Grading the Chiefs – Part 1: Offense

Charlie Riedel - AP

How do you grade a class that had few students who earned a passing grade a year ago (worst offense in franchise history), and then follow up that disaster by turning in a 2-14 season, including a terrible final exam (16-6)?

Surprisingly, you go fairly easy on them, at least if they're on the offense. 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.


QUARTERBACKS

Tyler Thigpen – B


Based on training camp, preseason and his first two games this year, Thigpen deserved an ‘F.' Somehow, by the end of the season he was the most improved player on KC's roster, bar none. After adjusting the offense to suit Thigpen's talents, the Chiefs averaged almost 22 points over the last 10 games of 2008. We can't credit Thigpen solely for that advancement, but the Chiefs were throwing the ball around like Warren Moon was under center and Buddy Ryan was on the sideline.

Thigpen is still far too inaccurate to be considered a viable franchise quarterback at this point. But his abilities in the spread (arm strength, foot speed, decision making) made the last 10 games enjoyable to watch. There's no question he earned the right to compete for a starting job in 2009. That may prove to be a challenge for him if a new head coach favors a more traditional offensive approach.

Brodie Croyle – F

Croyle had a fantastic training camp and distanced himself from every other quarterback on KC's roster early on. Then he turned in a completely mediocre preseason before undeniably proving he's not strong enough to play in the NFL. All Croyle really had to do was stay healthy and turn in some mediocre passing stats to earn a passing grade this season. He failed horribly.

The Chiefs shouldn't waste time with Croyle this offseason. Cut him as soon as possible. Sure, he can throw the ball with accuracy and zip, but no one wants a backup quarterback who gives way to the third stringer after a quarter of play.

Damon Huard – A

You know the "special needs" kid who sat at the back of your classroom in junior high? That was Huard in Kansas City this year, needing a running game and an offensive line he didn't have. Huard's arm looked dead in camp, but somehow he duped us all into thinking he could start 10 games by turning in a shockingly efficient preseason and beating the Broncos in Week 4.

Then he got hurt. A rumor went around this year that Huard quit on the Chiefs. If true, we should probably thank him for graciously stepping aside and letting Tyler Thigpen have a chance, and not rocking the boat through the media in the mean time. It's not like he had much else to do. Give the "special needs quarterback" a gold star, he earned it.

Quinn Gray – A+

Gray looked like a superstar in his lone relief appearance. He also held the clipboard incredibly well.


RUNNING BACKS

Larry Johnson – C-


I wanted to give Larry a good grade this year. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry behind a terrible offensive line, and actually blocked halfway decent in the spread when he returned from suspension.

But it's tough to ignore his off-the-field problems, and even tougher to ignore his comments at the end of the season. Johnson wants to play somewhere else. Why? If the Chiefs bring in the right GM and head coach, a pair that can identify and acquire the right offensive line talent, and Larry goes easy on the night life, he'll be back to putting up 1,500+ yards, easy. He proved that this year by ripping off the longest run of his career (65 yards) and completely recovering from his awful foot injury.

Johnson is 29 and still doesn't have his head screwed on straight. It's a shame, because he can still play. The Chiefs have few other viable options at running back, and Johnson is still under contract, so he may get at least one more season as a Chief. If you're as big of a Larry Johnson fan as I am, pray the new GM has the patience to put up with his terrible attitude.

Kolby Smith - F

There was talk this offseason that Smith was a more complete back than Larry Johnson. It's probably true that he blocks better, but when you take 10 seconds to pick your hole at the line of scrimmage every other handoff, you can't play running back in the NFL. Smith ran well behind an inferior offensive line at the end of 2007. What happened this year (2.9 yards per carry)? Getting injured didn't help.

Jamaal Charles – B+

The Chiefs spent a third-round pick on Charles, and he delivered exactly what they anticipated. Despite blowing a block that got Croyle blasted in Week 1, Charles was

KC's third-down back all year and showed remarkable blocking ability for a 200-pounder. He caught the ball well (27 catches), ran with patience, quickness and speed (5.3 yards per carry), and wasn't half bad on kickoff returns.

