Okay, so I'm not going to say that I buy into the Patriot Way, but I understand the philosophy. Scott Pioli wants to build the team around solid football players. We're not talking about a bunch of athletes who happen to play football; we're talking about football players who live, breathe, and die the game. I like that. I get that. I buy that. One of my favorite Chiefs of all time was Mike Maslowski--here was a football player in an average body, but he made it work because of his passion for the game.
This is an especially important conversation, because it calls into question which players need to be in play for the upcoming draft. If you have a playmaker who plays a position of high positional value in a position of need, that's a no-brainer. So if you have a Calvin Johnson or a Demarcus Ware sitting on top of the board, you don't hesitate to make a play for him. That's not the case in 2010. More than likely, the Chiefs will end up with a playmaker at a position of low positional value or priority (Berry or Spiller) or a lunch pail overachiever like Brian Bulaga (as almost every mock draft predicts) or Dan Williams (as Patrick Allen of Arrowhead Addict proposes). In the former group, when I say "playmaker", I'm referring to a player who forces the opposing team to gameplan around them. In the latter group, you get a predictably good not great player. Bulaga may eventually play the Left Tackle position well, but he's not a guy that I see Defensive Coordinators specifically scheming for.
In most draft analyses I've seen, I've read that Pioli won't draft a Safety that high or that he believes in building the lines first. Maybe there's some truth to that and if it is, it's a philosophy that I somewhat agree with. However, I'm going to talk a little bit about why the Patriot Way isn't exactly perfect and why a pick like Bulaga, while somewhat representative of the Patriot Way, isn't the right way to go.
You build a foundation around lunch pail grinders. You take that team to the top with playmakers.
It always scares me when the leader of anything, whether a business or a football team, tries to replicate the same model piece-by-piece in a new environment. That's what scares me a little bit about following a very specific Patriots blueprint for building the Chiefs. For as successful as Bill Belichick's model has been in New England, it hasn't been that successful outside of New England. Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels and Eric Mangini couldn't bring the Patriots' winning ways to other teams. Even the Patriots themselves are starting to see some scuffs in their previously impenetrable armor. Could it be that the Patriot Way isn't all that it's cracked up to be?
I wouldn't go that far. What I will say, however, is that the Patriot Way was largely a byproduct of a specific way of running a football team that Pioli is now bringing into Kansas City coupled with a little bit of luck. Arguably, if you take away a certain 6th round Quarterback, the Patriots would have been solid Super Bowl contenders, but likely would not have been a dynasty. And after they lost players like McGinest and Law, Brady seemed to be the only guy helping that team stay afloat.
So yes, I'm fully in favor of building this team around football guys. It's a philosophy that helped bring the Patriots to 12-4 in 2006 behind scrappy receivers like Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney. But many would argue that the Patriots' defense hasn't looked nearly the same since they lost some of their playmakers, and their offense got a significant boost when they brought in playmakers like Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
The Chiefs have a few of those guys, but not nearly enough. Tamba Hali and Dorsey strike me as players who might eventually do their jobs pretty well, but I wouldn't categorize either as playmakers. The only three that really, really stood out to me are Brandon Flowers, Jamaal Charles, and Chris Chambers. In the case of the latter two, we could clearly see a spark ignited when these guys were put on the field. That's not nearly enough. In Chambers' case, I'm using the "playmaker" label fairly lightly.
The Chiefs could luck into finding a Tom Brady in the late round of the draft or they could wind up with two free agency steals in Randy Moss or Wes Welker, but the reality is, those moves don't happen very often. You're probably not going to find a Hall of Fame player past the first or second round and the majority of players who end up on the free agency block are there for a reason. Think the Patriots would ever let Brady go? Think the Colts would ever let Peyton Manning go? No. Most players end up on other teams because they either aren't elite talent, they carry around a little baggage, or they have a short shelf life left in them. Even if elite players do hit the open market, it's a different world in Kansas City. You don't have the money to throw around like Dan Snyder does and you don't have the Broadway appeal that a team like the Jets and the Giants have. Worse, you don't have the winning ways that a smaller market team like the Steelers have. You have a smaller, cheaper, less glamorous market that has recently struggled to win football games.
That leaves only one option: the first round pick at #5. Last year, the Chiefs went an alternate route. Instead of bringing in a playmaker, they chose to reach for a lunch pail player. Tyson Jackson strikes me as a Brian Bulaga type--he's a player who's never going to be a playmaker, but he'll probably eventually do his job pretty well. That's a safe pick if I ever saw one. While I have some objection to drafting a guy like C.J. Spiller, only because I don't see the purpose of drafting a playmaker who would take away time from another playmaker, I don't see how there can be any objection to drafting a playmaker like Eric Berry. Forget "positional value." I know that Dan Williams would play Nose Tackle, the most important position on the defense, but I will never see him as a guy who can dominate that position. Besides, I don't think finding a Nose Tackle is nearly the Holy Grail-seeking experience a lot of people suggest it is. If you want to talk about positional value, the history of taking Nose Tackles in the top 5 are slim-to-none.
I've seen multiple reports about how teams don't value Safeties highly. Spare me. You don't need statistics to tell me that Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed are difference makers. You don't need playoff win/loss records to tell me that those two players make their teams Super Bowl worthy whenever they're on the field. Can they win games on their own? Of course not. Do their teams become significantly worse without them? You bet they do. Knowing what we know now, would any team hesitate to draft Polamalu or Ed Reed in the top 5? In a lot of drafts, I'd even consider taking them at #1.
If Pioli goes the route of reaching for a lunch pail guy, I'm not going to throw my hands in the air and freak out. But if he passes on a playmaker, he better be ready to search the ends of the Earth to find one. Because this team can win football games with a team full of lunch pail guys, but they're not going to be serious threats to be Super Bowl contenders until they start bringing in more guys that make plays like Jamaal Charles. As of now, Berry seems to be the only guy that fits that bill. I don't care what positional value says.