One of the surprise teams of the 2010 season was the Kansas City Chiefs. They managed to follow their 4-12 2009 with a 10-6 record, a division title, and a playoff appearance this year. That’s what being able to run the ball and play some defense will do for you.
Their biggest playmaker was without a doubt Tamba Hali, who is slowly getting to be better known around the league. We’ve been telling anyone who will listen how good Hali has been all season, so he hardly counts as a secret anymore.
The second best pass rusher on the Kansas City defense, however, is a little less well known. Wallace Gilberry is the Chiefs’ Secret Superstar.
An undrafted player from the University of Alabama, Gilberry began his NFL career on the Giants’ practice squad, but the Chiefs signed him away in 2008. In 2009, he showed signs of being an impactful pass rusher but only played in 25% of their defensive snaps.
Then, in 2010, he got his chance and made the most of it. He hasn’t yet received much recognition and that’s partially because he isn’t considered a starter, though he played the second most snaps of all Chief defensive linemen. He is very much a role player, but plays his role very well.
A Unique 3-4 End
Typically in a 3-4 defense, it’s the outside linebackers that are the star pass rushers, examples being Hali, DeMarcus Ware, Cameron Wake and Lamarr Woodley. The interior lineman are usually strong at stopping the run, and only 12 of the 3-4 defensive ends earned 20 or more quarterback disruptions in the 2010 season. Only two of those produced 40 or more, Justin Smith of San Francisco and Gilberry.
25 of Gilberry’s 40 disruptions came while going up against interior offensive linemen, while the other 15 came against offensive tackles, tight ends, or plays where a offensive player wasn’t downgraded on the play. Most often it is offensive tackles that are giving up pressures and sacks rather than interior linemen.
Obviously, some linemen are just more talented as run stoppers while others are better at rushing the quarterback. The Chiefs enjoy the luxury of having Glenn Dorsey and Shaun Smith (who excel against the run) along with Ron Edwards (who is above average at it) so they can save Gilberry (who has struggled in that area) for pass situations. Over 75% of Gilberry’s snaps came on pass plays.
The season started out strong for Gilberry. He had three pressures while lined up against Louis Vasquez of the Chargers, and then a sack and two pressures against the Browns, two of which came against Floyd Womack. He continued his two-to-three disruptions per game pace through Week 7.
In Week 8 against Buffalo, Gilberry surged ahead – with a big sack that forced a fumble, two hits, and a pressure – but he returned to his standard rate against the Raiders before falling off for a couple weeks.
His production was a little more inconsistent the rest of the season, but he had two great pass rushing games late. In Week 12 against Seattle he had four disruptions, two of which came against center Chris Spencer, but his biggest game came in Week 15 against the Rams. Working primarily against Adam Goldberg, Gilberry put up three sacks and four pressures.
Gilberry looks like he will be a restricted free agent, and the Chiefs would be very smart to keep him on the roster given the likely departure of Ron Edwards and the delayed development of Tyson Jackson.
The Chiefs likely would prefer to keep Gilberry out on run plays, but beyond the starters and Gilberry himself there isn’t a lot of depth present, so he could be in line for larger responsibilites. Ideally, Gilberry will wind up in a situation that sets him up for further success. One that allows him to showcase his pass rushing abilities while also exposing him to run situations so that part of his game can sharpen as well.
As his role evolves, his title of “the other pass rusher” in Kansas City will fade and this Secret Superstar’s name will become known.