The complaints about the state of the defensive tackle position has been a recurring theme for the Kansas City Chiefs these last few off-seasons. Every year, the Chiefs are expected to address the matter in mock drafts by sportswriters coast to coast and every year the Chiefs front office is content to let the matter sit. The great names to occupy the position the last two seasons include Shaun Smith, Ron Edwards, Derek Lokey and Anthony Toribio.
But this isn't just an issue with the recent conversion to the 3-4 defense. Glenn Dorsey was chosen to man the middle alongside Alphonso Boone in 2008. Tank Tyler and Turk McBride were two of the names before that. Perhaps you also remember Ryan Sims or even Lional Dalton. While these latter names are more an exercise in remembrance and have zero bearing whatsoever to Scott Pioli's regime, it does show the Chiefs, as a franchise, have yet to strike on a B.J. Raji type to anchor the defense for years to come.
This year, the team tried Kelly Gregg, the veteran lineman of the Baltimore Ravens, and rookie Jerrelle Powe from Mississippi. It's the latest Chiefs-esque trick to make it work -- bringing in a veteran on his last legs and a developmental rookie. Once again, possible draft picks were eschewed in favor of outliers for the position. For example, the Chiefs traded out of their No. 21 slot in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft with the Cleveland Browns, where Phil Taylor was selected. Instead, Pioli wanted playmaker Jon Baldwin to pair with free agent signee Steve Breaston to enhance the wide receiver corps.
While there's nothing wrong with a dynamic offense, Baldwin was clearly a luxury pick at this point when the Chiefs have been so historically thin in the middle. As for Taylor, who again went in the Chiefs exact slot, the 6-3, 335 lb. lineman was a 16 game starter as a rookie and had 57 tackles, 4 sacks and 1 forced fumble in the middle for Cleveland. Baldwin might turn out to be the next great receiver for the Chiefs, but Taylor certainly looks great for a 23-year-old franchise tackle.
Now it appears Kelly Gregg is considering retirement and the developmental project of Powe hasn't worked out to anything measurable since Powe put up zero stats this entire year. That's worth repeating: at a position of need, Powe registered game play only against the Patriots and put up zero stats in 2011. Of course, Chiefs fans knew he was a developmental prospect, but no one expected him to sit the entire season.
Anyone watching the Broncos game today saw yet another example of a suspect (at best) run defense of the Chiefs. Gregg was often beat at the point of attack on the field and Willis McGahee and company ran at will. Even in a losing effort, the Broncos ran 47 times for 216 yards -- a 4.6 average and their longest run was 15 yards. That means that, again and again, the Broncos pounded the ball for positive yards against the Chiefs defensive line.
The Chiefs already have several playmakers at the linebacker position and the secondary is young and dynamic. But the defensive line has held a void year after year in the middle as the Chiefs have seemed content with journeymen and non-impact personnel. Clearly it hasn't gotten the job done.
If the Chiefs are going to make the leap to the next level on their defense, an anchor must be found, plain and simple. The calls for the first pick in the draft will be all about an offensive tackle, and there's certainly good reasons for that as well, but defensive tackle must be addressed at some point. If not, the Chiefs are bound to give up too many yards to the opposing running game. No matter how great a secondary is, they cannot take so much pressure game after game. If the Chiefs miss out on the chance to grab a Phil Taylor or Stephen Paea type this off-season, some explanation will be necessary.