Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey were among the attendees at the 2013 Senior Bowl Saturday afternoon. By sundown, the Chiefs' prospect sheet graduated to a stack, and the hype train for the 2013 NFL draft kicked into overdrive.
A number of players undoubtedly made blips on the Chiefs' radar throughout the week. But if Kansas City is on the clock and the services of seven particular standouts are still available, the Chiefs need to pull the trigger.
Make no mistake, the Senior Bowl isn't a foolproof litmus test in projecting how prospects will fare in the NFL. Some onlookers will drool over one athlete so heavily that it washes away a season marred by inconsistencies; others will conjure excuses detailing why another player performed poorly.
In reality, the Senior Bowl offers a small window of opportunity to players and coaches. For players, it serves as a (potential) springboard that launches athletes up the draft board—especially unfamiliar ones from smaller schools. For scouts, it yanks players out of their comfort zones, bridges the talent gap and exhibits their (in)ability to adapt.
Ladd Peebles Stadium also doubled as a makeshift office for the Chiefs throughout the week. As Bob Gretz details, Kansas City's 20-man staff anchored itself in the bleachers after practices, long after other football minds from around the league had departed (via BobGretz.com).
As the group reconvened and compared notes on Saturday, they likely agreed upon two things: The 2013 draft is talent-heavy at many of Kansas City's positions of need, and the first overall pick didn't pack his bags for Mobile this year.
As expected, outsiders questioned whether Geno Smith's decision to forgo the Senior Bowl was in his best interest. Considering that Saturday's aerial displays painted a collage of questions, Smith's stock definitely received a bump.
In all likelihood, Florida State's E.J. Manuel was the only Senior Bowl quarterback that didn't board the bus with an array of regrets. (Although he, too, zinged a deflected pass that resulted in a turnover.)
Tyler Wilson never looked comfortable, and his two longtime bugaboos—downfield inaccuracy and questionable decision-making—returned to haunt him.
Ryan Nassib threw a reprehensible interception, then doubled down on his problems by scrambling directly into the edge rush despite the opposite end of the field posing less occupied than a Windows XP background. Nassib didn't secure the ball while attempting to change direction, and defensive end Ziggy Ansah dragged him down like a wounded gazelle (leading to a fumble).
It goes without saying that if Geno Smith had elected to play, he, too, could have withered in front of the cameras.
However, the quarterbacks' anemic passing attacks were largely attributed to two facets: accuracy and pocket presence. And those same aspects have proven to be Smith's most attractive selling points.
Come April 25, Kansas City's choice will likely to boil down to Smith or Wilson. It's no secret that Reid loves airing it out, and Branden Albert is one of the most reliable pass blockers in the league. If the Chiefs agree to terms with the left tackle, Smith will walk into Radio City Music Hall as the heavy favorite to go No. 1.
Reid will implement his flavor of the West Coast offense in Kansas City—an offense that fundamentally revolves around short-to-intermediate passes, emphasizes accuracy and relies upon decisiveness. Wilson's biggest knock—mentally and physically—stems from his game's erraticism. Smith, on the other hand, laid the rails for his hype train by excelling at those three concepts, and he matured into a household name through his consistency.
In short, the West Coast offense is tailor-made for Geno Smith's skill set.
The Chiefs are one talented inside linebacker away from debuting the league's most formidable linebacking corps. While Kansas City may already own the NFL's scariest second wave of defense, it still reveals a glaring hole at strong side linebacker.
Although LSU lines up in a 4-3, Kevin Minter would seamlessly fit into Kansas City's 3-4. He already packs a heavier frame than the Chiefs' current alternative, Brandon Siler, and naturally plays with a downhill, full-steam-ahead mentality.
At times, teams will capitalize on Minter's anxiousness by running counters. But his nose for the ball yields far more positive results than vice versa.
No. 46 embodies the speed and quickness to shadow tight ends in coverage. He also boasts the strength to shed blocks, as well as the athletic ability to missile through the line and cause havoc in the backfield (fast-forward to 1:45 in the video for an example).
Kansas City is starving for help in the secondary, and there are two small-school standouts that could prove to be gems in Round 3: strong safety Jonathan Cyprien and cornerback Robert Alford.
If both are still available as the Chiefs introduce the third round, Alford is a (slightly) better match for Kansas City's roster.
Hypothetically, if the team snatched Cyprien, he could easily move to free safety and compete for the starting job against Kendrick Lewis (who can't seem to fend off injuries since the end of the 2011 season).
But that would still leave a massive void at right cornerback. Javier Arenas' lateral quickness makes him a solid nickel back, but his height (5'9") and average top-end speed limit his effectiveness as the left cornerback. Jalil Brown faces the opposite scenario: His height (6'1") is a plus, but his agility and acceleration are mediocre at best.
Alternatively, if Kansas City gave Alford a ring, the team's depth chart wouldn't flash with a blinking exclamation mark in the secondary. The Chiefs could still start a sufficient (when healthy) safety in Lewis and offer DeQuan Menzie a trial run at the position as well.
Alford (6'0", 185 pounds) would challenge for the second starting cornerback job on Day One—his instincts and awareness immediately jump out on tape. Alford sees the field with skeptical eyes: He diagnoses plays before opponents finish pitching the sell and often bails from his assignment in order to disrupt the offense's execution.
The degree of Alford's on-the-fly anticipation is extremely rare; he could checkmate a psychic on any given Sunday.
