When the Chiefs dealt Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons last year, they knew their production from the TE position was about to fall off dramatically. But nobody on the team would've predicted just how little the spot would provide in 2009.
Just one season after Gonzalez caught 96 passes for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns and made his 10th straight Pro Bowl, Kansas City had four tight ends combine for 45 catches, 436 yards and three scores. Toss in all the dropped balls that came from the position, and it's no wonder QB Matt Cassel struggled in his first year as a Chief.
Seeing an obvious need to correct this problem and add a weapon to a passing attack that finished 25th in '09, GM Scott Pioli traded up in the third round to select Iowa's Tony Moeaki. Although somewhat of a risky choice considering his modest collegiate production, lack of starting experience and injury history, the early returns on the rookie couldn't be more positive.
From what we hear, Moeaki was the offensive star of the team's June minicamp. He displayed very reliable hands, consistently beat defenders downfield and was a matchup problem for linebackers. He even made some highlight-reel grabs that had teammates chanting his name. And all this after he had missed a number of OTA workouts due to injury.
Considering that he's yet to play in an NFL game, it's still too early for the club to get overly excited about the 6-3, 252-pound Moeaki, but he clearly looks like the Chiefs' best option at the position right now. Only three other tight ends on the roster have game experience, and Brad Cottam has not been able to practice yet following December neck surgery. Jake O'Connell, meanwhile, has struggled mightily this offseason. That leaves only veteran Leonard Pope, signed by K.C. during the '09 season, to compete for a starting spot.
The emergence of another solid pass catcher like Moeaki would do wonders for Cassel, whose play was affected last season by having a shortage of dependable targets. As it stands, health could be the one thing that prevents Moeaki from being the Chiefs' Week One starter, as he'll have to prove in the preseason that he can withstand the rigors of the pro game. If he does that, though, he could be in store for a notable Year One.
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