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2012 Chiefs Walkthrough & AFC West Rankings: Quarterbacks

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First up in our 2012 Chiefs positional walkthrough is the most important position in the game: Quarterback. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the most important position in the game is arguably the weakest position on the team. It’s now been nearly 30 years since this franchise has drafted a quarterback in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Think about that. 30 years!

Len Dawson, Joe Montana, Trent Green. That’s about it for the Kansas City Chiefs at the quarterback position in their 50 years of existence. Sure, Mike Livingston, Steve Fuller, Bill Kenney, Todd Blackledge, Steve DeBerg, Dave Kreig, Steve Bono, Rich Gannon, Elvis Grbac, Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle (Oh wait), Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton have won some games for the franchise…

Yeah, it hasn’t been pretty for this team when it involves the quarterback position.

No wonder Kansas City hasn’t experienced a playoff win since Montana was under center in 1993. No wonder the loyal fans of this team haven’t experienced a Super Bowl since Dawson was the field general in 1969. While the 2012 Chiefs might be one of the most talented Chiefs teams in the history of the franchise, it’s still lacking the one position that matters the most. Quarterback.

MATT CASSEL (6’4, 230lbs, Age 30, 8th season)

2011: 9 GP, 160/269 (59.5%), 1,713 yds (6.37 avg), 10 TD, 9 INT, 76.6 Rating

Stats don’t lie, but they can be deceiving. In 2010, Matt Cassel in his 3rd year as an NFL starter, and 2nd with the Kansas City Chiefs, threw for 3,116 yards on 262/450 (58.2%) passing with 27 TDs and only 7 INTs. It was good for a 93.0 QB rating and Cassel’s first Pro Bowl appearance replacing former teammate Tom Brady as an alternate.

But as I said, stats can be deceiving. And Cassel’s infamous 27/7 line is one of the most misleading stat lines ever. Cassel did limit his mistakes, I’ll give him that, but some of that is because he didn’t take many chances downfield. He knows he doesn’t have the arm or accuracy, so he didn’t take many risks. But what Cassel benefited the most from was the #1 rushing attack in the NFL and arguably the best running back in the league in Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs also played a fairly weak schedule in 2010, going up against a lot of poor defenses. Cassel was an efficient game manager against the weaker defenses, but struggled mightily against the better teams.

Since becoming Kansas City’s starter in 2009, Cassel has beaten ONE playoff team: The 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in 2010. Even worse, he’s only beaten ONE team with a .500 record or better: The 8-8 San Diego Chargers in 2010. In his past 27 starts, Cassel has passed for over 267 yards only TWICE, and his last 11 games: 56.3 completion % for 1,898 yards (5.9 YPA), 10 TDs and 16 turnovers. He’s never completed 60% of his passes in a single season.

I could go on and on. Fact is Matt Cassel has been one of the worst starters in the NFL since he became a Chief in 2009. There was a reason Cassel went undrafted and never started at USC. He doesn’t have a good arm and isn’t very accurate. He has a slow release and has to wind up his delivery to make certain throws. He struggles reading defenses and going through his progressions. He doesn’t possess good pocket presence and panics over the slightest pressure. He just doesn’t seem to have any of the tools or intangibles to be a successful starting QB in the NFL.

But 2012 will (hopefully) be Cassel’s last chance to prove he can lead this team to the playoffs and win once he gets there. Just getting there (shouldn’t) won’t do it. The Chiefs have arguably one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. There are zero excuses for Cassel as he has a plethora of weapons around him, a very good offensive line in front of him and a defense that should be one of the better defenses in the league.

BRADY QUINN (6’3, 235lbs, Age 27, 6th season)

2011: DID NOT PLAY

Brady Quinn comes over from the Denver Broncos to battle for the backup QB job with Ricky Stanzi. Quinn, who was drafted by current Chiefs HC Romeo Crennel when he was the head man with the Cleveland Browns back in 2007, reunites with Crennel after two seasons in Denver backing up Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.

Quinn didn’t play a down in his two years with the Broncos, but that could change with the Chiefs. While I don’t envision anyone but Matt Cassel beginning the season as the starting QB for the Chiefs, that doesn’t mean Quinn couldn’t see any playing time. If Cassel performs poorly in the first 5 or 6 games, I could see a change being made.

 RICKY STANZI (6’4, 228lbs, Age 24, 2nd season)

2011: DID NOT PLAY

But would that change include Brady Quinn or the sophomore from Iowa in Ricky Stanzi? Every Chiefs fan hopes its Stanzi. Everyone hopes Stanzi lights it up in training camp and the pre-season to give the KC faithful a glimmer of hope. Even if he is impressive during the pre-season, barring an injury to Matt Cassel, he won’t be the starter opening day against the Atlanta Falcons. However if he does impress and can beat out Quinn for the backup job, Stanzi would get his shot if Cassel does struggle or is injured. And who knows, Stanzi could surprise us all. We’ll never know until he actually gets on the field and shows us what he’s got.