So why not an A? Charles fumbled the ball way too much for a guy who touched it less than 100 times on offense. The Chiefs need to get the ball in his hands more next year, because he has rare ability, but they can't do that if he turns it over. Is Charles the lightning to Larry Johnson's thunder, or just another back who can't be trusted to hold onto the ball? We'll find out next season.

Dantrell Savage - A

Savage came out of nowhere and had an impressive training camp. He won the kick return job, and then lost it to fellow rookie Kevin Robinson. Why? There's no question Savage was a superior kickoff returner. Robinson should be returning punts.

I love Savage's game. He'll never make a Pro Bowl, but he's good at everything, and has incredible power for a small guy. His running style reminds me a little of Priest Holmes. There's room for Savage on KC's roster as a third running back.


FULLBACK

Mike Cox – B+


The Chiefs hit a home run when they picked up Cox as an undrafted free agent this year. Chan Gailey knew exactly what he was doing, grabbing his old Georgia Tech fullback. Cox played in every game at a physically demanding position, no small task for a rookie. His blocking was consistent, he flat-out doesn't drop passes, and he adapted well to the spread when the offense changed. The Chiefs even used Cox as a quasi-tight end this year in some formations

Why doesn't Cox get an A? He's not quite Tony Richardson just yet. A more talented fullback might beat him out next year. His blocking is solid, but it's not difficult to find someone who's spectacular when that's all you're really asking them to do. But at least no one's talking about Boomer Grigsby anymore.


WIDE RECEIVER

Dwayne Bowe – C+


Bowe predicted he'd gain 1,300 yards prior to the start of training camp. He didn't come close, mostly due to the fact he tied for the league lead (16) in dropped passes this year.

Why? Bowe's ultimate strength is supposed to be his ability to catch the football. He doesn't have the acceleration of Marvin Harrison or the raw speed of Randy Moss. His game is running great routes, out-muscling defenders and putting a death grip on the football with his elite hand strength.

Don't get me wrong, Bowe was incredibly fun to watch and we can't be too down on a receiver who played with a walking injury, a special needs quarterback and an inaccurate scrambler. It had to be tough developing any sort of timing with a quarterback this year.

But great receivers make average quarterbacks look special. Is Bowe great, or merely good? He can't drop 16 passes next season if he's going to be the former. A more accurate quarterback will help Bowe take the next step.

Mark Bradley - A

No one expected much of anything from Bradley when the Chiefs picked him up midseason. Instead, he surprised us, and became a legitimate downfield threat in KC's spread offense. Like Bowe, Bradley would benefit from a more accurate quarterback. He had coverage beaten down the field consistently this year, but Thigpen struggles to completely any pass consistently past 15 yards.

Is Bradley the No. 2 receiver of the future, or will his injury-plagued past hold him back? He shouldn't prevent the Chiefs from drafting a receiver this April. Tony Gonzalez can't play forever.

Will Franklin - F

Sorry Mizzou fans, the helicopter had a solid training camp and a great preseason, but he disappeared in the regular season with only seven catches. The Chiefs drafted Franklin because he ran a great 40 (4.37) and had the body of an NFL receiver. It didn't translate to a successful rookie season.

Franklin should have thrived when the Chiefs switched to the spread. He'll need to make a major improvement this offseason to stick on the roster, especially in the event of a new general manager.

Devard Darling - F

Darling made me look incredibly stupid this year, so he automatically gets a failing grade. I was raving about the former Ravens' receiver after his solid training camp. The Chiefs had Darling pegged as the No. 2 and that's exactly what he looked like in River Falls, flashing speed and good hands.

The Chiefs' offense really suffered when Darling disappeared as a starter early on. I don't think it was coincidence that KC's offense was at its best when Bradley was healthy, either. Darling made a few plays late in the year (seven catches over the last three weeks). He might be the slot receiver of the future, but I'm not sticking my neck out for him again.

