The NFL Draft is now exactly three weeks away.
In past weeks, we’ve all talked a lot about the Chiefs’ philosophy, culture, character and long-term trajectory. Other posts, which I devour with great excitement, have focused on draft picks. I’m ready to weigh in on that now.
My approach, perhaps like many of you, is to first establish criteria for personnel decisions. For me, the draft is all about the division. So much is decided by the six games with our divisional opponents. Regardless of how we stack up versus other AFC teams, we can get a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs by dominating our division. All roads to the playoffs start with being on top of the AFC West.
Here’s a brief look at the past two years of division play, followed by some thoughts on the Chiefs’ drafting strategy, twenty-one days from today.
If you combine the results from the 2010 and 2011 seasons, here’s what you get:
- Chiefs: 17-15
- Chargers: 17-15
- Raiders: 16-16
- Broncos: 12-20
Head to Head (Chiefs record versus each opponent)
- Chargers: 2-2
- Broncos: 2-2
- Raiders: 1-3
Point Differential (points scored minus points given up)
- Chargers: +151
- Raiders: -23
- Chiefs: -86
- Broncos: -208
The Chiefs are tied for the best record of all AFC West teams over the past two seasons. Were they the best team in terms of talent? Probably not. I’d probably go with the Chargers on that one. But let’s be honest– none of the AFC West teams were the sharpest tools in the tool shed over the past two years. There are couple of interesting factoids here, though. First, for some reason, we’ve had a bit of a Raiders problem, for no good reason, on paper at least. Secondly, point differential is a really worthless statistic. In a nutshell, we’ve had a very competitive division, all within a consistent range of average-to-mediocre performance.
Some things changed during free agency this year. Thankfully, the Raiders got worse. Much worse. The Chargers got a bit worse, losing Vincent Jackson and having Antonio Gates age by one year. Are the Broncos a better team with Peyton than with Tebow? Most certainly. But will the new Broncos be a juggernaut, like having the Patriots or Giants in our division? I don’t think so.
Football, like many endeavors, is filled with a million variables. But you can’t operationalize a million variables. Let’s look at each division rival in order of threat to us, and try to pinpoint their key strength against the Chiefs, to help guide our draft priorities this year.
- With Peyton in, we have to find a way to apply consistent, disruptive pressure on him. It’s worked in the past for opposing defenses against Manning, when they also have had great cover defensive backs. There’s no reason it won’t work this year as well.
- We need to stop Von Miller’s pass rush on Cassel. That guy is great, and just getting better.
- Stopping the Chargers means stopping Phillip Rivers. Like with most great quarterbacks, we do that through the pass rush. Bend-but-don’t-break schemes simply don’t work against A-list quarterbacks. They just have way too much time, and receivers will always beat corners, safeties and linebackers if they can freelance their routes. Instead, remember that three-sack performance last year in our 23-20 win over the Bolts, where Tamba had two, Derrick had one and the Chargers had a whole bunch of holding penalties? Let’s keep doing that.
- For some reason, the Raiders seem to always run well against us. That’s gotta stop.
- We have to stop letting them win games with Janikowski 52-yard field goals and Lechler punts inside the 10.
If you agree that the Broncos are our toughest divisional opponent, followed by the Chargers and then the Raiders, then I think our top need is to bolster our pass rush. I’m not talking about adding another pure rusher here though– we have Hali and Houston as our primary pass rushers, and our job is to help them do what they do better.
In the Chiefs’ defense, there’s a couple of ways we can do that. One option that many on this site have suggested is to get Dontari Poe, who we hope would realize his potential as an offensive lineman-eating nose tackle. But in our defense, I think linebackers are a higher value rather than nose tackles. Another option is to run more corner and safety blitzes, relying upon speed and tight man-to-man coverage. But that’s not Romeo’s style, and especially against a quick-thinking, experienced quarterback like Manning.
A third option is to draft a flat-out, stud tackler who can plug up the middle alongside Derrick Johnson. Such a player would make the Chiefs absolutely dominant against the run, forcing the offense into being one-dimensional, but then could also blanket tight ends in pass coverage. Both developments would allow Hali and Houston to do what they do best. I think our man is Luke Kuechly from Boston College. Imagine Kuechly and Derrick on the inside and Houston and Hali on the outside. That is just a ridiculous linebacker squad and would result in both a dominant run defense and wide open opportunities for our pass rushers.
For our second need, I think we go for the best available nose tackle.
Here’s some unconventional thinking: I think for the third round, we draft a speed kick blocker, both for field goals and punts. Yes, you heard that right. A freaking kick-blocker. Now I’ve never heard of a team drafting someone for their kick-blocking prowess, but I think the Chiefs do that here, and I want to be specific: we want a speed blocker, not a tall lineman who can jump. Think about it. There are preciously few plays in the game that are immediate momentum changers, and I mean having the ability to change really bad momentum into really good momentum, immediately. A punt or kickoff return for a touchdown. A turnover with a long return. A punt that lands at the one yard line. A blocked kick or punt creates an immediate swing in field position, energy, crowd noise and more often than it should, in a touchdown. Finally, think about what a blocked kick does to the opposing kicker. Kicking field goals in particular, is such a head game as it is, and punters get nervous with dropped snaps and shanks from seeing fast-closing attackers in their peripheral vision.
Of course, a kick-blocker will also hold down another roster position. The Chiefs have had players like this in the past. If you’re my age or older, you may remember Albert Lewis, the Frank Ganz-coached blocker off the edge who also was perhaps the best cornerback of his day. As fans, we actually believed that Lewis could block a punt or kick at any moment (he had an amazing 11 blocks in 11 years and caused countless more bad kicks), which would bring Arrowhead to its feet. Romeo said this week that the Chiefs do not have to draft for need this year. But the game has become so specialized with the margins between winning and losing so close, that I think it’s time for kick-blocking to be a primary need, not just a secondary or tertiary duty for a player. A speed kick-blocker could give the Chiefs a narrow, specialized edge that few other teams have, just as Devin Hester gives the Bears an edge in returns.
What Do You Think, Addicts?
I know a lot of Addicts are clamoring for Ryan Tannehill as our quarterback of the future. But next year’s QB crop is going to be deeper, with better value, further into the first round. So wherever the Chiefs pick next year, the return on investment for a future QB will be higher.
I think our divisional rivals ought to drive our draft more so than any other factor, and so I would draft Kuechly in the first round, then the best available nose tackle in the second. I’d then spend a pricey third rounder on a kick-blocker. Am I crazy, Addicts? Is divisional success the main driver for our draft, or something else? And if divisional success is our primary criteria, who would be your top 3 picks?
Bring it, Addicts! We’ve got 21 days to figure this out!!!