If you were to ask 10 Kansas City Chiefs fans what the biggest position of need for the team was moving into the 2014 season, it's likely that at least seven would say free safety.
Kendrick Lewis, the starting free safety in 2013, is no longer on the team after signing with the Houston Texans during free agency. And though Lewis' primary backup from last season, Husain Abdullah, was re-signed last month to a two-year deal, most aren't excited about the prospect of him starting, either.
With perhaps the best free safety in the league, Jairus Byrd, passing on Kansas City in favor of the New Orleans Saints during free agency, the Chiefs are left with only the NFL draft next month to solve their "center field problem."
Or does it?
As Chiefs' general manager John Dorsey continues to tirelessly work with his scouting department and formulate his "big board" heading into next month's draft, he has another job as well—one many would say is just as important: evaluating the talent currently on the roster.
Last year, Dorsey saw something in Sanders Commings, a defensive back out of Georgia, which prompted the head of the Chiefs' front office to draft him in the fifth round. The only problem? Commings broke his collarbone during the first practice of training camp last July and started the season on the injured reserve/designated for return list.
Commings made—what many hoped would be—his triumphant return to the field against the Denver Broncos on the Week 11 edition of Sunday Night Football. Two weeks later, however, he was ruled out for the the Chiefs' rematch with Denver and placed on season-ending injured reserve due to a shoulder injury. He only appeared in two games and recorded one tackle.
Moving forward, many believe Commings could be the answer for the Chiefs at the free safety position. That opinion is shared by Dorsey, as he spoke highly of Commings during a recent interview when asked if he could be the starter at free safety.
"I could envision that. One of the reasons we drafted Sanders Commings is we thought he fit that positional skill. I could see Husain (Abdullah) and those guys competing and there's some players within this draft that could help come in and contribute as well."
"Those guys" who Dorsey referred to are likely first-round prospects Calvin Pryor out of Louisville and HaHa Clinton-Dix from Alabama. But with little-to-no trade bait in terms of draft picks to use, the likelihood of either one of those players still being on the board when the Chiefs make their selection at No. 23 overall is slim.
With virtually no professional tape on Commings due to his injury-laden rookie campaign, Dorsey will be forced to re-scout the former Bulldog heading into 2014.
Commings played in 58 games with the Bulldogs between 2008 and 2012, including 34 starts. As a cornerback, he racked up 154 tackles—six of them for a loss—with 17 passes defensed and eight interceptions. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Commings heading into last year's draft was his time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
One of the most-needed skills for a good free safety is speed. Playing in the center of the defensive backfield, the player has to diagnose which side the play is going to and race in that direction as fast as he can to assist the cornerback.
The two top safety prospects in this year's draft—Clinton-Dix and Pryor—both ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds.
Last year, Commings ran a 4.41—faster than any of this year's safety prospects.
Commings' second year will likely prove to be the most important in his young career. Coming back from one injury is never easy, but he'll be battling back from two. Still, he could prove to be the safety the Chiefs have been looking for.
The best part is, they'll have to look no further than their own backyard.