Nov 19, 2011; Little Rock, AR, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive lineman Fletcher Cox (94) during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at War Memorial Stadium. Arkansas defeated Mississippi State 44-17. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

Chiefs Dark Horse Draft Pick: Fletcher Cox

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Okay, before you read any further, I want you to try and put your preconceived notions on what the Chiefs should do with the #11 pick aside and keep an open mind.

Up until now, the debate on what the Chiefs should do with their pick has basically come down to (in no particular order) taking David DeCastro, Dontari Poe, or Luke Kuechly, or trading the pick. Let’s take trading the pick out of the equation and for this debate. Let’s pretend KC doesn’t have an offer on the table that is worth it and so they are going to be making the pick.

Almost everyone and their mother is mocking one of the three players I previously mentioned to the Chiefs. I’m not just talking about Chiefs fans either, most “experts” (and I use that term loosely) are mocking these same three players as well. Now if you look at enough mock drafts you can find some variety, but I feel safe saying that around 90 percent of the mocks out there have KC taking one of those three players.

I’m here to offer you an alternative plan.

The trio of DeCastro, Poe, and Kuechly make sense as possible targets for KC. If you were to make up a list of needs for KC where they have holes or could use upgrades, NT, ILB and LG would all be on the list along with QB. The QB need might have some considering Ryan Tannehill, but I’m not sold on him as the #11 pick (and he may not even make it that far). So if you look at those other needs and try to match them up with players worthy of the #11 pick, you come up with those three players. Now, I happen to think that there’s another big need on this team that many people are either overlooking or mis-categorizing, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. First I’d like to poke a couple of holes in two of the often mocked Chiefs selections.

First up, Dontari Poe. Poe is an intriguing prospect with a tempting combination of size, strength and speed. However, there are numerous experts that have labeled Poe a boom-or-bust prospect with a high bust factor. Let’s even put that aside for a moment and talk about what we know about Poe. He played in a non-BCS conference and doesn’t have a lot of experience against NFL-caliber competition; he’s a little tall compared to the typical NT prospect at over 6’4″; he’s got shorter arms than you would like for a NT prospect at 32″; and he is widely described as having very raw technique (meaning that he has been relying mainly on his athletic ability), specifically he is described as often playing “too high,” meaning that he lets shorter players get under his pad level causing him to lose the leverage battle and get taken out of plays by smaller and less physically gifted players.

Now, Poe may have numerous strengths to go along with these weaknesses, but I point them out to stress that these particular weaknesses, not that they are worse weaknesses than other players, but these specific weaknesses make his likelihood of succeeding as a typical 3-4 “2 gapping” NT as a rookie in the NFL pretty slim. Can he learn to overcome them? Possibly. I just worry that too many KC fans feel that as long as the KC coaches could get him to work hard they could plug him in at NT from day 1 and the position would be fixed. I believe fans need to be prepared in the case that Poe is drafted by KC that they may very well not start him his entire rookie year while they try to fix some of these “issues.” I think there are equally talented players that could be had with this pick that would make a greater impact right away.

Next, let’s spend a second on Luke Kuechly. I really like Kuechly and think he will be a very productive NFL player. The problem I have stated before is that I think his talents would be somewhat wasted playing strong side inside line backer in our system. I’ve talked about this before so I won’t go into a lot of detail, but the SILB has the responsibility of taking on extra blockers to free up the WILB (DJ) to roam to the ball and make plays. Kuechly is described as someone who excels because of his smarts, instincts and work ethic, not because he is a superior athlete. So who’s to say that he’ll be any better at taking on NFL caliber blockers that may out weigh him by 60 pounds than Belcher is? Yes, when he’s free to work in open space he would blow Belcher out of the water, but if that’s not his primary job on most plays, isn’t that a waste of his talents and our first-round pick? If KC wants an upgrade over Belcher, I would want it to be a big physical backer who would be a safe bet to do a better job of blowing up blockers due to his impressive size and strength, and according to all the scouting reports, that’s not Kuechly.

Now that brings me to David DeCastro. I love DeCastro. I think he’d be a great pick and would give us one of the best offensive lines in football for several years to come. If the Chiefs pick him, I’ll be happy. However, according to the experts, the guy he’d be replacing (Ryan Lilja) was an average NFL guard last season. Not horrible, not great, but average. Is upgrading from average to (what all experts think will be) great an improvement? Sure, but is there a greater hole that we could fill with a great player who is worthy of the #11 pick (given that I just explained why I don’t think Poe or Kuechly are the way to go)?

