It's the draft class that helped the team get over the top. It's one of the most impressive groups of rookies in the NFL this season. It's a sign that the Chiefs will only get better given the youth at various skill positions. And then there's that one second round choice.
Save for the selections of Eric Berry at the top of the draft and Jon Asamoah to beef up an aging offensive interior, most of the Chiefs draft probably came as a major surprise to those watching. The experts predicted Kansas City would address both lines with a possible left tackle to push Branden Albert and a nose tackle to complete the reinvention after earlier drafts brought ends like Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. Linebacker was also presumed to be addressed (and not in a Cameron Sheffield in the fifth sort of way).
Instead, the Chiefs went with athleticism across the board, surprising draft experts with both second round choices of RB/WR Dexter McCluster and cornerback Javier Arenas. Both instantly boosted the Chiefs athleticism on both sides of the ball and revamped the Chiefs return game in one quick round. Tight end Tony Moeaki became another surprising choice after Pioli moved up to grab him. The choices were instantly hailed by some -- like Rich Gosselin and Mike Mayock -- and the results of an AFC West division win proved Pioli was onto something that precious April weekend.
Personally, I'm still in love with the idea of McCluster's future with the team. His instincts and athleticism should eventually become what the Chiefs drafted him for, despite the pedestrian numbers in his first season (21 receptions, 209 receiving yards, 18 rushes for 71 yards). But I have to question whether it was the right pick at the time, especially after two recent games display the absolute need to control the middle of the interior line.
For those who saw the BCS national title game between Auburn and Oregon, the dominance of nose tackle Nick Fairley was truly something to behold and left little doubt that his name will be the first called for the Carolina Panthers at next April's draft. Oregon's high powered offense could never get moving because of Fairley's disruptive strength and penetration and served as a prime example of what a dominant interior lineman brings to the table.
The same can be said of the recent Chiefs-Ravens game, which we've broken down ad nauseum in here. However, it's worth noting once again the dominant play of Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg who consistently forced Matt Cassel to make throws and decisions under pressure. It's interior linemen like those who allow linebackers like Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs and a secondary with Ed Reed to take chances and make the game-changing plays.
The Chiefs knew this already heading into the 2010 draft. Ron Edwards had served as the answer before, and the Chiefs lone response was to sign future fullback Shaun Smith to bolster the position. When the Chiefs failed to grab someone in the draft to also provide relief in the middle, some wondered whether or not the draft would be a success. Ten wins later, and you have your answer.
Yet in the long term, I have to question whether that was the right move. The immediate results make any conjecture against the draft seem ridiculous, but given next season's slate of playoff-caliber opponents, the Chiefs are going to need an influx of talent, youth and depth along the defensive line -- specifically in the interior. With the time it usually takes defensive linemen to adjust and make good at the NFL level (those not named Suh), the Chiefs might have been better off drafting the future of the position last year.
The dazzle of a McCluster can sure tempt given the possibilities, but the physical nature of the teams left standing at this point serve as a reminder of the personnel it takes to win.