Image edited by Brett Gering
In professional football, the draft and free agency are a lot like car shopping.
The NFL is the dealership, showcasing a lot littered with names and numbers. Agents are the (overly) optimistic "Got some miles on her but runs like a beaut'. The smoke? Adds character" salesmen. Injury history? Carfax sans annoying fox.
The free-agent market is basically a used-car lineup.
Every option has had a previous owner, but you can find out how it fared in years past. Some purchases turn out to be worthwhile investments (see Mike DeVito), others end up backfiring down the road (see Dunta Robinson, see car wreck).
As for the draft? No previous owners. Fresh off the line. Center stage in the showroom. The downside is that, regardless of how any of the selections perform, you're handcuffed to paying for it over the next four years.
In the Kansas City Chiefs' case, John Dorsey is the potential buyer, and if executive of the year means anything to you, a smart one at that. If Kansas City lands a few names off the following wish list, Dorsey's recent award will be getting a twin in 2014.
Statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
If Kansas City re-signs Branden Albert, this slide's relevance will nosedive to zero. However, as of right now, the team's salary-cap conundrum would scoff at the mere thought.
Consequently, the Chiefs might need to start preparing for life without No. 76.
Let's assume that Albert walks and Eric Fisher reverts back to his natural home at left tackle. By default, Donald Stephenson would be promoted to starter on the right side.
Somehow, Stephenson has, for the most part, steered clear of local scrutiny.
Why? No clue. The second-year pro allowed just one sack in 543 snaps, but he was also victimized for 22 hurries. Three other tackles accumulated the same total, but all of them also partook in at least 870 plays.
Comparatively, right tackle Zach Strief accounted for three sacks and 26 hurries in nearly (1,062) twice the amount of snaps as Stephenson.
While Strief isn't a snug fit for Andy Reid's philosophy—he's an average run- and screen-blocker—he proved to be a top-tier pass protector throughout 2013. And at the end of the day, the foremost priority of Kansas City's O-line is protecting Alex Smith.
If you're waiting on Albert's contract dilemma to be resolved any time soon, grab a crossword.
The predicament has no shortage of (potentially) deciding factors.
When speaking to Fisher this past season, two things became palpably clear: Albert took the rookie under his 33-inch wing, and the veteran was the unquestioned leader of Kansas City's pack. The longtime starter is also one the better pass-blockers in the NFL. Those factors are among the ones that work in his favor.
However, his run blocking doesn't stack up to his pass protection, and he was one of the most penalized (nine) tackles in the NFL this past season. To further complicate matters, Albert has missed nine starts over the past two years, which just so happened to be contract years.
Franchising the Pro Bowler would cost upwards of $12 million, so that option is out the window. If the Chiefs restructure a gang of deals and sign Smith to a bonus-heavy extension, Kansas City could free up enough space to craft a viable proposal for Albert.
The only drawback of traveling said route is that the franchise has a cluster of Pro Bowlers to re-sign in 2016 and bringing back Albert will almost certainly lead to at least one of them leaving town.
Joel Bitonio, Nevada
Joel Bitonio doesn't tout the arm length of some of the higher-rated prospects, which could trigger a move to right tackle in the pros.
He's deceptively athletic and light-footed, which bodes well for Reid's offense. Bitonio rarely loses engagement if he initially secures it, and he's agile enough to mirror edge-rushers who change direction.
Like Fisher, Bitonio isn't from a prestigious program, but he rarely failed to impress when facing quality competition.
Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
At 6'6", Antonio Richardson towers over defenders, and lengthy arms usually allow him to make first contact. Richardson has a mean streak that reveals itself and pays dividends in the ground game, and considering his size, he's also surprisingly quick.
Every now and then, his fundamentals regress, which opens the door for rushers to gain pad leverage and negate his power. Those instances are few and far between, though.
Kansas City's need at guard heavily hinges on whether they reenlist Geoff Schwartz and/or Jon Asamoah. I don't have a crystal ball, but I would bank on John Dorsey re-signing at least one of the two.
Even then, "disappointing" would be a compliment in describing the other starter's first two seasons in the league. Jeff Allen, who has two years left on his rookie deal, is routinely bull-rushed and bulldozed at the snap, particularly in short-yardage and goal-line scenarios.
