Ryan Tannehill, The Alternate Route, And “Moneyball”: How To Fix The Chiefs In Two Drafts


There’s been way too much noise recently about the Kansas City Chiefs doing something it could very clearly regret in the 2012 NFL Draft: radically reaching for Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill at #11 overall. (Or even worse, trading up for him.)

As we’ve seen from the Cassel years, a bad step for a franchise at the QB position can set the team back several years. The Chiefs, since 2009, have done nothing but escalate from the league’s cellar to potentially being a player in January this season. All the while, the QB position commandeered by incumbent QB Matt Cassel has stagnated, shown flashes, and regressed. Replacing Cassel with a genuine signal caller going forward must be a priority for this team.

Drafting Tannehill at 11 is a mistake on several different levels. First of all, Tannehill’s former coach is the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, who have the #8 overall selection and the league’s biggest hole at QB. If the Dolphins pass on Tannehill at 8, despite knowing him better than everybody else and needing a quarterback more than everybody else, that should be a GIGANTIC RED FLAG for the rest of the league for this particular prospect.

Tannehill has a lot going for him; his athleticism is off the charts, he is apparently well liked by his teammates and has picked up the QB position in a staggeringly small amount of time, suggesting the the sky truly is the limit for him. However, his lack of starts is concerning, suggesting a “boom or bust” candidate, and it’s not even clear how much of a “boom” you can get when he flamed out hard against every halfway decent team he played against in the 2011 season.

He is truly this year’s Christian Ponder — a second-round prospect who, in the right situation, could develop very well, but will be drastically overdrafted because half the teams in the NFL need a new quarterback, and there’s really zero quarterbacks in this draft to be had outside of Luck and RG3.

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The Alternate Route

Look at the work Scott Pioli has done this offseason; his best yet as GM of this team. He hired the best coach on the market as our new head coach. He brought in a good offensive coordinator. He expertly plugged the holes this team had at right tackle, cornerback, running back, tight end and backup quarterback. Other than this team’s whiff on Peyton Manning (which appeared to be a financial issue, more than anything else), Pioli is operating on a level right now that suggests he’s highly in tune with the weaknesses on this team, and how to address each one.

I expect the next weakness he’ll address is the teams’ biggest: quarterback.

Don’t mark my words or anything, because I no longer even want to attempt predict what this man will do, but I believe he can fix the quarterback position, as well as the defensive line position (which is lacking a nose tackle, and will surely be losing Dorsey to free agency in 2013), for years to come, and I believe he can do it in the next two drafts.

Not with the classic approach of reaching for a QB in the 1st round, not this year (when there’s no QB worth selecting at 11) or next year (when we’ll likely be selecting from the 20s, all potential franchise QBs out of our grasp).

Instead, I believe Scott Pioli could exercise what I will refer to as The Alternate Route in repairing the QB and DL positions, the two most important on any football team, and two in need of dire repair on this team in particular.

The Alternate Route involves the three highest picks this team is going to have over the next two years: our first and second this year, and our first rounder next year. Follow me as I delineate how this team can be set at these critical positions for at least the next five to eight years. Afterward, I expect to be given a key to One Arrowhead Drive, be handed sole control of FanSided.com from Adam Best, and the Thorman brothers will grovel at my feet.

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The #11 Overall Selection In The 2012 Draft

In this week’s column, I have promised to fix both the QB and DL positions for the next five to eight years using the three highest picks we have in the next two drafts.  But I don’t plan on using our 2012 first rounder to repair the QB position.

This isn’t without controversy, of course. The NFL’s decorated history clearly shows that first round quarterbacks are the most common candidates to get their teams to the postseason, and to earn their teams a Super Bowl. Third round selections like Joe Montana and sixth round selections like Tom  Brady are extreme exceptions to the rule.  I’ve argued this rule myself, vehemently.

But it’s not enough to simply take a QB in the first round, otherwise every team would just wildly reach for QBs in the first.  You have to take a QB with a first round grade.  And after the first two selections in this year’s draft, Luck and RG3, there aren’t any available at the #11 overall selection.

