Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid announced that the team will continue to build on its 3-4 defense. The news directly affects—and undoubtedly relieves—the Chiefs front seven, which includes players that have adapted to the scheme since ex-head coach Herm Edwards switched to it in 2009.
But the announcement could also indirectly affect the offense, as it increases the likelihood of Kansas City using the No. 1 pick on a quarterback.
Reid's decision was relayed by the Kansas City Star's Adam Teicher on Tuesday:
Reid confirmed Chiefs would keep 3-4 defense: "This team here is invested in the 3-4, so let’s continue to build it and get better at it.’’— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) January 15, 2013
Throughout his career, Reid has been a flag-bearing proponent of the 4-3 scheme. And oftentimes, philosophy plays a trump card when coaches are recruited to overhaul a franchise.
But Reid's decision to hire new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was likely influenced by Sutton's familiarity with both schemes. Herm Edwards' endorsement of the defensive guru appears to be accurate, as the ESPN analyst claimed, "[Sutton] believes in pressuring the quarterback but he’ll play to whatever the strengths of those players is. Whatever those strengths are, that’s how he’ll formulate his defense" (via the Kansas City Star).
Arts and Drafts
The "philosophy" of general manager John Dorsey would lead outsiders to believe that the art of drafting is simpler than what it's made out to be. Dorsey claims that if he had the final say, the Chiefs would pluck the most talented player on the board.
Draft first, ask questions last. Period.
The theory suggests that franchises ask for trouble when need begins to inflate a player's value. Oftentimes, teams look back at the past season through a rearview mirror, and objects in the draft tend to appear more talented than they truly are.
Potential is a two-way street. Actually, it's more like drifting down Dead Man's Curve with no guard rails.
But Dorsey has never had the No. 1 overall pick at his disposal. In fact, the Green Bay Packers only owned a top-10 choice twice during Dorsey's 14-year tenure with the team (h/t NFL.com). When drafting in the latter half of the first round, talent should always override need.
But should the same hold true when making the first overall pick?
Please Hold on Line No. 1
Doubling down on the 3-4 means two things for the Chiefs: The team needs to plug a hole at inside linebacker, and signing a defensive tackle is no longer a top priority.
Although Utah standout Star Lotulelei is regarded as a surefire game-changer, Kansas City used last season's first-round choice on defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Moving Lotulelei to defensive end would make sense in a 3-4: He possesses ox-like strength that disrupts plays in the backfield and boasts surprising quickness at the line.
But positional changes don't always transition as smoothly as coaches envision.
Rewind to 2008. Glenn Dorsey was a steamrolling defensive tackle who headlined Mel Kiper's big board. The Chiefs snatched him with the fifth selection, then bumped him over to defensive end in his second season.
Fast forward to 2013. Glenn Dorsey is on the verge of leaving town after five years of underachievement.
No player is a shoo-in to succeed—not even Lotulelei. Assuming that Dorsey's contract isn't renewed, the Chiefs could address the need in the second round—especially if a talent like Johnathan Hankins is still available—or free agency.
Across the line of scrimmage, talk of the Chiefs snagging left tackle Luke Joeckel has dominated Kansas City water coolers.
The team's current starter, Branden Albert, combated back spasms throughout the latter half of 2012. But in 11 starts—and 13 games—Albert only allowed one sack to opposing edge-rushers (via Walter Football).
Although Luke Joeckel may be the safest bet in the draft, no rookie ships with money-back guarantees. After the two linemen retire, Joeckel may have proven to be a better offensive tackle than Albert. But it will likely take a handful of years before next year's rookie surpasses the Chiefs' current quarterback protector. And even then, the talent gap will be minimal, at most.
Additionally, the left tackle's significance will dwindle if Kansas City signs a left-handed quarterback in the offseason. Michael Vick fits that description, and the Chiefs' two prominent offensive minds—Andy Reid and Doug Pederson—coached him the past four seasons. If the team recruits the Philadelphia Eagles passer, his blindside will be exposed to the right half of the line, not the left.
Those aforementioned reasons, amongst others, argue that Joeckel doesn't warrant the No.1 overall pick—at least, not if the Chiefs own it.
Lack of All Trades
Unless Kansas City trades down for multiple first-rounders, it won't spend its first pick on an inside linebacker. And don't expect any team to offer worthwhile compensation for this year's No. 1 pick.
The St. Louis Rams own the rights to the No. 16 and No. 22 choices, and the team also needs a left tackle (such as Joeckel) to protect Sam Bradford. But offensive tackle is far from the only glaring weakness on the Rams roster. In St. Louis' scenario, quantity precedes quality.
Plus, the Chiefs need an inside linebacker that can suffice in pass coverage but also clear out blockers for Derrick Johnson. And the position's top prospect, Manti Te'o, was repeatedly bullied by Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
He isn't the ideal candidate for the position.
Kansas City's Chief Need
A top-three draft pick should lay a cornerstone for the organization to build around—something that a left tackle is incapable of providing.
Hypothetically, if Kansas City spends its first pick on Joeckel, what happens next? The Chiefs endure another two years of filling Arrowhead with paper-bag tears, as fans cross fingers and hope that Johnny Manziel declares in 2015? No thanks.
Or, maybe a free-agent quarterback comes in and leads the franchise to the Promised Land(!)? Eight of the last nine Super Bowl champions started quarterbacks whom the team drafted. The sole exception, Drew Brees, was only released after suffering a career-threatening injury, and the team had already drafted his first-round replacement, Philip Rivers, two years prior to his departure.
But the Chiefs could always grab a quarterback in the later rounds, right? Feel free to Google the following names: Ricky Stanzi, Brodie Croyle, Pat Barnes, Steve Stenstrom, Steve Matthews, Matt Blundin, Mike Elkins, Danny McManus and Doug Hudson. Those are the last nine quarterbacks that Kansas City has drafted. All were picked after the first round; none won a single regular-season game. Todd Blackledge was the last quarterback drafted by the team to do so, and he was chosen in the—you guessed it—first round.
Twenty-five years of drafting bargain-bin quarterbacks has produced zero postseason success. Actually, zero success, period. After a quarter-century of experimenting, it's safe to say that the position may be worth developing.
No, a player like Geno Smith isn't being touted as a solidified franchise savior, at least not to the extent that Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were.
But he's a pinpoint-accurate playmaker who hasn't seen pocket protection since the last Urkel marathon. And to add insult to injury, West Virginia's defense was exploited like a broken ATM virtually every time it took the field.
Remember, Smith's mediocre—at least, by his standards—bowl performance occurred in a quasi-blizzard, where snow showered the stadium like cloud confetti, and the field looked like Yosemite Sam swapped Frosty's carrot with a stick of dynamite. Still, Smith (19-of-28, 201 yards, two touchdowns) outperformed another potential first-rounder, Ryan Nassib (11-of-23, 130 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), but West Virginia's defense allowed 369 yards rushing.
West Virginia's No. 12 is the same quarterback who was the hands-down Heisman favorite before Big 12 offenses treated West Virginia defenders like toys on a chessboard; the same quarterback who, as a junior, picked apart LSU's vaunted defense for 463 passing yards in 2011.
With the Chiefs electing to stay in a 3-4, defensive tackle is crossed off the list of concerns. No inside linebacker is worthy of single-digit consideration atop the draft board, and no offensive tackle has ever turned a franchise around in the history of the sport.
It's time for the Chiefs to invest in a first-round quarterback.
In 25 years, playing it safe has only secured one thing: an early start to the offseason.
Twitter: Follow @BrettGering