Edwards deserved another year as head coach. At this point, Waters' play on the field speaks louder than the words coming out of his mouth.
Rudy Niswanger – F
This season, I lost count of the number of times Niswanger moved into space, attempted to take out a linebacker or a safety, and wound up eating mud or landing on his butt. It was embarrassing, and it happened all year long. Athletically, Niswanger has issues.
I also lost count of the number of times I saw Niswanger shoved deep into the backfield. For a center on the large side, he's shockingly weak. At the point of attack, Niswanger has issues.
What do you do with a center who is neither adept in space nor at the line of scrimmage? Ask him to take a seat on the bench for someone who actually has a speck of physical talent, and doesn't snap the ball over the quarterback's head.
Mike Goff – F
Scott Pioli should be ashamed he signed Goff to a contract last offseason. Goff's ability to get beaten in pass protection was rivaled only by his ability to allow penetration on running plays this year. The sad thing is, it took an injury to get him off the field – what were the Chiefs thinking, watching him whiff on block after block in the film room?
The Chargers had Goff pegged when they dumped him a year before he stunk up the joint in Kansas City. There was no greater example of Pioli's ability to blow a talent evaluation this year. We have to hope it was just an accident.
Andy Alleman – F
The second half of Pioli's Miami import, Alleman started three games for the Chiefs this season (against Jacksonville, Oakland and Cleveland) and proved to be just as awful as Ndukwe. Not surprisingly, he was sent back to the bench immediately after his first two starts and only returned because of an injury to Brian Waters. Alleman isn't out of position, like Ndukwe. He has no excuse.
Barry Richardson – I
Richardson is the second-most talented tackle on KC's roster. He still managed to have an awful game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 15, prompting Ryan O'Callaghan's move off the inactive list almost immediately.
I don't think the Chiefs know what they want to do with Richardson. He played both tackle spots this season, but logged fewer snaps than any other offensive lineman. Again, he's talented. It might be a good idea to start Richardson at right tackle when OTAs start this spring and see if he sinks or swims.
Saturday: We grade Kansas City's defense.