January and February represent the most critical months of the year for sub-.500 teams. Hopes of steering a single-season turnaround begin with a complete roster evaluation and developing a tailored personnel approach for the next season.
Staff meetings sometimes last up to 12 hours. Scouts come into town. Strengths are discussed and weaknesses are dissected.
This is supposed to be the offseason, but it’s only the beginning.
Roster development is a must for any young team to become successful. In many cases, addition by subtraction is nearly just as important. But more than anything, it’s nearly impossible to turn the corner without a strong and productive draft class.
That theory held true again in 2010.
This year, two teams turned went from last place finishers to double-digit winners. Both teams were guided by second-year head coaches, saw their quarterback make undeniable progress and both received quality production from their 2010 draft class.
Those two teams were the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
When it comes to rookie production, only New England’s draft class made more starts (57) than Kansas City (51) or Tampa Bay (50). Even then, it’s arguable that the Chiefs and Bucs got more production out of their draft classes as a whole.
The Patriots owned the second-largest pool of draft picks last season, totaling 12 selections. Kansas City operated off seven picks, while Tampa Bay selected nine times.
In addition, the Patriots also avoided the injury bug with no draftees landing on injured reserve. The Chiefs lost one to IR and almost half of Tampa’s draft class ended the year on IR. Still, the Bucs received more production out of their draft class than 29 other franchises (and that’s not even counting rookie waiver claims RB LaGarrette Blount or C Ted Larsen – Larsen was originally a draft pick from New England, of all places).
It’s one thing to have a boat load of draft picks make significant contributions. It’s another to actually win games while doing so.
“When you bring guys on to the team, and you bring them in for a reason to try to help create competition at positions,” head coach Todd Haley said last week. “If they rise to the top of that competition, then they play and if they go out and play, and they are productive and play at a pretty high level at times, which most of these guys have, then it’s good for your team, and that’s what we always try to do.”
The Patriots, Chiefs and Buccaneers combined to produce a 34-14 regular season record with 152 of their respective starts being made by draft picks. Those starts account for roughly 20% of the starts made by 2010 draftees across the entire league.
While those totals might signal a lengthy extension New England’s AFC reign (they also have six picks in the first three rounds of 2011), Kansas City and Tampa are hoping that it’s the beginning of their own run that produces a consistent drive of seasons with 10 or more wins.
“Each year when you get through the draft, you have high hopes, and great expectations,” Haley said. “We’ve had a bunch of guys come in here and contribute. That’s a good thing because we need each and every one of them. The good thing is that they’ve come in and have been able to be productive, and continue to get better like the rest of this team.”
Of Kansas City’s seven draft picks, six finished the season on the Chiefs active roster. The lone exception was fifth-round pick
Overall, Kansas City’s 2010 Draft Class played in 86 games and made 51 starts. Here’s how the Chiefs rookie class produced individually…
Contribution: 16 games played (16 starts)
Notable Stats: 126 tackles (2nd on team); 4 INTs (1st on team)
Most Impressive: Berry played the most defensive snaps of any player on the Chiefs roster.
Contribution: 11 games played (7 starts)
Notable Stats: 21 catches for 209 yards with 1 TD; 18 carries for 71 yards; 26 kickoff returns for 527 yards; 13 punt returns for 202 yards with a TD
Most Impressive: McCluster’s franchise record 94-yard punt return TD vs. San Diego in his NFL debut.
Contribution: 16 games played (2 starts)
Notable Stats: 49 tackles; 3.0 sacks; 39 punt returns for 322 yards; 24 kickoff returns for 509 yards
Most Impressive: Arenas’ ability to blitz off the edge was highlighted when the Chiefs drafted him last April. He finished with the third-most sacks on the team behind
Contribution: 16 games played (1 start)
Notable Stats: Played on special teams and made one start at right guard in place of an injured
Most Impressive: With veteran guards
Contribution: 15 games played (15 starts)
Notable Stats: 47 receptions (2nd on team) for 556 yards (2nd on team) with 3 TDs
Most Impressive: Injury concerns plagued Moeaki throughout college and likely affected his draft status, but he only missed one game this season (concussion). Plus, he made THIS CATCH and set a franchise record for the most catches by a rookie tight end.
Contribution: 12 games played (10 starts)
Notable Stats: 47 tackles; 3 INTs (2nd on team)
Most Impressive: Lewis was thrown into the mix early alongside fellow rookie Eric Berry when veteran
Cameron Sheffield (5th round, 142nd overall)
Sheffield suffered a season-ending head injury in the preseason (look for more on Sheffield Monday on KCChiefs.com).