QB Matt Cassel, #7
Kansas City Chiefs
Height: 6-4 Weight: 229 Speed: 4.79
Notes: Discovered by former Patriots West Coast scout Matt Russell, currently the director of player personnel in Denver, Cassel was selected in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL draft. He had been hidden behind Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and, after Palmer left USC, was narrowly being beaten out by Cardinals 2006 10th overall pick Matt Leinart. Cassel attempted only 33 passes in his five years of college and became the Patriots’ starting quarterback following Week One in 2008 after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury. That made Cassel the first quarterback to start an NFL game without ever starting a game in college. After leading the Patriots to an 11-5 season and throwing for 3,693 yards and 21 TDs in a contract year, he was franchised by the Patriots. That earned him the largest one-year contract for an offensive player in NFL history ($14 million). After new Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, his former coordinator in New England, attempted to orchestrate a three-way trade with Tampa Bay that would have placed Jay Cutler in Tampa and Cassel in Denver, the Patriots sent Cassel and OLB Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs (Denver's division rival), where former Patriots personnel boss Scott Pioli took over as GM, in exchange for a second-round pick. Signed a six-year, $62.7 million contract in July 2009 and in 15 starts in the fall, completed 271-of-493 passes (55.0 percent) for 2,924 yards, 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In 2010, led the Chiefs to their first division title in seven years, earning Pro Bowl recognition after hitting 262-of-450 passes (58.2) for 3,116 yards and a career-best 27-7 TD-INT ratio under the guidance of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who regularly clashed with Todd Haley and departed for the college ranks following the season. Cassel regressed under new offensive coordinator Bill Muir in ’11 after losing some key playmakers early in the season and breaking his hand in Week 10 against the Broncos and missed the rest of the season. In nine starts, he tossed 160-269-1,713-10-9 (59.5). In the season-opening loss to the Falcons, he completed 21-33-258-1-2 (63.6). He owns a 28-27 starting record in 55 career starts.
Positives: Has prototypical size and stature in the pocket. Sells play-action hard and distributes the ball evenly to playmakers. Can thread the ball into tight windows and drive the deep out with high RPMs. Good timing, anticipation and placement — throws receivers open. Extremely smart and can assimilate new terminology and absorb complex playbooks. Can cycle through progression reads. Good eye manipulation — understands how to hold defenders with his eyes to open up the passing game. Good football intelligence.
Negatives: Has a low release point that leads to balls being batted at the line of scrimmage (three passes deflected vs. Atlanta). Average lateral agility to escape the rush and sidestep pressure. Needs a clean pocket to operate and has missed time with injuries (knee, appendectomy, hand) every season he has been in Kansas City. Can be too streaky, holding the ball too long, taking unnecessary sacks and waning his confidence. Not a high-powered gunslinger who's easily capable of stacking points on the board in a hurry. Makes questionable decisions, and accuracy slips on the move.
Summary: Has had mild success as a functional starter in Kansas City in an offense that has cycled through five philosophically opposed schemes since he arrived in 2009. Has excelled most in the precision passing game run by Josh McDaniels for the Patriots in 2008 and Charlie Weis in Kansas City in 2010 and has not been as effective in the big-strike, downfield attack employed by Todd Haley (2009), Bill Muir (2011) and current offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Started off the season on fire in the first half against Atlanta, decisively triggering on a lot of well-designed, half-field, high-low reads, but fell apart in the second half when the Chiefs were forced to play catchup and he tried to do too much.