I have really enjoyed contributing to the Arrowhead Pride community so far. One viewpoint that has taken me completely by surprise is the overwhelming cry for the Chiefs to draft an Offensive Tackle in the first round.
I want to first start with draft philosophy, because there seem to be very different opinions about optimal draft-day approaches. The two most popular strategies are to draft BPA (Best Player Available) and to draft for Need. My personal opinion is that it needs to be a little bit of both with a much heavier emphasis on BPA in the earlier rounds. When I think about drafting in the first round, particularly in the top 5, I like to lump players into talent categories. You have your "can’t miss" players, your solid and consistent but unspectacular players, and your raw with upside players. That, of course, needs to be weighted with positional value—an average quarterback is going to receive just as much consideration as a very good linebacker—and with a team’s specific needs—Matt Stafford would obviously not be on San Diego’s target list with a young Philip Rivers on the roster.
I know I’m dumbing that analysis down a bit, but I wanted to make the following point as clearly as possible: with a top 5 pick, you do not pass up a top-tier player for a second-tier player unless you are convinced that a very good long-term player already exists on the roster.
I realize that we can’t really create these draft boards until we get into the heart of NFL Draft season, but unless something drastic changes over the next few months, there aren’t any can’t miss players at offensive tackle (the only position on the line with high first round positional value). Russell Okung looks to be the top OT in the draft, and he isn’t a player I’d take with playmakers still on the board. Reaching for a player is one thing; passing up on a playmaker in order to fill a need is a whole other animal. So from a BPA standpoint, it doesn’t appear that an offensive lineman is in the cards.
And look, here’s another reality we have to face. As much as I like Matt Cassel, he’s probably not going to engineer the same kind of explosive offense that Drew Brees or Peyton Manning engineer. I wouldn’t want for the Chiefs’ entire future prospects to revolve around Cassel’s ability to take over games from start to finish. The Chiefs are probably going to be a defensive team first. That doesn’t mean that you completely ignore offensive weapons, but it does mean that you place a little more weight on defensive players over offensive players.
The Big, Unappreciated Nasties
Another point to consider is that the biggest holes on the Chiefs’ offensive line are at positions that carry very low positional value. The Chiefs desperately need to upgrade at Center and Right Guard, as well as to groom Brian Waters’ eventual replacement. Ryan O’Callaghan hasn’t been bad at Right Tackle, but the Chiefs could probably do a lot better there too. These are three positions where the highest positional value tends to be in the late first round or early second round.
The Chiefs will likely have an early second, a later second, and an early third round pick. If two of those picks are used on upgrading one of those offensive line positions, then there is a good chance the offensive line improves by leaps and bounds without having to waste a high first round pick. Why waste a top 5 pick on an offensive linemen when there are so many opportunities to bring in top-level talent at 2-3 other positions on the line later in the draft?
Let’s go back to the discussion that a player you draft would have to be significantly better than the guy you already have or a guy you can get in later rounds or free agency. In the Chiefs’ case, it could be too soon to write the book on Branden Albert. He’s playing at a new weight in a new offensive scheme. I thought it was really interesting when Haley a few weeks back spoke about how Albert’s weight loss has forced him to play with better technique, which is evident, because a lot of the mistakes he’s making are technique-related. Because he played Guard in college, his learning curve is higher than most young Left Tackles, which means that he deserves a little more leeway to make mistakes. Call me crazy, but I still like Albert’s upside. He has terrific feet and athleticism for a left tackle, so his ceiling is really high.
If you use a top 5 pick on a tackle, you better be sure that he’s going to be better than Albert and that he carries the same amount of upside. And you better hope that it’s by a fairly significant margin. Otherwise, you’re drafting a Left Tackle and bumping Albert to guard. Basically, you’d be draining a top 5 pick to draft a Guard, and that is simply unheard of. Drafting a Guard in the top 5 is a monumental reach.
Re-looking at Positional Value
I’ll let my bias show here. The three guys that intrigue me so far are players who play positions of traditionally low positional value. And given the talent in this year’s draft, as of now, the player who would make the biggest impact on the Chiefs today is Eric Berry or Taylor Mays. If you would prefer not to take those guys, then the next logical choice is probably Terrence Cody.
Nobody doubts the importance of the Nose Tackle position and yet, it carries such low positional value. It’s arguably the most important position on a 3-4 defense. The reason it carries such low draft positional value is: 1) in the past, there weren’t that many 3-4 defenses; 2) most 3-4 defenses were happy with their current Nose Tackle; 3) most teams that ran the 3-4 defense were playoff teams, so they tended to draft lower in the first round. That’s not the case today. There are less teams running the 3-4, so finding a quality Nose Tackle is going to become a little more difficult. We saw that in the last draft when the Chiefs drafted a 5-technique Defensive End. The demand for 3-4 players has lifted most of those players’ positional value.
At the Safety position, we also need to re-think positional value here too. Offenses are opening up their passing games. Years ago, you could have a dominant 1-2 punch like Jerry Rice and John Taylor. In order to beat this 1-2 punch, you had to bring in shutdown corners and bring in enough of a pass rush to force the QB to make poor decisions. In today’s league, things work a bit differently. Lots of teams like to spread the offense out. If we can’t beat you with Colston, we’re going to beat you with Lance Moore. And if you don’t like that, we’re going to dump off to a running back in open space.
When I watch Safeties like Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, they can see a play develop almost as quickly as the Quarterback can. One of the best defenses against an aggressive pass offense is a Safety that can anticipate a pass play before it develops. The Chiefs’ Safeties wait for plays to come to them. They don’t go toward the plays like the elite playmakers do. Against San Diego, Rivers would dump off a short pass to Darren Sproles and there wouldn’t be a player within miles of him. Watch Troy Polamalu on screen passes—he blows up screen passes like a speeding bullet. Against both Jacksonville and San Diego, watch how many teams are safeties aren’t exploding to the right gap or how many times they take a poor angle to make a tackle. The Chiefs’ safeties make way too many mistakes and even if they didn’t make mistakes, they just don’t have the nose for the ball to disrupt offenses as much as a playmaker would.
They say the Safety has become the Quarterback of the defense and there’s a lot of truth to that. Your Defense can do just fine with a solid but unspectacular Safety, but bringing in a playmaker at Safety can bring your defense to the next level.