Jeff Webb – F

Webb couldn't even beat out Devard Darling this year. But someday he'll tell his grandchildren about a great man he once knew, a man named Herman Edwards. "Kids," Webb will say as the firelight reflects off his glasses, "because Herm drafted me, I once caught a few dozen passes from a walking injury, a special needs quarterback and an inaccurate scrambler. And I made a few hundred grand, to boot. Find your own Herm, kids, and great things can happen."

Kevin Robinson – I

Robinson looked pedestrian on kickoff returns, but was really the only viable punt returner in Kansas City this season. He can make the first guy miss. He'll need to contribute on offense if he's going to stick as a punt returner next season.

Bobby Sippio – F

Remember Bobby Sippio? I'm positive there are tons of Chiefs fans who still love him, so I'd better get in a parting shot while I can. I heard Sippio had a tryout with another NFL team, but he was too slow to get there in time.


TIGHT ENDS

Tony Gonzalez – A-


Gonzalez just keeps shocking the hell out of everyone as he gets older. Thirty-two year old tight ends aren't supposed to break 1,000 yards and score 10 touchdowns, especially when they're being thrown to by a walking injury, a special needs quarterback and an inaccurate scrambler. Gonzalez broke all of Shannon Sharpe's records and adapted perfectly to the spread. He fits in any offense.

Unfortunately, Tony's end-of-season outburst about Herm Edwards and Tyler Thigpen is terribly self-serving. Gonzalez is trying to hold the franchise up just because he doesn't want to start over again. A new head coach and competition for Thigpen is in Kansas City's best interests. If Gonzalez has a problem with that, he should look at his bank account again.

Brad Cottam – B-

Some thought Cottam was too tall and wiry to be an effective blocking tight end coming out in the draft this year, but he locked down that position cold for the Chiefs. Cottam's efficient blocking (he's not Jason Dunn just yet) allowed the Chiefs to split Tony Gonzalez out wide hundreds of times this year.

I would have enjoyed seeing Chan Gailey use Cottam as a receiver more. He runs faster than Gonzalez, and his 6-foot-8 frame is immense. Did the Chiefs throw a single jump ball to Cottam in the end zone this year? Maybe Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe are all the red-zone targets an offense needs. I could be nitpicking. Then again, didn't the Chiefs have problems in the red zone this year?


OFFENSIVE LINE

Branden Albert - A


Everyone was horrified when Albert went down with an injury in training camp. He returned after missing preseason and made Richard Seymour disappear in New England. Everyone was horrified a few weeks later when Albert went down with another injury. He returned and made more pass rushers disappear, including a dominant performance against AFC sack leader Joey Porter in Week 16.

The Chiefs could have spent their first overall pick on Albert last April and it would have been regarded a reach, but they still would have hit a grand slam. Albert looks like a franchise left tackle, which is shocking considering he barely played two games at that position in college. It's no coincidence the Chiefs' offense had its worst game of the season in Carolina, when Albert was out.

Albert should have been KC's rookie of the year. The only question mark is his durability, but it's tough to complain about a rookie left tackle who allows only 4.5 sacks and commits just one penalty in 15 games. Especially when he's protecting a walking injury, a special needs quarterback and an inaccurate scrambler. There are Chiefs fans who want to draft Michael Oher and move Albert to right tackle, or to left guard. Why?

Brian Waters – A

In a shocking turn of events, Waters made the Pro Bowl again playing next to a talented left tackle. Unfortunately, he's getting up there, so the Chiefs will need to start looking for a replacement. Fortunately, Carl Peterson resigned, so this time, KC's front office may head the decline of an offensive lineman off at the pass for once.

Rudy Niswanger - C

Niswanger was supposed to be the bigger, stronger answer to the departure of the smaller, weaker Casey Wiegmann. Then the Chiefs dumped their power rushing offense (in which Niswanger's larger frame really wasn't making that much of a difference anyway), and switched to the spread, which requires lighter, more nimble offensive linemen. Meanwhile, Wiegmann had a Pro-Bowl caliber season in Denver, but will miss Hawaii again, anyway.

