In 1985, Lycra mini-skirts and big hairdos burst onto the scene.
More importantly to football, the first Butkus award was given to college football’s top linebacker.
Butkus award winners are, typically, a lock to go in the first round of the NFL draft. With linebacker a clear position of need, let’s examine past Butkus award winners as a lead-in to a look at this year’s draft-eligible award winner.
Among the recipients of the Butkus award, some have been total busts, like Brian Bosworth or LaVar Arrington. Others saw careers cut short by injuries like Andy Katzenmoyer or Dan Morgan. Others have simply underperformed, like Kansas City’s Derrick Johnson.
The list hardly screams with resounding praise for the Butkus class of athletes.
Legends can be picked out of the list of winners, too—such as Kansas City hero, Derrick Thomas.
There are also those who are, arguably, the next wave of historic linebackers. Patrick Willis set the NFL on fire, leading all players in tackles his rookie season. The star of the 49ers 3-4 defense, Kansas City couldn’t hope for a better find in the draft.
While Willis was found at pick 11 in the 2007 draft, the Butkus award winners before and after him both fell to the top of the second round.
Paul Posluszny and James Laurinaitis have both made immediate impacts at inside linebacker and were selected with early picks in the second round. (Side note: Brandon Flowers was an early second round choice as well.)
Posluszny was the Buffalo Bill’s defensive MVP in his first full season and, as a rookie, Laurinaitis led the St. Louis Rams in tackles.
One key lesson here is that a first-round pick does not make or break a draft; rather, that there is great value in round 2, where Kansas City has two picks thanks to the trade of tight end Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta.
Now, neither Posluszny or Laurinaitis has turned their team into a serious contender. Perhaps this is why middle linebackers of this caliber fall to the second round.
Despite leading a team in tackles, teams too often place primary focus on the ability to get the sack and provide the big-play excitement and game-changing ability of a disruptive outside linebacker, instead of a steady middle linebacker.
This year’s winner is one of those reliable players who can churn out 100 tackle seasons year after year. A high reward player who is likely to be under-appreciated for accumulating gaudy stats with limited highlight reel material, Rolando McClain is a great fit for Kansas City.
Is McClain a great fit being picked at number five overall?
Outside of safety Eric Berry, talent-wise, it appears anyone Kansas City might target at the 5-spot is a stretch. Is McClain worth stretching for? Will the Chiefs instead stretch for a potential cornerstone left tackle in Russell Okung?
A player may fall. While he hasn’t quite met the hype, no one expected Glenn Dorsey to still be available when Kansas City picked fifth in 2008.
The key to a great draft is maximum value. The greatest player at a pick where they are (for their sake) unfortunate to fall to (and to a team’s financial benefit is lucky to find him), is the formula for an ideal draft.
That said, while I like McClain in Kansas City, I don’t like picking him at number five. Unless it can be guaranteed that the Chiefs get the next Patrick Willis, it’s not worth the draft position.
On the flip side, a blue-collar work ethic from a player who simply churns out "unflashy" results may be the identity that a Kansas City defense still in transition may need to cement themselves as a unit.
With a player like McClain available, I truly wish Kansas City picked right around number 15.
How will the Chiefs shake the burden of the 5-spot? Or is the sure-thing, but unspectacular McClain the God-send of a safe pick? Perhaps, most importantly, how lucky do Scott Pioli and the Chiefs feel?
Risk/Reward…welcome to the 2010 draft.
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