I never do this. I never fall in love with the top nose tackle prospect. During draft season I daydream about linebackers, DBs and offensive linemen.* Those are the positions I like to pick high.
*You will never, ever hear me complain about an offensive line pick (not named Colin Brown). True story: I once called in to Metro Sports Talk with Duke Frye to praise Trezelle Jenkins. I then called my friends to brag about it and was shocked to discover they were unimpressed. Come on, junior high friends, this is Duke f#%king Frye we’re talking about here!
Carl Peterson’s obsession with drafting defensive tackles scarred me forever. Sims, Freeman, Downing, Siavii, Tank, Dorsey, these eyes had seen too much. Draft season would roll around and I’d get twitchy, start seeing block eaters in every shadow. As a result, I have never wanted the Chiefs to use a top pick on a defensive tackle. Until now.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you Poe is the best possible pick for us. Maybe he isn’t. There are certainly some valid concerns. His footage and stats don’t blow anyone away, despite the fact that he played in Conference USA. That is troubling. Surely an NFL-caliber nose tackle should’ve had his way with the likes of Rice, UTEP and Eastern Carolina. He did not. So how is he going to fare against the cream of the crop? Not very well, logic dictates.
The attraction with Poe, of course, is that he fills our most glaring need. But I’ve argued in the past that the nose tackle is overvalued in the 3-4. He’s off the field almost half the time, for one thing. And Pioli has given scant attention to the position. Maybe he just hasn’t found his guy yet, but the fact remains, the position has clearly not been a priority for him. Is there a reason for this, other than chance? I believe so. Although I can no longer pretend to guess as to what Pioli is thinking on Draft day. None of us can. Jonathan Baldwin and Justin Houston proved that.
Let’s get back to Poe. Many of you think he is lazy. I can’t speak to that. His stats weren’t great, and it does seem like they should have been. So maybe he wasn’t giving max effort on every play.
There’s another way to look at this. Poe was on a terrible Memphis squad, and had to be the focus of every offense he faced. Block-eater enthusiasts (there should be a magazine) love to talk about the double-teams Tin Man allegedly picks up. What, that line don’t fly for Poe? Not until he’s actually on our team, right?
Normally I am not overly concerned with Combine numbers. I remember when the Chiefs picked Tamba Hali, Carl Peterson said he was focusing on players who actually played well in college, rather than guys who were projected to make huge leaps in the NFL. I liked hearing that. It was probably just meaningless noise, but even a broken clock is right twice per……what’s that saying?
There are other examples of ignoring the Combine to your benefit. Brandon Flowers being the huge one. But you can also ignore it to your peril, as we did when continually picking defensive tackles who couldn’t break 32 bench reps.* Fat, but not strong. That was our Draft-day motto for about five years.
*Sims and Eric Downing did 27, Siavii, 31, and Eddie Freeman, 32. And Siavii was supposed to be the mammoth run-stuffer. Of course, in 2007 Carl “corrected” his previous error by snagging combine monster Tank Tyler. Swish! Poe, for reference, did 42 bench reps of 225 pounds.
Poe will enter the NFL as arguably the fastest and strongest player at his position. He’s 21 years old. We all love Romeo Crennel. Do we really think he can’t turn an athlete of Poe’s caliber into a good player? Shouldn’t we have a little more confidence in him than that?
Honestly, this isn’t even about Poe for me, necessarily. I like his Combine numbers, and I love that his name is a homonym with our other NT.* But really, I just think this pick is the most exciting, and I think we’re uniquely suited for it.
*Technically, a homophone. But who’s counting?
What’s the biggest fear with starting Poe as a rookie? That he won’t be able to stand up to the run, right? Our NT is out on obvious passing downs, and in any case Kelly Gregg clearly wasn’t expected to rush the passer at all. Poe couldn’t possibly be a downgrade, in that regard. For him, pass defense would not be a glaring problem. Or to put it another way, not something that hurts our defense.
In fact, I could see him becoming one of the two-down linemen Crennel uses in passing situations. My boy Wally Gilby is all but gone. Allen Bailey filled that role last year, and you’ve got to think he’ll be there again, but I can’t for the life of me think of who Gilberry’s replacement will be. Amon Gordon? Dorsey? Man from Tin? Surely we can do better than that, right? We at least know Poe could conceivably chase down a quarterback if left unblocked. That gives him a serious advantage over any of those other guys.
Run defense. This is the rub. Can a rookie with an inconsistent motor really hold that point of attack? Maybe not, initially. This is where I get to the “uniquely suited” part. What is the one thing our defensive line has, in abundance? Dudes who nosh blockers like I nosh Filet-o-Fish sandwiches.
Tin Man and Dorsey defend the run. That is all they do. Ditto for Belcher at SILB. DJ is more versatile, but is an absolute terror against the run. If Dontari Poe were to start at NT for us, he would be surrounded by specialized run-stopping machinery. I may not be a fan of Pioli‘s run-defense-first approach to the front seven, but this is one circumstance where it could definitely benefit us. Even if Poe gets tossed around initially, the heart of the defense won’t collapse. There could hardly be a friendlier situation for a rookie NT.
This is a year when we can afford to take a risk in round one. Participating in free agency has granted us that luxury (even though free agency is totally stupid, right, guys? Draft only!). Poe’s ceiling is the highest of anyone who will be available when we pick. This kid represents a home run swing. And after years of working the count and advancing runners, I think it’s time to swing for the fences.
I’m not saying I suddenly believe NT is, in fact, all-important. But I definitely want to see how a good one would affect our defense. Would the results trickle outward, as the theory goes? Is there a better version of Derrick Johnson or Tamba Hali, that we haven’t seen? That would be unbelievable. In fact, I think it may be literally unbelievable. As in, I don’t believe it. But that’s the best case scenario here, and it boggles the mind.