- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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When Scott Pioli took over the Kansas City Chiefs, he promptly gave up an early second-round pick -- an extremely valuable selection -- to the team he had just come from, the Patriots, to acquire a quarterback he was extremely familiar with: Matt Cassel.
Obviously the intentions with that trade were to secure the quarterback of the future that the rebuilding franchise could use as a cornerstone. One year later, though, there are more questions than answers with Cassel.
While Cassel isn't an overwhelming physical specimen, there are some things that he does well, including displaying fine overall athleticism. Unfortunately, Cassel was the victim of too many drops by his receivers last season, and only two quarterbacks were sacked more than Cassel.
While he was often under siege behind a poor line, Cassel didn't show the timing and ability to unload the football on time. He struggled under pressure and must improve this area of his game. He also fumbled too much. Cassel is clearly at his best in the shotgun out of the spread, but he must improve under center in order for this offense to become more well rounded and balanced.
I haven't given up on Cassel and clearly the Chiefs have not either. Instead, they were very proactive to surround Cassel with the pieces to make his job easier. That starts with the hiring of Charlie Weis, whose system Cassel is already familiar with. Weis is highly regarded as a quarterback guru, and the attention he will devote to Cassel could pay big dividends for Kansas City. Plus, as a play-caller, Weis has proven capable of creating and exposing mismatches. He and Cassel have some weapons to work with in this regard, particularly out of the backfield.
Kansas City already had a developing star running back in Jamaal Charles, but it added a veteran it can trust between the tackles with Thomas Jones. Jones adds a more physical component to the run game and acts as an insurance policy and mentor to Charles. I expect a huge year from Charles, just as he displayed in the second half of 2009. But also remember that Jones rushed for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
On the line, the Chiefs signed Ryan Lilja, who should upgrade the right guard position dramatically. Left tackle Branden Albert should be healthier and will be another year further along in his conversion to tackle from guard at the college level. Third-round pick Jon Asamoah and grizzled veteran Casey Wiegmann should help the overall production as well. Still, right tackle is a problem area; it looks like Ryan O'Callaghan will return despite his ineffectiveness.
On the receiving front, Kansas City drafted Dexter McCluster in the second round. He will groomed to play the slot, similar to Wes Welker, and has the skills to excel in such a role. In addition to that responsibility, McCluster will act as a safety blanket for short receptions and adds another element to the backfield. Third-round pick Tony Moeaki could be an upgrade at tight end, which offered little in Cassel's first year behind center. Moeaki is more athletic and versatile than his predecessors. At a minimum, Moeaki will provide depth and competition for the spot. Also, it isn't farfetched to think that Cassel will get more help from Dwayne Bowe, who was suspended for four games last season, and Chris Chambers, who will have a full offseason to work with his quarterback. However, any way you cut it, I don't see a Welker or Randy Moss for Cassel to throw to, even though this cast has potential.
The offensive line was a sieve in 2009, but I expect improvement. That talent up front, the talent at skill positions and the coaching all should be improved, which should play off one another and allow Cassel the ability to do his job better. Plus, the Chiefs' schedule is favorable.
Cassel's salary is set to escalate bigtime in 2011, so it's put-up-or-shut-up time for the Chiefs' quarterback.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
The Kansas City Chiefs have surrounded Matt Cassel with weapons to make his job easier. Can the QB produce? Matt Williamson examines.