His hips allow him to change direction with fluidity, and the Southeastern Louisiana cornerback is figured to record one of the fastest 40 times heading into the draft. But Alford was sidelined with a shoulder injury in 2010. And as a tackler, the memory still seems to inhibit him from leading with that part of his body from time to time. However, Alford's infinitely aggressive in pursuit and embodies an arsenal of qualities typical of an ideal cornerback.
Last season, right tackle Eric Winston was the only starting offensive lineman for the Chiefs who didn't frequent the injury report.
Left tackle Branden Albert battled back spasms throughout the last quarter of the 2012. Guard Ryan Lilja combated various injuries, center Rodney Hudson was placed on injured reserve and guard Jon Asamoah underwent thumb surgery.
If Khaled Holmes is still available in the fourth round, drafting him makes sense for a number of reasons. Holmes represents a highly intelligent three-year starter whose quickness allows him to excel in pass protection—with Andy Reid at the helm, that always bodes well.
Plus, the senior lined up at right guard throughout his sophomore campaign. Given Kansas City's recent history with the injury bug, Holmes' diverse skill set would bring an additional layer of depth to the offensive front.
Tight end Tony Moeaki was sidelined for the entirety of 2011. In the offseason, Kevin Boss was signed via free agency and ascended the ranks as 2012's initial starter. He participated in two contests before landing on the injured reserve list as well, though.
Colorado tight end Nick Kasa is a converted defensive lineman who transitioned to the other side of the ball during his junior campaign. No. 44 would provide depth at the position, and his raw potential could eventually develop into that of a solid NFL starter.
Due to his oppressive frame (6'6", 271 pounds) and past experience on the defensive line, Kasa excels at run blocking—something that Moeaki has routinely struggled with in the pros. And while his rough edges tend to be exposed in the passing game, his deceptive straight-line speed could prove to be a nightmare for opposing linebackers in coverage.
Kasa won't be an immediate contributor (excluding special teams). But if Kansas City's coaches slather his skill set with a few coats of polish over the next couple of seasons, Kasa should evolve into one of the bright spots of the Chiefs' 2013 draft.
With free agents like Dwayne Bowe and Branden Albert, the Chiefs are likely to part ways with defensive end Glenn Dorsey and rely on free agency to answer the need. Names like Desmond Bryant and Arthur Jones—especially considering the Baltimore Ravens' offseason salary-cap scenario—could be echoed throughout Kansas City's front office.
Josh Boyd is a prospect that decided against entering the 2012 NFL draft, in which he was projected as a third-round pick. His college cohort, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, jumped to big leagues and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. And without Cox by his side, Boyd's production decreased significantly in 2012.
But Boyd wouldn't be expected to rush the passer in Kansas City's 3-4—Dorsey only managed to notch four sacks under his belt in five years with Kansas City. Instead, Boyd's primary job would be to absorb blockers for the linebacking corps and stuff the run if given the opportunity. And the 312-pounder succeeded at both tasks during his time at Mississippi State.
If last year's first-round pick, defensive tackle Dontari Poe, eventually becomes the daunting force that some scouts foresaw, the alleviated pressure could help Boyd return to being the backfield disruptor he once was and perhaps crack the starting rotation in years to come.
When the final rounds of the draft roll around, talent normally trumps need. If there's a player whose ceiling towers over his undrafted peers, John Dorsey will be reaching for the phone in half a heartbeat.
Given that various questions litter the receiving corps, drafting another pass-catcher could pay dividends. Assorted criticism caused the stock of two playmaking wideouts—Virginia Tech's Marcus Davis and Washington State's Marquess Wilson—to plummet. However, both display the talent to be a No. 2 receiver in the NFL. And if either parachute into the seventh round, the possible reward should swallow any doubts. But other teams will likely throw caution to the wind and select the two prospects earlier.
Assuming that occurs and no surprises remain in the pool, the most sensible choice for Kansas City would be to snag another defensive back and bolster its secondary. Even if the Chiefs grab a cornerback like Alford early on in the draft, a player like Kansas State's Nigel Malone—who is projected to go as late as the seventh round—beams with too much potential value to overlook.
The Chiefs' pass coverage proved to be atrocious in 2012. Brandon Flowers provided the only sense of consistency, as Stanford Routt—the supposed replacement for Brandon Carr—cleaned out his locker midway through the season. Kendrick Lewis battled back from injuries, but his return didn't spark the secondary in the slightest. Throughout the latter half of the season, Eric Berry gradually healed from 2011's ACL tear and began to mimic the electric 2010 Pro Bowler he had once been. But it wasn't enough. Opposing quarterbacks doubled as puppeteers and toyed with Kansas City's second- and third-string defensive backs on a weekly basis.
Nigel Malone's anticipation and overall football IQ, alone, would demand a spot on the 53-man roster. The former junior-college transfer is a jack of all trades, and a master of none. But if he was granted a full offseason to learn Bob Sutton's defense, Malone would likely outclass Jalil Brown—his perceived competition. Brown's collegiate tendency of allowing deep passes followed him to the NFL, and he was victimized like clockwork in 2012. He showed minimal—if any—progression last season, and the Chiefs can't afford to gamble and leave screws loose when assembling the roster again.
In a predominantly passing league, the weight of edge rushing and coverage swells with every year. It's always better to be safe than sorry, and adding a player like Nigel Malone adds extra coverage to the defense's insurance. Kansas City risked kicking 2012 off with a brittle secondary, which is one reason why it kicked 2013 off with an apology tour.
Twitter: Follow @BrettGering