The I Love You, Always Forever series is dedicated to a player that elevates his game and his status with me as fan from just being one of the Hawks to assuring an endless, undying man-crush beyond my wildest dreams. The first inductee into this exclusive club is safety Kam Chancellor, my new favorite player.
It's hard to believe it right now, but Atari Bigby was signed in the offseason to potentially compete with Kam Chancellor for a starting job this season. It's true that the job was Chancellor's to lose, and we all were excited by the potential of Kam, but this was a second-year pro who didn't start a single game in 2010 and if Bigby significantly outplayed him in the preseason then there was no guarantee.
Nothing like the guarantee that Chancellor has right now to keep the strong safety job for as long as he wants it.
We did not know for sure what we were going to get from Kam. We knew he had his strengths but if he struggled to defend the pass, he could find himself in a rotation with Bigby and not be nearly the type of impact, Pro Bowl-worthy player that he is now. It seemed like "Earl Thomas is the future of the secondary, and Kam has potential to be very good eventually if he works on his overall game."
As the season goes on, it's becoming more and more clear that if we drafted one of the best safeties in the league in 2010, it was potentially in the fifth round and not in the first. Not to take anything away from Thomas, the team's leading tackler and a budding star in his own right, but the impact of Kam isn't just felt on the box score... It's also felt in the opposing player's swollen and deformed brains.
This is your brain on Kam.
As the season has progressed we've seen the maturation of Chancellor from a raw but powerful player that flashed signs of being above-average into being a player that opposing teams have to plan for and that opposing wide receivers fear. Even if they wouldn't publicly admit that.
In a "safer NFL" where big-hitters are fined and punished, Kam is just playing the game the only way he knows how to; with aggression, concentrated explosiveness, and like a rabid dog without a leash. That's why Kam... I Love You, Always Forever.
As the Talking Heads might say, "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" Don't be confused like after Anquan Boldin was when he met Bam Bam. Come with me as I find out more about my new favorite player.
Kameron Darnel Chancellor was born on April 3, 1988 in Norfolk, Virginia. He shares a birthday with Jane Goodall, David Hyde Pierce (Niles from Frasier,) and Wayne Newton. This makes sense because he's a combination of a person who belongs in the wild like Goodall, who actually lives in Seattle like Niles, and who commands attention from an audience like Newton. Kam is the best of all worlds.
Like most NFL athletes under 300 pounds, Kam played quarterback in high school and was once rated the 27th best pro-style QB in the nation by Rivals.com. He committed to Virginia Tech and started to work out some at quarterback but was soon moved to cornerback to start his career. He started to make an impact during his sophomore season as a "rover" linebacker/safety hybrid when he recorded 79 tackles and an interception.
The Hokies went 11-3 that season and finished 9th in the nation with their only losses being to #2 LSU, #12 Boston College, and #8 Kansas in the Orange Bowl.
In 2008, Chancellor proved even more versatile when he moved to free safety and took on his third new position in three years. He recorded 52 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. Virginia Tech went 10-4, finished 14th in the nation, and beat #12 Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl.
Kam could have entered into the NFL draft and would have certainly been taken, but he came back for his senior season. He recorded 68 tackles, three for a loss, and two more interceptions. The Hokies went 10-3 and finished 10th in the nation.
Chancellor was one of the leaders of one of the top defenses in college football for three years and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said he could be "the greatest safety in Virginia Tech history."
Entering the draft this could have been an attribute that set him apart to be a high pick, but his large frame worried teams that he'd be too much of a liability in coverage and only become a situational player. Would he need to be rotated in and out of the game, because typically safeties that are nearly as big as linebackers don't have the speed to keep up with receivers.
Hawkblogger pointed out that before this season, Chancellor was listed as the largest safety in the NFL at 232 pounds. The good news was that Adrian Wilson was now the second-largest in the NFL and that Wilson is a stud. The bad news was that Wilson is one of the exceptions to the rule that huge safeties don't have long and successful careers as starters.
Perhaps what sets Kam apart is his dedication to the game and to his own self-improvement. As a player who couldn't settle into one position in college and was eventually drafted 133rd overall in the 2010 draft, Chancellor has always had something to prove. Even in the NFL he had to move over to strong safety and take on his fourth position since high school, and his fifth if you count the fact that he stopped playing quarterback early in his Hokies career.
Chancellor spent his rookie season behind Lawyer Milloy, another big-hitter, and he soaked up every bit of knowledge from the former Pro Bowler that he could. When Milloy was let go and it appeared that Kam would become the new starter, he also became something that's very rare for second-year pros: he became a veteran.
When Chancellor tweeted that the starting job was "his to lose" in July, many of us still speculated that being a "starter" for Kam was in name only. And that the rotation would be heavy with many of us still excited to see what Mark LeGree would do.
