Barring any bombshells, we pretty much know what we have in most of these prospects. There will be countless clues as to who and what the teams and GMs like in the prospect field over the next two months, but ultimately, the players have spoken.
Some Pro Days are going to fiddle with the rankings, but by and large we aren’t going to be terribly surprised by anybody.
My selection for the Chiefs at #21 is based on the prospect’s talent, the nature of his position, our team, and this draft. My great enthusiasm for this player is matched by my certainty that this player will not be selected by the Chiefs.
With the 21st pick in the NFL Draft, the Chiefs should select OLB Justin Houston, Georgia.
Justin Houston is a bolt off the edge. Before he gained his recent weight (in which it did not look like fat…), he showed great anticipation of the snapcount and was pure lightning off the edge. That speed, and that anticipation, are nigh impossible to actually “teach” a player. The versatility he will need to develop will come as he has added strength and 35” arms with which he can master any number of techniques. In other words, he comes pretty well prepared to blow stuff up in opposing backfields, while still having massive room for growth.
Houston is also what Herm Edwards would call a “football player” in the vein of Tamba Hali and Glenn Dorsey: the man plays with tons of fire and willingly throws his body into blocks for teammates and plays the run passionately. This is no Dwight Freeney – this guy gets off on running backs just as much as quarterbacks. And with his added bulk, that will only add to his ability in that department.
Houston has the look of somebody who can put up double-digit sacks in the NFL. I don’t claim he is the best prospect – I’m iffy on Bowers but I’d take Ryan Kerrigan in a heartbeat – but with the decent-enough depth at pass-rusher in the first round, it’s likely that Houston can fall to us.
His biggest setback at this point is his added bulk. The 270 he weighs now looks a lot more like a 4-3 DE than a 3-4 OLB body-type. But even with the bulk, his speed is still very solid (4.6 at the Combine, he plays like a 4.5 on the field…). And he features a vertical that most receivers in this class lack. I think this translates into a player who can drop into coverage.
The OLB Position
Passrushing is the toughest job to do on the football field other than playing the QB position. It requires a specific set of physical skills and a never-say-die attitude that will be challenged hundreds of times throughout a season. Your strongest muscle must be your heart.
Because of the difficulty of the position, it takes passrushers about as long as it takes quarterbacks to adjust to the league and play up to their potential. If you’re going to be in a rebuilding process, which despite their 2010 record, the Chiefs definitely are, you should go early and often with passrushers in the draft in the hopes of having a ferocious passrush in a couple years when you’re ready to contend for a title.
Passrushers are also a lot like quarterbacks in that it is extremely rare that your true sack artists come from any round other than the 1st. The other positions Chiefs fans are debating this offseason for the first pick—reciever, nose tackle, offensive line—can be had in later rounds with less of a drop off. But passrushers in the first are the most likely to thrive, and it’s not even close.
I believe in Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. Dorsey is now playing like a franchise defensive lineman, and Jackson came on incredibly strong in the last four games of the season – as well as the first game of the season. In other words, games in which he was playing close to 100% healthy. If this guy stays healthy, I bet he’s a gamer.
These are two indispensible puzzle pieces for this team given the high picks we invested in them. But neither one is a great passrusher. Neither one of them is much of a passrusher, matter of fact. Our defensive line only features one good passrusher (Wallace Gilberry) and another guy (Ron Edwards) who is guaranteed three sacks a season. (Shaun Smith, meanwhile, is the worst passrusher we have on the DL.)
Under normal circumstances, we could just upgrade the ends with passrushers, but the Chiefs are in an extraordinary circumstance with what we’ve invested in ours. Dorsey and Jackson need to not only be our defensive ends going forward, they need to play the overwhelming majority of snaps. Upgrading the defensive end position basically negates the value we spent on those players.
So a passrush will need to be manufactured in other positions – namely, the position that’s actually designed to be a pure passrusher in a 3-4: the outside linebacker. Tamba Hali is a player that offenses have to single-mindedly focus on to keep their backfields clean. With Justin Houston developing, offenses would have to go more conservative to ward off both edges.
A great passrusher would make everything on this defense better. The secondary would be under less pressure. Other players on the DL (namely Dorsey) would face less focus, and would be freer to operate which in turn would almost completely free up Derrick Johnson and our ILBs. In short, as important as a nose tackle is, one more great passrusher would vault this defense deep into the Top 10.
The 2011 Draft
Like all drafts, this is a draft that has more than a few quality receiver prospects in the early-to-mid rounds. Phil Taylor may be a reach at #21 anyway, so better to get some value later on for the nose. And I am under the belief that our current offensive line (Albert, Waters, Wiegmann assuming he returns, Lilja, and Richardson with Asamoah, Niswanger, and O’Callaghan in the wings) could use some depth, but can hold together for another season while we invest in other positions that are more difficult to develop. It’s hard to complain about an OL that paved the way for two 900+ yard rushers.