If Kansas City only retains one of the two aforementioned free agents, it will need to scour the draft for added depth at the position.
Travelle Wharton is PFF's No. 1 free-agent guard. In 2013, he played all 16 contests on the left side, which is currently occupied by Allen on the Chiefs roster.
Over the past two seasons, I've continually scratched my head as to why Allen has received so many opportunities, especially considering the play of Schwartz this past year. Wharton, whose 2013 campaign wasn't marred by a single sack, could immediately fill the glaring void.
His contract negotiations may lead to a seesawing tug-of-war for two reasons.
One, he enjoyed his best season (2013) at 32 years old, and he's now 33. Two, he was sidelined for the entirety of 2012 with an ACL tear.
Unless Wharton's an anti-capitalist, he's probably going to be looking for a three-year deal that contains a healthy amount of guaranteed money, and the majority of GMs will likely want to cap the contract length at two. In other words, a team with shoddy protection will probably overpay him, and unless Kansas City restructures a few contracts (which could easily happen), that won't even be a possibility for the Chiefs.
Speaking of PFF's list of free-agent guards, Schwartz lands at No. 2.
For whatever reason, he's had to claw for snaps at his last two stops (he left Minnesota before coming to Kansas City). But when he's been awarded those scavenged snaps, the 28-year-old has always responded well and surpassed expectations.
Schwartz allowed only six quarterback hurries in 498 plays, and he routinely proved to be one of the league's best screen-blockers in 2013. And if there's one thing that Kansas Citians learned over the past year, it's that screens are Andy Reid's go-to in adverse situations.
On The Drive with Danny Parkins, the veteran announced that he's fishing for a multi-year contract. Kansas City would be foolish not to make that wish a reality.
Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
If the Chiefs bid farewell to Asamoah (or Schwartz, for that matter), Gabe Jackson will surely pique their interest.
Jackson measures at 6'4" and weighs in at a hulking 334 pounds.
He has the arm length of an offensive tackle, and the athleticism of someone 30 pounds fewer. He also consistently shows impressive reaction time at the snap, squaring up his man before the defender can gain leverage and penetrate the backfield.
Similar to another star on the opposite side of the ball, Dontari Poe, Jackson is teeming with rare talent for his frame, he just needs a coach to tap into it and refine his technique.
Anthony Steen, Alabama
Anthony Steen is a hyper-competitive prospect whose draft standing could slip due to shoulder surgery, which the incoming rookie elected to undergo in mid-December. As a result, he could be absent from the combine, and even if he's not, his effectiveness will undoubtedly suffer.
At 6'2", 310 pounds, Steen is slightly smaller than what scouts would prefer, but he embodies the power and nimbleness to excel at pulling and screen blocking.
The incoming rookie also has a restless motor that rarely needs refueling.
In order to craft a consistently dominant defense in today's NFL, specifically one within the AFC West, a team desperately needs at least three dependable corners.
The Chiefs have two erratic ones, Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper, and one Pro Bowler, Brandon Flowers.
Cooper, who has just two years of experience at the position, should improve exponentially over the impending offseason. But that's not a given.
Inking one of the names below will add a layer of stability to the position.
Chris Harris Jr.
The game of Chris Harris draws similarities to that of Brandon Flowers.
They're shorter, physical corners with compact frames, and both showcase unique instincts when the ball takes flight. They also frustrate quicker receivers when lining up opposite of the slot.
Harris reads quarterbacks' minds like he should be charging them 99 cents per game minute. He not only jumps routes, he plants and accelerates with distinguished quickness, which periodically prompts pick-sixes.
Denver's defender has Midwestern roots and spent his collegiate career at Kansas, potentially adding another talking point if Kansas City phones his agent. He'll enter free agency rehabbing from a freshly torn ACL, so his market value won't remain as high as previously predicted.
Back in 2012, trade talks began circling around Dwayne Bowe, and Vontae Davis eventually added fuel to the fire by wooing Kansas City's wideout. If the two become teammates, Davis will be the one changing zip codes.
