It’s not often you’ll get somebody trying to tell you that a pair of Top 5 draft picks are a secret, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do in this article. Most people, and even some Chiefs fans, will tell you that both Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey have been colossal failures. They have been, at best, mediocre players when nothing less than studs would have been acceptable for such a huge outlay in the draft, but the truth is a little more complex than that.
When most teams look to the defensive line at the top of the draft, they’re searching for impact pass rushers; guys that can rack-up sacks and bring the heat on opposing quarterbacks. The Chiefs’ defensive scheme isn’t quite like that, and what they want from their linemen is stout play against the run. They’ve found exactly that from these two players, but people are so fixated on their failures in terms of pass rushing that nobody seems to have noticed.
A Different Thought Process
The biggest reason people perceive Glenn Dorsey as a failure is the disconnect between the reputation and skillset people saw him having when he was a prospect coming out of LSU and the player he has actually turned out to be in the NFL. Dorsey was supposed to be the next great 3-technique defensive tackle. He was seen as a stud upfield, penetrating interior presence that could create pressure, generate sacks, and disrupt an offense. In short, he was supposed to be the new Warren Sapp or Kevin Williams. So when he notched just a solitary sack as a rookie, and only seven more total pressures despite 419 passing snaps, the prevailing wisdom was that he had a terrible rookie season. Of course, it could also be that the initial perception was just off to begin with. In 30 career starts at LSU, Dorsey notched just 15 sacks.
So far Dorsey has recorded only four career sacks in four seasons as a Chief, which is enough for most to want to run him right out of town. All the negativity surrounding his pass rush overshadows the work he has done as a run defender. Pass rushing is easily the more glamorous aspect of defensive line play, and has ready-made statistics for people to point to as proof of performance. Often, play against the run comes with no such stat. As a rookie, he defended the run well, and with the exception of a slump in his second season, has graded increasingly well in that area.
Tyson Jackson was likewise thrust into unrealistic expectations when he was selected third overall, but after two career sacks in three seasons, he is held by many right there alongside Dorsey as a failed pick and a disappointment. Jackson struggled much more than Dorsey early on, grading abysmally as a rookie in all areas with a -40.9 overall mark. However, in his second season he was above average as a run defender and last season he had completed a similar improvement as his teammate, with a +10.0 grade against the run.
Kansas City’s Scheme
The Chiefs have been running a 3-4 scheme for the entirety of Jackson’s NFL career, and three of Dorsey’s four seasons, first under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, and then under Romeo Crennel as both DC and now head coach. While much of the league has been trending toward penetrating, aggressive defensive fronts, with more 3-4 defenses playing one-gap fronts, the Chiefs have maintained an old-school two-gap defense. This won’t surprise anybody who watched the way the Patriots played defense under Crennel, but it does swim against the stream in terms of how the rest of the league has been playing. The Patriots used to have big, stout two-gapping defensive linemen and then relied on the linebackers behind them to make plays, and the Chiefs today have been doing a pretty good job of emulating that defense.
New England had Ty Warren, who was for years one of the best run-stuffing 3-4 DEs as the lynchpin of that defense. It allowed their linebackers to make a name for themselves because they rarely had to deal with bodies coming at them. The Chiefs have been trying to get that kind of play from Dorsey and Jackson, and recently it has been working. As such, you have seen Pro-Bowl caliber seasons from Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, as well as impressive and promising performances from Justin Houston. Though often lost in coverage, even Jovan Belcher has been able to string together consistently strong play against the run because of the play in front of him.
It may not be the kind of play most people want to see from their high draft picks, but the Chiefs evidently value the ability to play a disciplined two-gap defense, and in that regard they seem to have done well in identifying players who can excel in one.
The Numbers and the Future
While it is often true that play against the run comes with no easy statistic to point to as proof of quality play, especially for players expected to maintain two gaps, there are stats Pro Football Focus keeps that the mainstream does not have access to. The problem with just looking at tackles, is that you have no way of knowing if that tackle came in the backfield for a loss, or 10 yards downfield after you were blown off the ball. In addition to tackles, we record defensive stops–tackles for an offensive failure on the play–and looking at those stops collected on run plays, Jackson and Dorsey each accounted for more than any other 3-4 end … including All-World stud, Justin Smith. Jackson tallied 38 while Dorsey earned 32 himself as they led the NFL at their position, and Jackson also led the league in Run Stop frequency.
The Chiefs completed their defensive line with a third first round pick in this year’s draft in the shape of Dontari Poe from Memphis. If they have managed to identify another player of similar run-stuffing ability, their D is well on its way to being an extremely formidable unit. Though neither Glenn Dorsey nor Tyson Jackson will ever be redeemed in the eyes of some people who care only about the sack stats, they have developed into two of the best run-stuffing defensive linemen in the NFL. That is why they are Kansas City’s Secret Superstars.