The 2011 NFL Draft is over, the picks are all in, and now the grades are going out. Of course, giving a team a report card on its draft choices is sort of like grading a student on their class selection at the beginning of the semester: “Jimmy’s really weak in math, so I’m glad to see he’s talking calculus, and I’m not sure what ‘Intro to Global Sensitivity Analysis’ is, but maybe it’ll make him into less of an asshole.” The real passing and/or failing hasn’t even begun.
So for now, the grades we give are, like the picks themselves, educated guesses in response to the following: “Will _____ be a good player for us? Will he make our team better?” And so far, the answer for most of the players picked seems to be, happily, “Yeah…I really think so.”
But there’s a secondary consideration, an aspect that concerns all of us, and especially those of us who have taken it upon ourselves to write and/or comment about this team week in and week out: “Will _____ be a good story for us? Will he make our team that much more interesting?”
Of course, interesting isn’t necessarily good. But for every Chad Ochocinco who coasts on talent and early success, says whatever he wants to get attention, perhaps changes his name to a Spanish number, launches a reality TV show, and in his spare time plays soccer, there’s a Priest Holmes who goes undrafted, works harder than anyone, overcomes injury, overcomes rejection, and then overcomes injury again to become one of the greatest ever—and in his spare time plays chess just to relax.
Looking over the crop of new stories about to join the larger Chiefs narrative, there are reasons to be excited about the potential of these picks. So while all the football grades are going out, here are my evaluations on the human-interest angle for each draftee, on a five-star scale, from downright dull (think Varsity Blues…Necessary Roughness…The Longest Yard (2005 version)) to a legend in the making (Rudy…Brian’s Song…The Longest Yard (1974)).
Jonathan Baldwin (WR/Pitt):***
Well, this is the one we already know we’ll be watching for at least the next couple years, if only to see what we’ve got. Another Dwayne Bowe? Snoop Minnis? Or is he the next Larry Fitzgerald (the other former Pitt receiver who Baldwin says he emulates)? Does Baldwin have an attitude problem or just an image problem? Should we listen to Trent Dilfer,* who claimed that Baldwin was known to undermine his quarterback and coaches? And regardless of all that, how will Todd Haley handle his first from-scratch elite receiver project in Kansas City?
*I’ll answer that one right now: Uh…no.
Rodney Hudson (OG/Florida State): **
Could very well develop into a Will Shields or Brian Waters level feel-good story. After all, he appears to be one of those hard workers who watches hours of game film on his own, shows up for every optional conditioning session, and when he was 16 went and got a job at KFC to help out his mom, even though she never asked him to (and in the process, he “learned to fry up a mean bird“). In his last season at Florida State, he was flagged for only one penalty in 832 snaps. That’s a success rate of 99.8%.
Justin Houston (DE-OLB/Georgia):**
I think most of us agree that smoking a little marijuana is a pardonable offense and as Big Matt pointed out, would we rather have Houston out at a club making trouble, or at home making nachos? But reporting for doobie duty right before the well-publicized drug test at the NFL Combine? I’m pretty sure that’s highlighted on any basic list of “Interview Don’ts,” right between “Don’t chew gum” and “Don’t leave your cell phone on, especially if you have ‘Take This Job and Shove It’ as your ringtone.” Hopefully, that’s that, and there’s no story here.
Allen Bailey (DE/Miami): *****
He’s the full package: Allen Bailey, the “Pride of Hog Hammock,” comes complete with a story that’s already national-feature-worthy. He grew up on a tiny island in a town with a name that would make Mark Twain proud and a population smaller than an NFL roster.* His mama bulked him up on “home-cooked meals of slow-roasted raccoon, parboiled possum, and hickory-smoked armadillo” and he developed the basic motor skills for football through a touch keep-away game he played with his brothers and cousins called “yard ball.” He will become the first member of his family to graduate from college. And he and his family—along with his whole community on Sapelo Island—descend directly from West African slaves. You hear that, Adrian Peterson? On October 2, you might want to run to whatever side Bailey is not on.
*The residents of Hog Hammock like to refer to themselves as “the right 47.”
Jalil Brown (CB/Colorado): *
Most fans seemed a little disappointed with this pick at the time (though they were slightly consoled when Papa Pioli got them that shiny new nose tackle they’d really wanted later that day). Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of obvious upside on the compelling-personal-drama side of the coin here, either. Unlike with his secondary mate Jimmy Smith, there don’t seem to be any character issues. Brown appears to be a decent guy and hard worker from a peaceful, relatively unexceptional background—borrrr-ing! That said, he was home-schooled, which should be worth a mention if and when he picks off Tim Tebow.
Ricky Stanzi (QB/Iowa): ***
Stanzi doesn’t come with any pre-packaged plot line like a Golden Boy or Comeback Kid, but every quarterback makes for a good protagonist, though the story can sometimes turn comical or downright tragic. And whether Stanzi winds up as a starter one day or a reliable backup, he’s already a real American hero.
Gabe Miller (DE-OLB-TE?/Oregon State): **
Miller is something of a medical marvel in that he did overcome not one (ouch) but two surgeries (ouch!) for ruptured Achilles tendons. But his most promising storyline may develop if he brings his team-building stunts to the Arrowhead locker room. If the Chiefs find themselves in a tight race by November, look for things to get a little hairy.
Jerrell Powe (NT/Mississippi): **½
In some ways, Powe’s story is like The Blind Side, only without the rich white family buying him ugly shirts and take-out Thanksgiving dinner or providing a home and round-the-clock tutoring. But he did wind up at Ole Miss nonetheless, even though he was denied eligibility by the NCAA three separate times before he ever got onto the field. He’s now on track to graduate this month. And he’s “a fighter.”
Shane Bannon (FB-TE/Yale): ****
First off, great name for a fullback. It even sounds like a bowling ball busting through the line: Shaaane…Bannon! Mitch Holtus will be able to have fun with that one. As the Ivy League kid who didn’t have an agent until a few weeks ago and was discovered by accident, Bannon has the kind of story the media will want to follow from the beginning of training camp as he makes his way into the big bad NFL where, let’s be honest, the white running back is still celebrated as the underdog.*
*And Peyton Hillis is a cover boy.
Here’s one of Bannon’s first tweets in the hours after the draft: “Need to get some chiefs gear…at least a hat and sweatshirt until I get in the building. Pumped to be a part of the #chiefsnation.” How adorable. Even his tweets are polite, innocent, and more or less grammatically correct. Nothing reveals character like 140 characters. If he sticks around and proves worthy, he’s got Jon Ritchie-type folk-hero potential, a bruiser for the thinking fan.
The 2010 Chiefs were one of the best stories in football, and it looks like we’re in for at least a few more. What do you all think? Whose story are you going to follow with extra interest?