I believe I may have devised a solution to that, but we’ll get to that in a moment.  First, let’s train our attention on the defensive line, which is a position of strength in the 2012 draft and clearly supports a trio of players that could very well deserve the #11 overall selection: LSU’s Michael Brockers, Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox, and Penn State’s Devon Still.  All three players are phenomenal talents.

Michael Brockers is a 320+ lbs run-clogging beast perfectly made for the two-gapping 3-4 defense the Chiefs run under head coach Romeo Crennel.  His passrush is limited, but if the Chiefs need somebody at the end position to replace Glenn Dorsey’s run stopping expertise, Brockers is your best option.  He is very young, and with great coaching, could develop a rush and serve as a perfect compliment to Tyson Jackson’s slightly-more-diverse game.

Fletcher Cox is the trio’s best penetrator and pocket collapser.  The 299 lb. tackle has a set of moves unmatched by any other potential five-technique defensive end for the 3-4 defense in this year’s draft.  His ability to stop the run is suspect, but again, great coaching could remedy that in time.  Devon Still, meanwhile, is an animal at both positions and occasionally looks like the best player in college football.  All too frequently, however, the motor peters out, and you’re left with a 300 lbs slug who doesn’t stop the run.

Considering this franchise’s preference for run-stoppers from LSU, I’m going to stay realistic and say the Chiefs should go with DE Michael Brockers, LSU, to take over the defensive end position in 2013 when the Chiefs inevitably allow Glenn Dorsey, who never fit this defense anyway, to walk.

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“Moneyball”ing: The #44 Overall Selection In The 2012 Draft

 There is a glint of truth to be discerned about the Chiefs’ precarious drafting position in the Academy Award nominated film “Moneyball” (a point that is expanded upon in the book).  In the film, the Oakland Athletics are managed by former draft bust Billy Bean (played by Brad Pitt).  The Athletics are a financially strapped baseball team in the salary cap-less MLB.  No matter what they do, they cannot bring in the biggest and best players because they will always be dramatically outbid by wealthy teams like the Tigers or the Red Sox.

As a result, the A’s have to change the way they do business.  They cast aside a near-century of talent scouting’s conventional wisdom, in favor of mining for players who are talented, but undervalued by scouts because of various prejudices that teams have against them.  In short, these players were being downgraded by scouts not because they weren’t talented enough, but because of their injury histories, character concerns, oddball mechanics like throwing the ball weird, or age.

The Chiefs could apply that lesson to the NFL Draft.  As their roster stands now, the Chiefs are likely going to be picking from the high teens and throughout the twenties for the next year or three, and will likely never be within that precious region of the Top Ten picks needed to secure a franchise signal caller.  It’s simply not likely, and trading up from our mid- to  low-round position to the Top Ten is too expensive, especially when everybody else is going to be trying to do the same thing.

Fortunately, the Chiefs can secure a player with first round ability in the 2012 NFL draft.  And they can do it with their second rounder.

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you: Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden.

Back in 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals proved that if you truly believe in a quarterback in the second round, you stand as good of a chance with them as you do some developmental guy you could take in the first round that you are more or less lukewarm towards.  Quarterback Andy Dalton had a really solid year as a rookie for an under-talented Bengals offense, and should figure to be even better once the Bengals build the offense to his abilities going forward.

Most of the same factors that played into Dalton’s triumph in his rookie campaign bode well for Weeden.  Like Weeden, Dalton was a bit light, so he plunged into an NFL-caliber workout regimen. He is incredibly high intelligence and of incredibly high character; quickly became a leader in the locker room by working harder than everybody else.  These are all Weeden’s qualities.  Like Weeden, Dalton is impervious to pressure and had multiple years experience being “the guy” for his team at Texas Christian University.

A former Yankees pitcher, Weeden also has a much better arm than Dalton.  But Dalton came from TCU’s pro-style offense.  Weeden will take some getting used to after coming from the spread — but he’s proven to be exceptionally aggressive and intelligent, and with some expert grooming from QB coach Jim Zorn, I have little doubt he’d excel.

