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Kansas City Chiefs' Eric Berry Should Reach Elite Level Status In 2011

Berry is already on the cusp of being the best in the NFL, so the increased confidence and awareness of his sophomore season could put him over the top.

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While the Chiefs have made Tamba Hali their defensive cornerstone for the next few years as the elite pass rusher on the team, there's no denying the secondary has a couple stars of its own. Brandon Flowers is nearing the top tier of elite corners in the NFL already, and Brandon Carr's stock has risen impressively alongside him. Yet last year's selection of Eric Berry at No. 5 overall is the addition that made the Chiefs' defensive backfield one of the best in the NFL.

In his first year, the former Tennessee Volunteer put up some impressive stats and significant playing time and gave Chiefs fans every reason to believe he'll be anchoring the back of the defense for the rest of the decade. With four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, to go with two sacks, a forced fumble and 92 tackles, Berry showed the all-around skills that made him such a high selection in the first place. But with the bar set high as a Pro Bowler in his rookie year, what should Chiefs fans expect of Berry in Year Two?

Taking a look at some of the other top safeties in the NFL, it's clear that they really began to anticipate the quarterback's actions much better in their second or third season. Interception numbers went up in the second and third season for most top safeties -- names like Nick Collins, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu -- as did passes defended. For a young safety like the Lions' Louis Delmas, he seemed to become more intense, increasing sacks and forced fumbles as he gained confidence in his sophomore season.

Collins had 1 interception in his rookie season of 2005 to go with 7 passes defended. His next season, he had 3 interceptions and 10 PD. Over the last three years, he's had 17 interceptions and continues to be an elite safety for a championship team (including an interception for a touchdown against the Steelers in the 2010 Super Bowl). Reed went from 5 to 7 interceptions in his first two seasons, and he even grabbed 9 in his third year, an uncanny number for a safety. Polamalu didn't even have a single INT in his rookie year, but came away with 5 in the second.

Since schemes and personnel dictate statistics like interceptions, it's impossible to point to these numbers and create any kind of formulas. After all, Berry's numbers went down his senior year in college, but of course, that speaks to college offenses going away from Berry's side of the field given his tremendous talent. So while the numbers could lie to some degree, it's safe to say that Berry's confidence should grow by leaps and bounds this year, allowing him to trust his instincts even more.

Pat Kirwan recently listed the best safeties in the NFL and had Berry at No. 6 overall saying that "the sky is the limit." Given the dynamic nature of Berry's fellow defensive backs, Berry should make the leap to elite-level status in his second season, a position he will most likely occupy for quite some time.