ESPN analyst John Clayton has put out his latest rankings of NFL starting quarterbacks, and fans of the Kansas City Chiefs cannot be too happy with the middling results of Matt Cassel. Then again, that stresses just how much the jury is still out on a guy who has two full years as a starter for the Chiefs and another season for the Patriots.
It's easy to point to last season's 10 win team, the playoff appearance and the Pro Bowl nod given to Cassel as proof positive that the Chiefs are sitting pretty at QB. And compared to many teams, they are. The Bengals are throwing Andy Dalton to the wolves. The Panthers are going to learn just how bad a project quarterback can be when you don't treat him like one. The Seahawks are banking on the incredible potential Tarvaris Jackson, and the Redskins have no quarterback plan whatsoever. That doesn't even bring up the 49ers and their undaunted affection for Alex Smith.
But Cassel has yet to place the Chiefs on his shoulders when everything else is failing and win a game. He didn't rise to the occasion against the Ravens. He's managed games well by playing efficiently, avoiding turnovers and taking advantage of offensive situations as they've come to him. The reason he's not recognized as a Manning or RIvers is that he's not Manning or Rivers.
Then again, the Chiefs have never placed the offensive pieces around him to take that next step until this year. The options beyond Dwayne Bowe at receiver last season were ridiculous. Even late in the year in 2010, the Chiefs signed Kevin Curtis off the street and then gave him significant time. Now they've added Steve Breaston from the Cardinals, drafted Jonathan Baldwin and plan to incorporate more of Tony Moeaki and Dexter McCluster. There's more options, in other words.
John Clayton lists Cassel as comparable to longtime Jets quarterback Chad Pennington when he writes, "Cassel is almost like Pennington, a quarterback who took four teams to the playoffs for the Jets and Dolphins. He manages the game well enough to win and get a team into the playoffs. What holds him back is the lack of a big arm and his struggles in games against elite quarterbacks."
The reason the big arm wasn't displayed in years past -- at least with the Chiefs -- is because there's no one to throw to. No one is going to call a play to a receiver who isn't there. The offense held him back last year -- perhaps it was because of Cassel's limitations or it was the scheme that never allowed him to throw that deep. This year, there's no excuse because the speed on the outside is there with Baldwin and Breaston both. This is the year that Cassel proves his true value -- and ranking -- in the NFL.
Clayton thinks he's a mid-level starter in the NFL, and perhaps that's the case. If so, the Chiefs are going to have to rethink the position if they want to truly succeed deep into the playoffs. At this point, however, they've already made it and are happy to have a much better QB situation than nearly half the league.