5 Last Minute Thoughts for the Kansas City Chiefs Going into the 2011 NFL Draft
In Kansas City, fans have one question to ask: How will the Chiefs build on the winning foundation of the 2010-2011 season?
In the copycat league of the NFL, teams learn from the best.
While it is the statistics from the field of play that draw attention, it is the off-field decisions that put double-digit numbers in the win-column year in and out.
Top franchises build and sustain powerful squads through the draft. With general manager Scott Pioli, a product of the New England mold, at the helm of Kansas City, the Chiefs have begun to do the same.
Here are five last-minute observations to ponder as we head to draft day.
1. Where Is the Best Value at Wide Receiver?
Randall Cobb Highlights
Dexter McCluster is a valuable weapon, but too undersized to be a viable No. 2 receiver.
Dwayne Bowe is an exciting playmaker, but lacks ideal speed and possesses suspect hands.
Chris Chambers dropped off the face of the planet under his new contract.
Who is Matt Cassel passing to? Tony Moeaki? The running backs?
The NFL is a passing league, and the Chiefs need to pose a bigger passing threat to keep teams from focusing on Jamaal Charles.
However, a wide receiver is not a quick fix. Receivers typically don't emerge in the NFL until year three (as fantasy football participants know). Additionally, top receiving talent often drops to round 2 or later of recent drafts. DeSean Jackson going in the second to the Eagles is a prime example.
The only two viable first-round receivers are AJ Green and Julio Jones. Both will be gone by the time the Chiefs pick.
2nd round: Maryland's Torrey Smith or Miami's Leonard Hankerson. Both speedsters.
3rd round: Randall Cobb of Kentucky may be worth a reach in the second. Slightly smaller, but still fast, he is a player in the Pioli mold. A converted quarterback, academic superstar, team captain, a quality individual as well as football player.
4th round and later: Greg Salas of Hawaii is a personal favorite who reminded me a lot of Ed McCaffrey with his play at the NFL combine.
2. Which Is a Bigger Priority? Offensive or Defensive Line?
Kansas City still lacks a true nose tackle in their 3-4 defense.
It's not surprising given the scarcity of athletes with the combination of size and athleticism to play the position. When the opportunity to get such a defensive staple arises, it is hard to pass up.
While there are nose tackles who will be available in later rounds it is unrealistic to expect to find a full-time starter.
If the Chiefs select a nose tackle in later rounds they must draft multiple as they will be part of a rotation. However, Phil Taylor of Baylor will get a serious look in the first round.
Taylor was invited by the Chiefs for both a visit and a private workout, so they clearly have him in their scope.
Meanwhile, talks of drafting an offensive tackle have surrounded the Chiefs ever since Branden Albert stepped in at left tackle. Many feel he should be moved to the right side or even to guard.
What makes this year more intriguing is most of the top offensive tackles are likely to fall outside of the top 10 and immediate starters will be available at pick 21.
Top names include Anthony Castonzo of Boston College, Nate Solder of Colorado, and Tyron Smith of USC.
Castonzo best fits the Pioli mold. Solder is an athletic tight end convert who will need to put on weight and be coached up. Tyron Smith has been littered all over the first round of various mock drafts.
3. The Offensive Line: Beyond Offensive Tackle
Center of the future?
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The interior of the Chiefs' offensive line cannot be neglected.
Casey Wiegman is in his late thirties. Brian Waters, while a cornerstone of similar local fame to Will Shields, will also - like Shields - not play forever. Ryan Lilja was a great free agent addition, but is a stop-gap solution.
Last year's third round pick, Jon Asamoah, is but one man. While he appears to be a viable starter for many years, Kansas City needs to add more youth to the offensive line.
The idea here isn't the need for immediate starters, but players to contribute and become long-term fixtures in a city that loves their offensive linemen.
A quick review of the NFL combine reveals viable options.
While many will be enamored with the measurables of Ryan Bartholomew of Syracuse I can't help but use the position drills as a better gauge of talent.
Bartholomew posted tops among offensive linemen in the bench press and finished second in the 40, but my pick is Rodney Hudson of Florida State.
Hudson showed great footwork and further caught my attention when Rich Eisen pointed out that Hudson played his first 20 games to completion before being flagged once.
I liked this guys workout so much I gently wept to learn he's not a right tackle.
4. Longterm Planning: Drafting a Quarterback
Will Ricky Stanzi become Kansas City's new backup and quarterback of the future?
A passing offense ranked 30th in the NFL means more improvement is needed than an upgrade at the No. 2 wide receiver spot.
Even though quarterback Matt Cassel earned a pro bowl nod last season there are question marks as this season will be without offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
The Chiefs brought in Jim Zorn to be quarterback coach (continuing a trend of former head coaches joining Todd Haley's coaching staff). While this is great for the growth of Cassel, it also lends itself well to the development of a younger quarterback drafted in mid to late rounds.
Kansas City has no one to legitimately challenge Cassel for the starting spot, and Haley loves to spark competitions for depth chart positioning. Furthermore, backup/attempted starter since 2006, Brodie Croyle hasn't done much on the field beside get hurt.
A young quarterback is a wise investment. However, the Chiefs have too many needs at other positions to potentially draft a highly touted, Senior Bowl MVP, Christian Ponder of Florida State, or the true, ultimate project quarterback in the athletic and rocket-armed Colin Kaepernick of Nevada Reno.
Kansas City may eye Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
5. Kansas City: Use a Late Round Pick on Running Back Help
A compliment to Charles
A lot of fans clamor for Jamaal Charles to get more carries. However, the life of an NFL running back is short enough without the workload of being a workhorse.
Many running backs get worn down after approximately three years of peak performance: Edgerrin James, Fred Taylor, Clinton Portis, and others.
Do the Chiefs want to win this season, or for many seasons to come? The new trend is tandem running backs. This prevents injury and preserves careers.
Thomas Jones was a great addition to the Chiefs until the last third of the season when the soon-to-be 33 year-old back appeared to finally be winding down.
Kansas City can use a late round pick on some running back help. Look at runners with complementary styles to Charles. The New York Giants were the first to feature the thunder/lightning combination at running back and look for the Chiefs to grab a bruiser in later rounds.
Players available will include USC's Allen Bradford and personal favorite, Delone Carter of Syracuse.
Bonus Thought: Trust in the Pioli Method
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General manager Scott Pioli has given Kansas City two contrasting drafts.
His first year making the calls for Kansas City saw the team select Tyson Jackson third overall. Jackson's play has not warranted the 31 million guaranteed provided by his contract.
However, last year saw the Chiefs land Eric Berry at the 5-spot, build overall team speed, and provide an influx of youth that launched Kansas City to immediate improvement.
Pioli is now in his element. His draft mentality will differ from most pundits, fans, and even other coaches and managers.
Pioli's priority is character. Building a team of individuals who benefit the good of the team instead of accumulating freakish talent, depth of character and leadership are premiums in Kansas City.
A few of last year's picks drew skepticism from fans, but one cannot argue with the end result.
This year's draft will be just as exciting.