The Draft Starts Tonight!

April 26th, 2012 by Lee Eldridge

My apologies. I am WAY behind in my writing. Let’s get to it!

Free Agency
Before we talk draft, we have to quickly cover the Chiefs pickups in free agency. Kansas City entered the off-season with some glaring holes on their roster. Putting aside how many feel about Matt Cassel as the starting quarterback, the Chiefs needed a right tackle, depth at running back, a backup quarterback, depth at tight end, a starting nose tackle and a starting cornerback. For the most part, mission accomplished!

Standord RouttThe Chiefs signed cornerback Standord Routt to replace Brandon Carr, who departed in free agency. It had been a surprise to me that the Chiefs made virtually no attempt to retain Carr or work out a long-term contract with him last year. But the Chiefs knew what they had, and there must have been something they didn’t like about Carr. Hard for me to analyze this change, but there’s very little drop off from Carr to Routt in my opinion. Maybe a small step back. Maybe not.

The Chiefs signed running back Peyton Hillis to replace Thomas Jones. Jones had little left in the tank. There were a couple backs I liked better in free agency, in particular Michael Bush. Hillis has worked with our new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Seems like a good fit, and Hillis has something to prove. A definite upgrade.

After the failure of the Tyler Palko experiment, the Chiefs wanted a backup quarterback with experience. They’ve signed Brady Quinn. Personally, I think this is an interesting signing. For a first round pick, Quinn has gotten very little opportunity to play in the NFL. He’s only started 12 games — not even a full season. Hard to know if he isn’t very good, or just hasn’t gotten the right opportunity. Cleveland was a bad team during his years with the Browns. Hard to blame all of that on Quinn. Certainly an upgrade over Palko. And if Cassel struggles through the first half of the season, I think we could see a quarterback change. Not a prediction. Just a possibility.

Chiefs signed tight end Kevin Boss to replace the departing Leonard Pope. Pope was a good blocker, but not a great receiver. I like Boss. He upgrades the position. Should be a nice pairing with a healthy Tony Moeaki.

And the Chiefs best signing was that of free agent right tackle Eric Winston. A significant upgrade to Barry Richardson.

Still a hole at nose tackle. My guess is that if the Chiefs don’t draft a nose tackle high in the draft, that they’ve got veteran Kelly Gregg sitting out there willing to come back for one more season.

Now The Draft
Having filled their most glaring needs puts Scott Pioli and the Chiefs in a great position entering the draft. They can focus on best player available instead of position of need. The Chiefs could lineup today and field a very competitive team.

What do the Chiefs need most? Here are the positions I believe need to be upgraded.

Defensive Line: This is the worst position group on the team. We’ve been drafting defensive linemen for years. And at best we have a mediocre defensive line. You can’t let past failures stop you from upgrading this unit. In particular, the Chiefs need a starting nose tackle. And possibly a replacement for Tyson Jackson.

Running Back: While I love Jamaal Charles and like Peyton Hillis, I’ll be surprised if the Chiefs don’t draft a running back. Probably in one of the middle rounds.

Tight End: With Moeki’s history of injuries, I’d draft another tight end. I love what the Patriots were able to accomplish with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

The Chiefs could certainly use depth along the offensive line, at safety and possibly even at quarterback.

Draft Predictions
As you scour the Internet for mock drafts, there are three names you see associated with the Chiefs over and over again. (The Star put together this list of experts and their predictions for the Chiefs.)

Luke KuechlyLinebacker Luke Kuechly from Boston College: This seems to be the most popular pick among the experts. And I like everything I’ve heard about him. Typically, I wouldn’t want to draft an inside linebacker this early, but if the Chiefs believe he’s a Pro Bowl caliber linebacker, they should have him on their radar. One note of warning: when it comes to their inside linebackers, the Chiefs look for very specific abilities. They use the two inside linebackers differently. This will greatly depend on whether or not they see Kuechly as the right fit for the position currently filled by Javon Belcher. I don’t know the answer to this.

Nose tackle Dontari Poe from Memphis: Poe has shot up the draft boards. He’s big and athletic. And he fills a position of need. But he doesn’t sound like the right fit to me. I’ve heard a number of experts say that he didn’t perform that well in college. That he got pushed around a lot. Pioli puts a lot of emphasis on college production. I’ll be surprised if this is the Chiefs pick.

Offensive guard David DeCastro from Stanford: He’s as highly rated as any guard in the draft for many years. I just don’t like drafting offensive linemen, other than left tackles, this early. You can draft very good guards in the next two rounds. I wouldn’t be completely unhappy with this pick, just surprised if it happens.

A number of writers and experts have discussed what could happen if quarterback Ryan Tannehill falls to the Chiefs at number 11. And it could absolutely happen. I would just hate this pick. Tannehill seems like a good kid. And maybe he’ll be a good NFL quarterback someday. But he’s a project. There are other quarterbacks I’d rather see the Chiefs take in a later round.

One guy who could slide down to the Chiefs is running back Trent Richardson. Teams have been reluctant to take running backs in the top ten in recent years. Most teams have gone to running back by committee. Good running backs can be found in the middle rounds of the draft. I’m not predicting it. But this would be interesting. I’d take him.

Players to Watch
My philosophy is that you only draft elite positions high in the draft such as quarterback, left tackle, pass rushers, cornerbacks and wide receivers. The exception is when you have a guy like Eric Berry who projects as one of the best at his position in many years. Typically I would not draft safeties, middle linebackers, interior offensive linemen, tight ends or even running backs this high.

I have nothing to base this on except a gut feeling. If defensive tackle Fletcher Cox from Mississippi State falls to the Chiefs, I would think this could be the pick. And it’s possible. The Chiefs like productive players out of the SEC. And he’s considered one of the best defensive linemen in the draft.

I’ve also read good things about defensive end Quinton Coples from North Carolina who might be an interesting pick at 11.

If the Chiefs don’t like what they see at their pick and are able to trade down, here are a couple names for you. Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive tackle Michael Brockers from LSU. Two more SEC players who could be available a little later in the first round and fit in with the Chiefs. I would certainly consider DeCastro an option later in the first round as well.

One more thought then I’ll wrap up for the day. Should the Chiefs draft a quarterback? Unless they’re in love with Tannehill, which I hope they’re not, then certainly not in the first round. It’s hard to say what the Chiefs think of Ricky Stanzi, who the Chiefs drafted in the fifth round last year. I think that Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore would be an interesting project. He’s a winner. He played a lot of football as a four year starter. He’s a coaches son. He’s bright, and he’s a leader. He’s drawn a few comparisons to Drew Brees. And he’ll probably be available in the fourth round if the Chiefs are interested.

(Article updated 4:11pm 4-26-12.)

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