Chiefs fans, I give you Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

Now, hang with me here. The other area of need that sometimes gets bypassed when looking at the Chiefs is the need for more pass rush. I believe the main reason for that is because Tamba Hali is THE MAN and toward the end of last season Justin Houston showed that he can be another outside pass rush threat opposite of Hali. Problem solved, right? Well….no. The problem is, the Chiefs have only Allen Bailey on their roster as a defensive lineman who can push the pocket and get some pressure on the QB up the middle. Both our own head man Patrick Allen and resident headdress wearer/knowledge dropper Big Matt have detailed in the past how starting DEs Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson rate horribly against the pass. The only other defensive lineman that applied any kind of pressure the last couple of seasons was Wallace Gilberry and as I type this, he remains unsigned. So I would argue, adamantly, that our need for an inside pass rusher is greater then our need for a LG. At least we have an “average” player at LG. Who do we have to line up next to Bailey in nickel and dime packages if Gilberry doesn’t re-sign? I’ll tell you who, no one.

That is a hole that must be filled if we are going to beat out a Peyton Manning-led team to win this division. Keep in mind that with KC’s matchup-based defense they often have the nickel and dime packages on the field for well over 50 percent of the defensive snaps when they are playing a pass-heavy offense. In those games a pass rushing defensive lineman would be infinitely more valuable then a NT.

Enter Fletcher Cox

Fletcher Cox measured in at 6’4″ and 298 pounds. He also ran an impressive 4.79 forty yard dash and put up 30 reps in the bench press at the combine. Like Poe he is described as still being pretty raw but having impressive upside. Unlike Poe, he has a proven track record of success against the best competition in college football having been named SEC defensive lineman of the week four times last season, more then any other player.

Here are some quotes from different scouting reports that I found.

From NFL.com

Cox is an impressive athlete who is capable of making big, impactful plays from the interior of the defensive line. He is extremely quick off the ball and can get into the backfield as quickly as any tackle prospect in the country………He is a serious athlete at the position who would immediately bolster the front of any defense and would work well in a rotation to be a fresh, impact player on passing downs.

From Draft Tek

Cox is an emerging player that has a ton of upside. He possesses elite athleticism and has good size and strength to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme; he can even play some 4-3 end. He does a good job of using his upper body strength to redirect lineman. He exhibits solid pass rush ability, does a good job of playing on his feet; rarely gets knocked down. He also displays elite change of direction and has the ability to shed blocks. Cox is a sudden and explosive athlete and makes a lot of plays behind the LOS.

From NFL Draft Scout / CBS Sports

Ten years ago the 4-3 defense was the scheme of choice in the NFL. A few years later, the continued success of teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots convinced a number of clubs to make the switch to the 3-4. Now, many of the NFL’s trend-setters are incorporating more hybrid approaches of the two schemes, alternating the fronts depending on the next week’s opponent.

As such, NFL teams are suddenly on the lookout for defensive linemen tall and athletic enough to provide some pressure from the outside, but strong enough to hold up in the middle. In Cox, a still-growing three-year starter out of the SEC, teams see a player capable of starring in both roles.

Is this starting to sound like a player that might be able to help KC? Do you think Romeo Crennel would like to get his hands on this guy?

Don’t want to take their word for it? Take five minutes and watch THIS YOUTUBE video of every snap he played in their game this year against South Carolina (he gets better as the game goes on, so watch more than the first minute). Keep in mind this isn’t a highlight video, but an entire game he played. Watch how often he gets penetration and disrupts the play. Also notice how they basically used him at every single defensive line position at one point or another during the game.

Then if you really have some time compare that to THIS YOUTUBE video of every snap Dontari Poe played against Arkansas State. Now the video quality is worse and the editing stinks (it takes 22 min compared to only five for Cox because they didn’t edit out enough of the between play garbage). For those that don’t want to watch the whole thing, I’ll summarize for you. Poe flashes some ability here and there, but considering that he outweighs Cox by 50 pounds, put up 14 more reps in bench press and ran only slightly slower then Cox you’d expect him to be dominating the Sun Belt conference offensive linemen he’s going up against in this video, but he just isn’t. In my opinion Cox’s video against an SEC opponent is much more impressive. What’s more, if you look at a similar YOUTUBE VIDEO of Alameda Ta’amu the NT from Washington in his game against Utah this year you can make a case that Ta’amu looks better on tape then Poe does. KC could most likely get Ta’amu in the second-round if they really wanted to draft a NT prospect.

Not only would Cox fill an immediate need in providing some pass rush from the defensive line, but he would give the team some options going forward. I’ve read several reports that indicate that Cox could easily add another 10-15 pounds to his athletic frame without slowing him down. If he continued to develop and improve his technique he could possibly replace Glenn Dorsey in the starting lineup after this year when Dorsey is due to become a free agent. This would allow them to use the money they would have used to re-sign Dorsey and put it toward another need.

Now other high-rated prospects like Michael Brockers (whom KC has shown interest in) and Devon Still could also be drafted to beef up the defensive line depth and be possible replacements for Dorsey, but I don’t see them being as effective in providing instant pass rush up the middle. Brockers is even more raw and Still relies more on his physical strength then Cox who has a more explosive burst off the snap.

Regardless of whether or not you’re with me on Cox being the right pick for KC in next month’s draft, I hope you are at least willing to concede that the Chiefs’ first pick isn’t the three horse race that most are making it out to be. I think if nothing else, Fletcher Cox deserves to be in the conversation.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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