He's also the one who leaked that Sean Smith, his friend and then-teammate, engaged in talks with the Chiefs last offseason. He's outspoken, to say the least, but he also doubled as PFF's No. 3 overall cornerback of 2013.
Davis exhibited praiseworthy bump-and-run skills throughout the year, but he has also been known to gamble in hopes of a big payoff. In the context of corners, the upcoming free agent is also one of the best run defenders in the league.
He already has plenty of ties to names gracing the Chiefs roster, so don't be surprised if rumors about him begin propping up around Kansas City.
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
If you review a handful of mock drafts, you'll likely find that most have Darqueze Dennard being the first corner off the board.
I'm part of the minority who believes that Justin Gilbert projects better as an NFL prospect.
Personally, I think the Oklahoma State star has more fundamentally sound footwork, and Dennard is infinitely more susceptible to penalties due to hand jostling (although, it should be noted that Michigan State employed more press-man and bump-and-run).
Don't get me wrong, it's splitting hairs, and Dennard could (and likely will) instantly crack the starting lineup of whichever team drafts him. But Gilbert is slightly more disciplined and finely tuned, not to mention bigger.
He shined on the rare occasions that he played bump-and-run, and his defense regularly assigned off- and press-man coverage.
Gilbert has the hip flexibility to change direction and the vertical speed to stay parallel with receivers downfield. He arguably plants and drives as well as anyone in his respective class, and if he snatches an interception, No. 4 presents an immediate threat (see six special teams touchdowns) to visit the opposite end zone.
If nothing else, Gilbert's last collegiate outing cemented his reputation, as he blanketed Dorial Green-Beckham with relative ease throughout the 2014 Cotton Bowl.
At one point, on the heels of another incompletion, the Big 12 lockdown artist screamed "This my island!" at Missouri's highly touted wideout, which actually might be the best scouting report of Gilbert that I've heard thus far.
Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
If Pierre Desir enrolled in a more prominent football program, there's a good chance that he would be a first-round selection in this year's draft.
However, there's a reason why even the most avid college football fans haven't heard of him, and why my expression looked like I was trying to solve a Rubik's cube when first Googling him: He plays for Lindenwood University (after transferring from Washburn), which I never knew existed despite being only three hours away from my living room.
On (stationary, '80s-home-movie-ish, "Ah, 240p, we meet again"-like) film, there appears to be a lot of parallels between the skill sets of Desir and Gilbert. The lesser-known prospect is an inch taller and five pounds thinner.
Desir played a lot of off-man and zone at Lindenwood, but he demonstrates a fluid backpedal when crowding the line. He consistently keeps his shoulders squared, and his footwork allows him to remain shadowing wideouts on double moves.
Desir's average run support isn't going to raise any eyebrows, but that's far from what scouts will be (primarily) concerned with.
Over time, Desir will develop into an effective starter, and a training camp's worth of professional coaching could send him skyrocketing up an NFL depth chart.
The Chiefs need a No. 2 receiver in the worst way.
Please spare the all-caps rant, Donnie Avery apologists. Out of wideouts who played in at least 25 percent of their offense's snaps, Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked him No. 100 overall in 2012. Last season? No. 105 of 111.
On a related note, after this season's wild-card loss, one name has infiltrated every Chiefs mock draft in some way, shape or form: Kelvin Benjamin.
Yes, he's a towering titan with uncommon athleticism. Yes, he made the highlight-worthy reception that sealed Florida State's championship. But if you watched the game, he also had two pivotal drops on pinpoint passes. As Greg Peshek of Second Round Stats notes, his drop rate fell in the neighborhood of nine percent last season.
A branch of the Twitterverse also seems to believe that Benjamin is some kind of big-bodied burner. As of today, his fastest recorded 40 time (4.52) is slower than Jon Baldwin's (4.39) and Dwayne Bowe's (4.49) at their respective combines.
Ideally, Kansas City should pluck a receiver with comparable speed to Avery's, but who totes both better hands and route running.
If you do a Twitter search for Jeremy Maclin's name, you'll find droves of supportive tweets alongside Chiefs avatars.
Considering his (lengthy) injury history has two listings of torn ACLs (once in the NFL; once in college), potential suitors aren't going to be nearly as optimistic.