His greatest weakness is his age, of course.  He’ll be 29 on opening day, merely a year younger than Cassel.

But Billy Bean would call that weakness our strength.

Take all of Weeden’s abilities now, and subtract something generous like five years off his age.  If he enters the NFL at his current talent level at the age of 24, is there any doubt that Weeden would be a first round selection?

As it is, his age allows the Chiefs to actually get a first round talent in the second round.  And you cannot win in the NFL without first round talent at the quarterback position.

When you are at the less-choosy selection spots in the draft, you have to take what you can get when a QB talent presents itself to you.  You must abandon your lofty ideals, and understand that the prejudice against a quarterback like Brandon Weeden isn’t his talent, it’s merely his age.  And I will gladly take five to eight years of a first round talent quarterback under center than waddling in mediocrity with Matt Cassel, or trading away entire drafts for a shot at a Top Ten quarterback.

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Finishing The Defensive Line: Our First Rounder In 2013

So our first two picks in 2012 provided us the defensive end who will inherit Glenn Dorsey’s position, and the extremely talented quarterback this team needs to make any Super Bowl runs feasible.  And while things are looking alright in the Crock Blocker’s eyes, the other most important position in football remains unfinished.

What’s left is to finish off the defensive line, which in 2013, looks like:

RDE: Brockers, Bailey
NT: ???, Powe
LDE: Jackson, Bailey

By all accounts, that should be a brilliant rotation at the defensive end position.  And I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that 2011 6th rounder Jerrell Powe is not a franchise nose tackle, but rather is going to be really solid depth.  (I loved the Powe selection, and believe he will be a key cog in this defensive line for goal line stands and as depth.)

The nose tackle position has proved elusive for the Chiefs during the Scott Pioli era.  He finally landed a true nose tackle last year in free agency (the aging and possibly-retiring Kelly Gregg) and late in the draft with Powe.

But it’s time to put the definitive stamp on this defense in the heart of it, and that stamp won’t come from aging cast-offs or late round picks.  It will come from a first-round stud, which going back to Pioli’s New England days is clearly how he prefers his DL to be constructed.

So why target the 1st round pick in 2013?  Because no fewer than three nose tackles have 1st round grades in 2013.

Johnathon Hankins, Ohio State — Absolute animal with some passrushing ability. Top 10 pick?
Star Lotulelei, Utah — Very Chiefs-friendly. High character, popular with teammates, astronomical upside.
Kwame Geathers, Georgia — Massive mountain of a man (6’6, 350 lbs), with experience as 3-4 nose.

Hankins is the best of the bunch, but he could end up going in the Top Ten.  Geathers is more of a developmental guy, but Lotulelei is seemingly perfect for what the Chiefs like to do on defense.

So the Chiefs could very easily go with NT Star Lotulelei of Utah.  This completes their defensive line for the next decade with Brockers and Jackson, to go along with a franchise quarterback prospect in Brandon Weeden.

The rest of your draft picks in 2012 and 2013 can be used on depth and role players to fill out the roster, with a free agent or two sprinkled in.

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Conclusion

This is not uncontroversial, of course.  Banking your team’s success on a talented but aged rookie while using the team’s highest picks in 2012 and 2013 on defensive line.

But this is how Pioli builds teams, by going with defensive line in the first round, and by getting “his guy” for quarterback.  Pioli’s trading of his 2009 2nd round pick shows that he believes franchise QBs can be had with the selection.

This also offers you a two year fix of the team’s two most important positions.

QB: Weeden
RBs: Charles, McCluster
WRs: Bowe, Baldwin, Breaston, Moeaki, Boss
OL: Albert, Lilja, Hudson, Asamoah, Winston

DL: Brockers, Lotulelei, Jackson
LB: Hali, Belcher, Johnson, Houston
DB: Berry, Flowers, Routt, Lewis

What do you think of The Alternate Route, Addicts?

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