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From Unknown To Known

Posted Jan 20, 2011

Three preseason underdogs that made significant contributions in 2010

Like most NFL teams, the Chiefs began last offseason with three primary goals. Kansas City’s 2010 blueprint was based off developing in-house talent, adding few band-aids via free agency and churning out a successful draft class ready for immediate contribution.

Lacking high amounts of established players and boasting a roster full of projected starters owning less than three years of experience, each point of emphasis needed to hit in order for the Chiefs to steer a one-season turnaround.

For the most part, everything hit and a worst to first story emerged. Numerous players elevated their game to produce an AFC West Championship.

LB Jovan Belcher transitioned from a long-shot rookie free agent (out of Maine) into a regular starter that produced 100+ tackles in his second season. Brandon Carr took his game to a much higher level in his third season. Tamba Hali thrived in his second year as a 3-4 outside linebacker to lead the AFC in sacks.

Andy Studebaker, Glenn Dorsey, Wallace Gilberry, Dwayne Bowe, Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson…the list goes on and one. Heck, even experienced veterans like Ron Edwards made noticeable strides this season as well.

In the end, the Chiefs received roster contribution from top to bottom. The players listed above were all expected to play a role in the potential success of 2010, but what about the guys who weren’t?

Several players seemingly came out of nowhere to make significant advancements that led to the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history.

 “The coaches did such a great job of turning some unknowns into knowns and I am not talking about from a marquee names standpoint, I am just talking about a roster standpoint,” Coach Todd Haley said.

Here are three players that went from “unknown to known” in 2010:

Cory Greenwood

Three rookie free agents beat the odds to make Kansas City’s Opening Day roster. Who knew that the kid out of the Quebec University Football League would be one of them?

Who expected Greenwood to make the Chiefs roster, much less be active for all 16 games( plus the playoffs)? The guy didn’t even play college football under the same rules as the American game and he certainly didn’t’ face the same level of competition of many he was competing against..

Greenwood joined undrafted rookies Jeremy Horne and Justin Cole on Kansas City’s Week One roster, but the Canadian was the only one to stay active throughout the entire season. Other rookie free agents, like Verran Tucker, wouldn’t join Greenwood on the 53-man squad until later in the season.

Through he played in only a handful of defensive snaps, no player on the Chiefs roster received more special teams plays than Greenwood. He finished the year with 13 special teams tackles (and two defensive tackles).

Once an NFL long-shot, Greenwood now owns 17 games of NFL film as he enters free agency (CBA classifications TBD). That sure beats the film that arrived in the Chiefs scouting offices last year: four seasons of tape against the likes of McGill, Acadia and Bishop’s University.

There’s generally a place in the league for young linebackers that excel on special teams. Toronto owns Greenwood’s CFL rights, but it would be hard to imagine that his NFL tenure is already coming to an end.

Verran Tucker

Meet Verran Tucker, the undrafted rookie who had already been cut by his first team (Dallas) before training camp ever began.

Tucker’s late arrival into St. Joseph looked nothing more than the Chiefs opting to hire some training camp legs for the dog days of summer. In a blockbuster transaction, Tucker took over the roster slot once held by David Grimes on July 31st.

Players like Tucker, ones that arrive in the middle of training camp, come and go across the league. It seems like 99% of the time, those that join late are cut before the start of the regular season. We saw it this year with John Russell, Dan Santucci and Bill Stull (even vets face long odds in this type of situation – see Ashley Lelie and Amani Toomer from the 2009 training camp).

Simply making the practice squad is beating the odds for many of these players. Tucker went the extra mile.

After five weeks on the practice squad, Tucker received his call to the active roster as a special teams addition. Two weeks later, he caught his first touchdown pass. Two weeks after that, Tucker logged his first NFL start.

By the end of the season, Tucker was starting opposite Dwayne Bowe as the Chiefs second wide receiver. All the while, Tucker excelled on special teams; particularly as a gunner in punt coverage.

Tucker’s 2010 season began with zero expectations and ended with a start in the franchise’s first home playoff game in seven years. His rapid climb covered nearly every step of the NFL’s food chain - a pre-camp casualty, a training camp body, a practice squad player, a special teams contributor, a reserve player and, finally, a starter.

Looking forward, most believe the Chiefs need to add a viable number two receiver whether it’s in the draft or in free agency. With Tucker, the Chiefs are playing with house money.

If Tucker develops into a consistent go-to receiver, great. If not, the Chiefs still unearthed a valuable special teams player who is both athletic and explosive enough to produce on the offensive end if called upon.

2010 was a great year for Verran Tucker.

Barry Richardson

A sixth-round pick out of Clemson in 2008, most expected Richardson to battle for a reserve roster slot in his third professional season. Making the team wasn’t a surprise, but staring all 16 games for a vastly improved offensive line was completely unexpected out of the 24-year old tackle.

Richardson had started just one game over his first two NFL seasons, typically appearing only in the blocking units on special teams. He didn’t even make the 53-man roster coming out of training camp in 2009 and spent part of last season on the practice squad.

Sure, Richardson is far from flawless. He led the team in penalties (9) and penalty yards (63) while giving up 5.0 sacks, but he was also part of a unit that allowed 13.0 fewer sacks that the year before and led the league in rushing with a 164.2 yards per game average.

Also give Richardson credit for fighting through a preseason knee injury and never relinquishing his starting role when incumbent starter Ryan O’Callaghan returned to full health.

There’s little question that the Chiefs need to improve their depth at the tackle position. At times, Kansas City had just two active tackles on gameday. An injury to Branden Albert in Indianapolis actually forced Brian Waters to play left tackle for the first time in his 11-year NFL career.

Richardson’s contributions in 2010 far exceeded any preseason expectations. The question now becomes a matter of how impressed the Chiefs were with the progress of the 6-6, 320-pound tackle?

Media outside of Kansas City speculates that the Chiefs might look for a right tackle early in the 2011 NFL Draft. Pro Football Weekly even called the position a “mess” this season. But those that cover the team on a daily basis aren’t so quick to agree.

The Chiefs have a pair of young offensive tackles, while the average age of the interior offensive line was 33 years old last season. Kansas City could go a number of routes to bolster the offensive line for the future.

Richardson will likely find some himself with some training camp competition, but the manner in which the Chiefs approach the tackle position in the draft and free agency will tell us a lot about how Richardson graded out on tape. It’s wait and see, but for now, Richardson’s 2010 season was one of the Chiefs many success stories.

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