AFC WEST STARTING QB RANKINGS

1). Peyton Manning, Broncos (2011: DNP) – If completely healthy and back to his old self, Manning is the obvious choice for the best QB in the AFC West. That’s a big if though. And even if he is healthy, I can’t see Manning playing at his best right away after missing all of 2011. I think it’ll take some time for Manning to gel with his new teammates as well. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Brandon Stokley, Andre Caldwell. Not exactly the greatest group of weapons and Manning’s offensive line played poorly last year. But it’s Peyton Manning, he doesn’t need a lot around him and he has a solid group of running backs behind him in Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and rookie Ronnie Hillman. If 100% healthy, Manning makes the Broncos the favorites to repeat as AFC West Champions.

2). Phillip Rivers, Chargers (2011: 16 GP, 366/582 (62.9%), 4,624 yds (7.95 avg), 27 TD, 20 INT, 88.7 Rating) – The other elite, franchise QB in the division is Phillip Rivers. While he hasn’t lead his team to the playoffs the past two years, he’s still been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL and if Manning isn’t the same, he’s definitely the best QB in the division. Rivers has lost Darren Sproles and Vincent Jackson the last two offseasons, but he still has some good weapons in Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown and of course Antonio Gates, as well as the newcomers in Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. The Chargers are hoping Ryan Mathews can take the next step at running back after losing Mike Tolbert in free agency. Like Denver, San Diego’s offensive line was in the bottom 1/4th of the league last year, but it didn’t matter much with Rivers. He’s put up great numbers along with winning multiple division titles and playoff games. All he’s missing is that Super Bowl ring.

3). Carson Palmer, Raiders (2011: 10 GP, 199/328 (60.7%), 2,753 yds (8.39 avg), 13 TD, 16 INT, 80.5 Rating) – After trading a 1st round pick in 2012 and a 2nd round pick in 2013 for Carson Palmer six games into the 2011 season, the Raiders are hoping Palmer’s play in 2012 improves after a full offseason with the organization. Palmer wasn’t terrible last season, especially considering he was coming out of “retirement” in the middle of the season. But Oakland will need Palmer to look more like his old self this season. The Raiders are hoping Darren McFadden is healthy and ready to go behind a solid offensive line. If he is, it’ll help Palmer out tremendously. Palmer’s got some weapons with a lot of speed on the outside with the up and coming Denarius Moore to go along with Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Palmer isn’t an elite QB anymore, but he is still capable putting together a good season and winning some games.

4). Matt Cassel, Chiefs (2011: 9 GP, 160/269 (59.5%), 1,713 yds (6.37 avg), 10 TD, 9 INT, 76.6 Rating) – Easily the worst starting QB in the AFC West. The good news for Cassel and the Chiefs however is that he has the best talent in the division around him. Cassel has shown he can manage the offense with a great running game, which he should have again this season, and win enough games to get to the playoffs. While having the worst QB in your division usually doesn’t yield good results, the Chiefs should have a Top 10 defense and running game with plenty of offensive weapons to minimize Cassel’s limitations and get the most out of him. With the return of Jamaal Charles and addition of Peyton Hillis, the Chiefs rushing attack should get back to where they were in 2010. And with the addition of Eric Winston and Rodney Hudson replacing Casey Weigmann at center, the front five should be one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin, Steve Breaston, Dexter McCluster, rookie Devon Wylie and the return of Tony Moeaki with the addition of Kevin Boss at TE creates one of the better receiving corps in the league as well. Will all that be enough to beat out Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers for the AFC title?

AFC WEST QB UNIT RANKINGS

1). Denver Broncos (Peyton Manning, Caleb Hanie, Brock Osweiler)

2). San Diego Chargers (Phillip Rivers, Charlie Whitehurst, Jarrett Lee)

3). Oakland Raiders (Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Terrelle Pryor)

4). Kansas City Chiefs (Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Ricky Stanzi)  

When ranking QB units by team, usually the ranking of the starting QBs in the division is about the same as it is in this case. If the Chargers had a great backup QB and a promising prospect as the 3rd QB, they might have leaped Manning and the Broncos’ QB unit as Manning and Rivers aren’t that far apart, but there isn’t much difference between Charlie Whitehurst and Caleb Hanie. Same with the Chiefs and Raiders. If KC just drafted a 1st round QB to take over for Cassel soon, I would’ve put the Chiefs’ QB unit ahead of Palmer and the Raiders. But it is what it is. Manning, Rivers, Palmer, Cassel in that order with not much behind any of them.