The rehabbing receiver echoed those sentiments to CSN's Derrick Gunn, claiming, "I understand it could be a possibility that [the ACL tear] may scare some teams off, or a team may want to do a one-year deal as opposed to a long-term contract."
Maclin, when healthy, has fairly average hands, but he's a vertical burner who doubles as an open-field magician.
Given his Missouri roots and history with Andy Reid, a one-year, incentive-laden contract isn't out of the realm of possibilities. The question isn't whether Maclin can play, it's...well, technically, it is.
The last time "Baldwin" graced a No. 89 Chiefs jersey, Arrowhead was on suicide watch with a "We deserve better! Fire Pioli!" banner flying overhead.
Not only did one of the NFL's most passionate fanbases deserve a better team, it deserved a better Baldwin.
I'm actively rooting for Doug Baldwin to book a one-way trip to Kansas City just so that, when faced with the inevitable Jon Baldwin question, he'll end his reply insisting that he's not another Baldwin, but "I'll be your Doug." The jersey sales. The divorces from dads selling Bieber tickets for them. The possibilities.
Joking aside, the newly crowned Super Bowl champ is vastly underrated.
He's a precise route-runner with good (but not great) speed. Baldwin reeled in 60 percent (nine receptions) of his targets that traveled 20-plus yards through the air, which ranked him No. 3 in the league. In the pool of wideouts who partook in half of their offense's plays, only six dropped fewer passes than his two.
Russell Wilson's quarterback rating jumped to 115 when throwing in Baldwin's direction. If you were skeptical before reading this, that stat alone should talk you off the fence.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
If I was in John Dorsey's shoes when pick No. 23 rolled around—and with players like Sammy Watkins assured to be off the board—the next thing that my index finger pressed would be the first number of Brandin Cooks' cell.
Watkins excluded, it's fairly easy to spot glaring cons in the 2014 class of wideouts (which isn't saying that some aren't remarkable talents).
Mike Evans? Average speed and athleticism could hinder his ability to separate in the NFL. Marqise Lee? Injury concerns and unimpressive hands, although he would still be a steal at No. 23.
It's surprisingly hard to spot weaknesses in Cooks' game.
He measures at 5'10", 187 pounds, which is an inch shorter and five pounds less than Avery coming out of college. As B/R's Matt Miller notes in the above video, Oregon State's star wasn't faced with a lot of press coverage (and to a greater extent, bump-and-run), which is a question more than a flaw.
Besides that, his tape shows a solid route-runner with impressive hands, and due to blistering speed and razor-sharp agility, a defensive nightmare in open space. He also never missed a game during his three-year stint at Oregon State.
Marqise Lee, USC
As previously mentioned, Marqise Lee's stock plummeted because of knee issues and less-than-impressive hands in 2013.
That being said, just as many passes, if not more, slip through the Avery's gloves, and Lee's playmaking ability resides in a league above the veteran's.
Before this past season, he was a consensus top-10 pick. Now, he could possibly fall to No. 23.
Like Cooks, you could easily argue that Lee, when healthy, was the most dynamic playmaker in college football.
While the former has better hands, the latter owns the size advantage (6'0", 195 pounds), which could give him an edge in releasing from the line as a flanker. Obviously, Lee also has the lateral quickness to play the slot as well.
Regardless of where he lines up, you can rest assured that defensive coordinators will sweat every time they call a blitz.
Speed is paramount for all free safeties, but particularly for those few who regularly roam in Cover 1 shells.
In said concept, the deep safety has to diagnose the downfield threat(s) before devoting his assistance. If the play presents more than one, he's tasked with prioritizing urgency. He usually serves as the last wave of run defense as well.
Bob Sutton presumably figured that a blitz-centric Cover 1 philosophy would, given the amount of physical corners and vaunted pass-rushers, accentuate the strengths of the roster. And it did throughout the first half of the season.
When Kansas City began facing more revered passers and cohesive aerial attacks, though—plus, losing Justin Houston and a healthy Tamba Hali only worsened the issue—the exploitation of Kendrick Lewis snowballed into a trend. Lewis can survive in a Cover 2; an approach that doesn't require him to survey the full width of a field. Cover 1? Not so much.
