A weekly look at a player whose performance must improve in 2011.
The Chiefs and Matt Cassel had a very good season last year, exceeding expectations during the regular season. Things are looking up for this franchise. But can Cassel be the guy to take Kansas City to the next step of its development?
Cassel did a lot of good things in 2010. The way he valued the football was just superb. Throwing just seven interceptions in 450 attempts is pretty remarkable for anyone and in any offensive system. Consistency had been a major problem for Cassel before the season, but he made great strides for the better part of the year. Cassel played smarter than ever and is certainly more comfortable behind center pre-snap and post-snap. He has realized that he doesn't have to make great throw after great throw to put his team in a position to win. Cassel has realized that he has a potent and extremely well-coached defense at his disposal to keep games tight. But the Chiefs also don't ask a lot of him and when they do, bad things too often happen --as they did against the Ravens in the playoffs.
With limited physical tools, Cassel doesn't have the highest of ceilings. His supporting cast must be quite strong for this formula to work. The offensive line is well-coached and played over its talent level in 2010. Kansas City could really benefit from adding another quality starter to the mix up front. Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi
or Florida's Mike Pouncey could be an attractive option in the first round, although it seems more likely that Kansas City will look to improve its front seven on defense with that selection.
Obviously the running game, led by Jamaal Charles, is absolutely exceptional. Cassel should have that to lean on again next season. Although he is already a strong receiving option out of the backfield, I expect Charles to get even better in the passing game. The guy who really excites me in that capacity is Dexter McCluster. He needs to stay healthy, but McCluster has the potential to be a very dynamic weapon and a best friend to Cassel as a receiver who can be used in many ways. McCluster creates mismatches.
The other player whose role should increase -- and really help Cassel -- is Tony Moeaki. Moeaki is an underrated blocker and also flashed big-play potential from his tight end position. He too can be used in many ways and line up at multiple spots. Moeaki has a chance to be a star.
The Chiefs could use another starting wideout, and although I have a tough time totally buying into Dwayne Bowe, what he did last year was obviously very impressive. But Bowe also had some bad games to go along with the spectacular ones. He could stand to be more sure-handed and reliable. If Kansas City can add someone to help at wideout, and if Charles, McCluster and Moeaki all step up as receivers -- which doesn't seem far-fetched -- then Cassel should be in an exceptional situation to succeed.
But is Cassel good enough to win consistently? I mean really win? As a year-after-year contending team? Can he be on the level of second-tier quarterbacks such as Eli Manning or Matt Ryan? That is the step Cassel has to take this season if the Chiefs are to improve and establish themselves as true contenders and the class of the AFC West. If Cassel isn't good enough to win consistently, Kansas City will have to go back to square one.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.