Would KC's spread have been more effective with Wiegmann? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, Niswanger didn't make anyone believe he's a long-term answer at center this year. You might make more money as a doctor, Rudy.

Adrian Jones - F

Herm Edwards' New York import, a former failed right tackle, began the season as KC's starting right guard, supposedly an upgrade over John Welbourn. As the season went on, it was clear Jones was definitely an upgrade over Welbourn. That's because he played poorly enough to give way to Wade Smith, who might not be the answer either, but probably should have been starting from the beginning of the season anyway.

Damion McIntosh – C

Based on the Chiefs' pre-spread offense, McIntosh deserved an F. With quarterbacks lining up under center, McIntosh struggled incredibly at right tackle, at times against completely average defensive ends. When I saw Jason Parker roasting McIntosh in River Falls, I knew it was going to be a long year for McIntosh.

No Chief allowed more sacks this year than McIntosh, but in the spread, he looked halfway decent. He destroyed two Dolphins on a screen pass in Week 16. Did the spread hide his inability to play right tackle, or did McIntosh actually grow into the position by season's end? Everyone should be shocked that he actually stayed healthy enough to start 16 games.

Either way, he turns 32 this offseason. The Chiefs should look for a young bookend to complement Albert.

Wade Smith – B

Being the second-best guard on a team with Brian Waters should never be viewed as a bad thing. Smith also stepped in at center this season, and the Chiefs' didn't experience much dropoff. There wasn't much fanfare when Smith was signed last offseason, but he may turn out to be the jack-of-all-trades lineman the Chiefs need for the future. He's only 27, and can also play tackle.

Herb Taylor - B

There's talk that Taylor should be moved to right tackle, but that would be a mistake. Taylor filled in so effortlessly for Albert at left tackle this year it makes zero sense to move him anywhere else. Especially right tackle – he doesn't look nearly big or strong enough to play the other side. Don't waste him at guard, either. Having a dependable backup left tackle in the NFL is almost as important as having a dependable backup quarterback. The Chiefs' should consider themselves lucky to have plucked Taylor in the sixth round.

Barry Richardson - I

How did a talented, massive offensive lineman not get on the field for a 2-14 team? The word is that Richardson simply wasn't ready this year, but a few dozen snaps couldn't have hurt. Training camp '09 might be Richardson's only chance with a new GM coming in.


COACHES

Chan Gailey – A+


I know there are critics who complain about the Chiefs' second-half offense under Gailey. I realize frequently, Kansas City was lucky to score a touchdown in the second half, even in the spread. But we're talking about a coaching staff that's won six games in two years. The defense has completely regressed. The special teams are among the league's worst. Comparatively, Gailey looks like a genius.

The Chiefs finished tied for second in the NFL in yards per carry. Yes, the running game was incredibly inconsistent, but that statistic still shocks me. Plus, let's be honest – Gailey was working with a walking injury, a special needs quarterback and an inaccurate scrambler.

Dick Curl – B

Curl gets all kinds of garbage from the media about being Herm's right hand man, and last season KC's quarterbacks were terrible. But we have to credit him for making something out of Tyler Thigpen. In camp, Thigpen was horrible, and no one thought he would turn into an inaccurate scrambler who led the Chiefs to 22 points a game.

Curtis Modkins - A

Jamaal Charles had a good rookie year, Larry Johnson actually blocked a few people this season, and the Chiefs had incredible depth at running back. If the Chiefs give Modkins a raise he'll probably start babysitting Johnson at Club Zen.

Bob Bicknell - B-

Albert was fantastic, Waters made the Pro Bowl, and the Chiefs' offensive line definitely showed improvement as the season wore on. Heck, Chiefs quarterbacks were sacked only 37 times this year.

Eric Price – C

Dwayne Bowe regressed, the Chiefs got nothing out of Devard Darling or Jeff Webb, and Mark Bradley came out of nowhere and suddenly started catching passes. At least Price didn't ask the Chiefs to sign Bobby Sippio.

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