The following candidates can plug the defensive leak and supply an immediate upgrade.
For my money, Jairus Byrd is the best free safety roaming the fields of today's NFL. Yet, due to Buffalo's market (and team), the average fan probably isn't familiar with him.
Byrd isn't just a ball-hawking deep safety, he's an aggressive pursuer against the run whose yearly missed tackles—four last season; two in 2012—can be counted on one hand.
However, his coverage abilities are the foundation of his three Pro Bowl nods. Byrd doesn't contain the freakish speed of someone like Eric Berry, but he's incredibly light on his feet and, judging by his instincts on tape, is a student of the game.
In 2013, no free safety limited targets to fewer yards per catch (7.5) and confined passers to a worse rating (35) than Byrd. Only half of the balls that spiraled in his vicinity were caught.
Recruiting Byrd wouldn't just bolster Kansas City's secondary, it would elevate free safety to one of the defense's strengths.
Byrd aside, there aren't a lot of notable free safeties scheduled to hit the open market.
Husain Abdullah, for reasons unknown, garnered a meager 240 snaps throughout the regular season—that's only 68 more than he received throughout the Chiefs' preseason and lone playoff game combined.
Meanwhile, only 10 defensive players collected more snaps (655) than Quintin Demps—who also split time as a deep safety—and Kendrick Lewis' 1,072 regular-season snaps headlined the entire team.
Throughout the aforementioned 240 plays, Abdullah sacrificed just 11 catches and 9.8 yards per reception, the latter ranking No. 15 amongst safeties (including strong).
Last season, the newcomer's role alternated between free safety, strong safety and interior corner.
His repertoire includes modest man-to-man skills, but he doesn't have sufficient straight-line speed to be trusted on the edges. However, the veteran consistently left favorable impressions when used as a slot nickelback, and while he doesn't have great closing speed, he clearly has more than Lewis.
Abdullah, like Schwartz, was one of the most underrated offseason pickups for Kansas City.
He just didn't net nearly as many opportunities as his talent warranted. There's a reason why, in Kansas City's wild-card collapse, Abdullah's season-high 57 snaps returned two interceptions.
Ha'Sean "Haha" Clinton-Dix, Alabama
The Chiefs' free-safety play was a joke last year, so it's only fitting that they sign a man named "Haha" (Clinton-Dix) as the icing.
Not only is Nick Saban a revered head coach, he's a defensive mastermind. And not only is he a defensive mastermind, he's a secondary guru.
Clinton-Dix is just the latest shipment on Alabama's conveyor belt. The 2014 rookie is arguably more well-rounded than Calvin Pryor, who may be a hair more physical (and I emphasize "hair") but also slightly more vulnerable to play fakes and a shade slower.
Alabama's 2013 safety valve reliably thwarts potential highlights by corralling open-field runners before they break the last line of defense. But if Kansas City selects him—and at this point, he might be the odds-on favorite—the choice will ultimately be credited to his coverage abilities.
Clinton-Dix thoroughly understands the quarterback mindset—the fear of a vein-popping Saban tends to instill that in a guy—which is the most vital component of a deep safety's mentality. He lets the down and distance dictate his aggressiveness, while constantly communicating pre-snap notes to his secondary colleagues.
The collegiate standout was also one of the speediest safeties in the country last season.
Terrence Brooks, Florida State
If Terrence Brooks breaches the third or fourth round, a GM could have a bargain on his hands.
At 5'11", he doesn't possess ideal height for the position, but while he's one inch shorter than Lewis, his vertical more than compensates for the difference.
From time to time—due to his inherent instincts, willingness and ability to shed blocks—Brooks stepped up into the box in a role similar to Eric Berry's, covering the flat or tailing a running back on passes, while filling gaps and hunting down ball-carriers on rushes. He rapidly processes reads and reacts in the snap of a finger.
After gauging a quarterback's intentions, he flashes closing speed comparable (but a touch slower than) Clinton-Dix's, helping him prevent any potential momentum-swingers.
Judging by his on-field intuition, Brooks is a quick learner who, with a few offseasons under his belt, could ultimately evolve from a Day 1 contributor to a respected starter.
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