The only starting player in the secondary that was older and had more experience was Marcus Trufant. Kam is a year older than Thomas, and has been in the league longer than Brandon Browner or Richard Sherman. This opened up the door for Kam to be like another version of what Lofa Tatupu was in 2005.
Tatupu was seen as being too small to be an impact linebacker in the NFL, but he used his dedication and vocal leadership to help take the Seahawks to the Super Bowl as a rookie and make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.
Chancellor was seen as too large to not be a liability in coverage, but he dedicated himself to being a safety that you could not risk taking out of the game in any situation and his vocal leadership of a young secondary has helped turned the Seahawks from 27th in the NFL against the pass and 27th in total defense to 20th against the pass and 14th in total defense. While at Virginia Tech he won the "President's Award for demonstrating outstanding leadership during the off-season and spring programs."
The Hawks forced 25 turnovers in 2010, which ranked 25th in the NFL. This year they've already forced 23 turnovers in 12 games and rank 4th in the league. Kam is responsible for four interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. According to Football Outsiders, the Hawks rank 19th in DVOA against the pass and 8th against the run, but broken down into different groups they are 8th against #1 WR, 6th against a #2, 11th against all other receivers, 20th against the TE, and 32nd against RBs in the passing game.
What I can't personally measure in stats is the impact Kam has made in what receivers fear to do when going across the middle. If a player knows he has to catch a pass and leave himself defenseless within the vicinity of Kam, many of them must be thinking about the highlight hits from Chancellor that they had been reviewing in team meetings for the week prior.
The following week he hammered Santana Moss and then the league decided to leave him alone. Kam insists that he's not going to change how he plays and that he isn't intentionally trying to hurt anybody, take out defenseless receivers, or go for helmet-to-helmet. He's one of the tallest safeties in the league and he's just trying to do his job. If Kam was actually told to stop playing the way he does, how much longer does he last in the league?
Here's a player that has had to fight for every opportunity he's been given, who has worked hard every step of the way, who has stepped up into any role asked of him, and now would he be expected to change any aspect of the type of player and person that he is once he's gotten here? To being one of the best safeties in the league?
As pointed out here recently, Kam ranks first in the NFL among safeties in Wins Probably Added (1.64) and Positive Expected Points Added (40.9) per Advanced NFL Stats. Kam is tied for first in the NFL among safeties with 9 pass deflections and tied for second in interceptions with four.
All of this from a player who was a two-star recruit by Scout.com when he went to Virginia Tech. A player who changed positions every season. A player who was drafted in the fifth round and seen as more of an interesting project than someone who contribute right away.
It's amazing really to think about the fact that shortly after the death of former Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor in 2007, Kam said he was deeply hurt by the loss because he emulated and admired Taylor as a player. This wasn't the Kam we know today, this was four years ago when he wasn't even a full-time safety at V Tech. Even four months ago, who would have thought that Chancellor would already be so reminiscent of the late star as a player of similar size and similar hitting ability in the secondary?
It's incredible to see how quickly Kam has gone from project to prototypical. I guarantee that there are young safeties out there right now watching Kam and being just as much in admiration of him now as he was of Taylor then. Not only in playing ability but in talking a big game and then walking a bigger one.
With Thomas, Browner, and Sherman, the Hawks and Gus Bradley are developing a secondary that has the potential to be the best in the NFL and as of right now that all goes through Kam as the leader of the group. His leadership both vocally and in his hard-hitting actions seem to spark something in this young defense that say "We can do better."
Watching the Eagles game on Thursday there was a moment when it appeared Vince Young had an easy, wide-open touchdown pass to the right corner of the end zone and then out of nowhere Sherman came streaking across and thwapped the ball away like "Ha! I thought you knew that we don't allow that here."
There's a swagger developing that's changing the attitude of this team. It's the kind of swagger that you'd assume you'd see from a Pete Carroll-coached team and it makes sense that the more we see Pete's guys come in and the old guys go out, the more experienced and gelled they become as a unit, and the better the team is getting.
Sherman is an example of that swagger, but no player exemplifies it like Kam. Nobody quite runs with it like he does and shows it on the field with an attitude to say "We are always the best players on the field when we're out here."
That's how Kam became my favorite player as of today. He not only represents the Seahawks and Seattle as any player would, he represents where we are going and how we are going to get there. He plays with an intensity that's admirable, but even then it doesn't even begin to show the dedication and intensity he has during every other day of the week besides Sunday.
Certain fans have hoped that Seattle would get a high draft pick in order to select another player (specifically a quarterback) that would help take us to the next level. But again, Kam and Sherman and K.J. Wright and Doug Baldwin have proven that you can go anywhere in the draft and be an impact player if you work hard at it. He's a representation that hard work, confidence, and dedication are much more valuable than a high draft pick.
So thanks Kam. I love you, always forever.
Kam and I riding on a tandem bicycle.