The Kansas City Chiefs find themselves in a pretty good situation following the 2011 draft. The positions they really needed to address with young talent - outside linebacker, nose tackle, center - they addressed with talented players who could possibly make a difference from day one.
There isn't a positional group on the Chiefs that is more in-question due to the lockout and lack of free agency than the defensive line. The Chiefs tendered 2010-breakout defensive end Wallace Gilberry, but they have free agents in defensive end Shaun Smith, and nose tackle Ron Edwards.
Wallace Gilberry was named a 'secret superstar' by Pro Football Focus for his 2010 season. Gilberry had the second-most snaps of all Kansas City defensive lineman last season, and 75% of those snaps came on passing plays. This tells us that Gilberry's role is very specific. He is very good at rushing the passer as he finished second on the team in sacks last season, right behind Tamba Hali. Gilberry has a role on this team for the 2011 season, but without developing a better knack at stopping the run, he will pigeon-hole himself into a one-trick pony.
The Chiefs have a lot of different reasons to bring back Shaun Smith for the 2011 season. He was a much bigger part of this defense than anyone thought he would be when he originally signed with the Chiefs before last season. Smith stepped up as the starter when Tyson Jackson was injured early last season, but he wasn't able to get as many snaps rotating in at nose tackle because of Jackson's injury. Smith's versatility is something that Pioli seems to covet in players, and something that the Chiefs could use headed into the 2011 season.
Ron Edwards seems to always be the forgotten man when fans talk about draft needs and free agent needs. Edwards played much better than a lot of fans have given him credit for, but the ceiling for Ron Edwards is visible, and you can reach it fairly easily. As the Chiefs try and take that next step in not just being a one-year playoff team, and become a sustained threat in the division and playoffs each and every season, they will need a force in the middle of the defensive line that can take them to that next level.
That player has been written about before. Aubrayo Franklin is the free agent nose tackle that was not franchised this past off-season by the San Francisco 49ers. He is the prototypical 3/4 nose tackle and has been one of the top players in the game at his position for the last few seasons. The players that play behind him have benefited from Franklin giving them room to run around and make plays.
Patrick Willis is considered one of the two best middle linebackers in the entire NFL right now, along with Ray Lewis. What do Willis and Lewis have in common? Besides being absolute beasts, they both have terrific defensive lines in front of them. Willis knows how good Franklin is to his success and he said as much before last season. via nbcsports.com
"I'd say he's the best nose in the game. Nobody plays with better technique. Nobody knows the game better than he knows it."
Bringing in Aubrayo Franklin to play between Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey next season would make the Chiefs immediately better and not-so-much of an underdog in the tough games they have on their schedule next season.
Dorsey has been constantly discussed as a "square peg in a round hole". Even just recently the National Football Post had a story on Dorsey being wasted in a 3/4 defense, and that he should be playing in a 4/3 Tampa-2 defense as a penetrating defensive tackle. The fact of the matter is that Dorsey played solid as a 3/4 defensive end last year and that is the position the Chiefs need him to play.
Trading Dorsey to a 4/3 team just because he might have the skill set to fit the scheme better doesn't make a whole lot of sense when the Chiefs are looking at how to improve their team. The article seems to just say what could be best for Dorsey and not for the Chiefs. He was a good player for the Chiefs and you don't get better by trading away good players.
Tyson Jackson has been one of the most polarizing topics for Chiefs' fans over the last two seasons. He has not made the Suh-like impact that many fans expected in today's instant-gratification world. The 2011 season is more important to the future of Tyson Jackson than probably any other player on the Chiefs roster.
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft has had his chance to learn what it takes to be successful in the NFL game and he has shown flashes of being that player Pioli expected when he took him two years ago. He has stepped up and played well in games that the rest of the team didn't, like the San Diego Chargers game in San Diego, and the playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. This hasn't helped Jackson as fans don't want to think about any positives from games that the Chiefs were thoroughly manhandled.
The Chiefs added two rookie defensive lineman in the 2011 draft and they could each have big roles for this team moving forward. Every fan is guilty of over-estimating the impact that each of their rookies will have right after the draft. Fans want to believe that every player could step right in and contribute from the first week and that's just not the case, especially with defensive lineman. Allen Bailey and Jerrell Powe will each have an opportunity to define a role for themselves as rookies. But Powe could be rotational nose tackle at best in his first year, and Bailey will most likely see time as an inside-tackle in passing situations on defense.
The Chiefs also have Anthony Toribio and Dion Gales that will be looking at grabbing spots on the defensive line next season. They both have an uphill climb but they'll have their shot and showing they can become an asset. The best situation for the Chiefs is to sign Franklin in free agency and re-sign Shaun Smith for next season. The ripple effect that a very good nose tackle can do for an entire defense will make an already-promising defense that much better. It would mean the end of the Ron Edwards era in Kansas City if we were to sign Franklin, but if we're unable to do that, or we decide not to pursue Franklin, there is a good chance that Edwards finds his way back to Kansas City next season.
The defensive line has more issues to be settled than any other position on the field, and it's also the most important one for a team trying to establish its' place atop the division for a second-consecutive season.