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Life After Roaf
David Dorey
July 29, 2006

The surprise retirement of Pro-bowler Willie Roaf from the Kansas City Chiefs has many fantasy team owners wondering what the impact will be on Larry Johnson and other Chiefs this year. After all, if you are going to spend a first overall draft pick - you want to feel confident you are getting what you think you are buying. The Chiefs are noted for having arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and the loss of a high profile left tackle is a natural cause for concern. What will life be like without Roaf?

Fortunately we already have had a glimpse of it. Realize that the 36-year old tackle already missed six games last year and was less than 100% in many of them. It was a combination of his age and the accumulation of his injuries that led Roaf to his decision that he claims is final. The Chiefs are "leaving the door open" but it appears Roaf is done. It would have likely been his last season had he remained anyway.

So the speculation now runs in fantasy circles. Will this kill the golden goose that is Larry Johnson? Didn't Tony Gonzalez have a terrible start last year because Roaf was gone and he had to block instead of catch passes? With a left tackle gone, doesn't that expose a quarterback more on passing downs?

The Chiefs still have both guards returning - Will Shields and Brian Waters who have both been to Pro Bowls. One of the best centers in the league also comes back - Casey Wiegmann as well as Tony Gonzalez at tight end. Last year Jordan Black was moved from the right tackle to the left side in games that Roaf was missing and that will be his permanent assignment now that Roaf is gone. The right tackle is open with either Will Svitek or Kyle Turley slated to fill it. Last year John Welbourn filled in as right tackle when Black moved to left tackle. Welbourn retired in mid-June, so the offensive line will be upgraded at right tackle with either Svitek or Turley.

Let's look at what happened for four key players to determine what we might expect this year. A sample of six games is by no means completely comprehensive, but it is a reasonable size to consider it indicative. Particularly considering that Roaf was not always 100% when he did play. Roaf was out for the first three weeks and later missed weeks 9, 10 and 11. I have shaded green the games when Roaf played. The Chiefs were 4-2 in games that Roaf missed.

  Larry Johnson Priest Holmes Tony Gonzalez Trent Green
WK Opp Car Yds YPC TD Car Yds YPC TD Cat Yds TD Yds TD
1 NYJ 9 110 12.2 2 22 85 3.9 1 4 51   200 0
2 @OAK 9 41 4.6 1 19 75 3.9 1 5 44   237 0
3 @DEN 8 13 1.6   14 61 4.4   5 29   221 1
4 PHI 7 34 4.9   18 84 4.7 1 2 5   221 2
6 WAS 13 53 4.1   14 18 1.3 1 2 13   181 1
7 @MIA 23 93 4.0 1 18 90 5.0 2 7 67   289 0
8 @SD 6 55 9.2   14 38 2.7   7 97 1 347 2
9 OAK 22 107 4.9 2         5 70   235 1
10 @BUF 27 132 4.9           8 81   220 0
11 @HOU 36 211 5.9 2         9 98   220 3
12 NE 31 119 3.8 1         4 63   323 1
13 DEN 30 140 4.7 2         1 25 1 253 2
14 @DAL 26 143 5.5 3         5 94   340 1
15 @NYG 31 167 5.4 2         4 51   176 0
16 SD 32 131 4.1 1         5 58   207 2
17 CIN 26 201 7.7 3         5 59   344 1

Larry Johnson - The first three games did not matter as Johnson was not the primary back. He did explode against the Jets in week one (and no run was more than 35 yards that week) and he stumbled badly in eight carries against Denver in week three. But in his three games as a starter without Roaf, he never gained less than 107 yards or 4.9 yards per carry. That included two games with two scores in each and his receiving yardage is not even factored in. His week 11 game in Houston was a season high. Those three match-ups were hardly the toughest possible, but his production fell in line with all successive weeks. Roaf's absence did not appear to have much effect on Johnson's production.

Priest Holmes - We forget what a crappy year Holmes was having with or without Roaf in the line-up. He was out-gained by Johnson in four of the seven games he played despite usually having twice as many carries. There did not appear to be a material difference with or without Roaf for Holmes who was not having a great year anyway.

Tony Gonzalez - There is no arguing that Gonzalez had a very slow start last year. But his worse games actually happened in the two weeks when Roaf returned in weeks 4 and 6. Three of his best games came in weeks 9 through 11 when Roaf was gone the second time. While Gonzalez was asked to block more in those initial weeks, that alone was not the reason why Gonzalez was less effective than expected and he was just fine when Roaf was gone the second time. Regardless of what Roaf did or did not do, Gonzalez has been on a downswing for a couple of seasons and only scored twice last year despite playing ten games with the complete offensive line. It appears his production is not tied very strongly to the presence of Roaf regardless of what may seem likely.

Trent Green - Interestingly enough, the player that most appears to be affected when Roaf is there or not was Trent Green. He only scored in three of the six games without Roaf. He also never exceeded 237 passing yards when Roaf was gone while exceeding that mark six of the ten times he played with Roaf there. Some of that is a function of the opponent he was facing and the game situation. But if you want evidence that any player will be affected by Roaf's departure, it looks more like Green who has already been downgraded in mocks and drafts because of the presence of HC Herman Edwards and the general issue of age for most Kansas City receivers.

So to answer the question - "should I downgrade any players because Roaf is gone?", the stats from last year do not suggest any significant change with or without Roaf in the lineup for at least the rushing game. It is the same line returning other than Roaf and at worst the same right tackle performance that was seen in weeks 1-3 and 9-11 last year. And if Turley can get back to form or Svitek grab the job, it could actually be better than it was last year in those six weeks.

No need to panic. Only the passing game looks like it may be affected and that is already downgraded this year anyway.