October 1, 2011; Boston, MA, USA; Boston College Eagles linebacker Luke Kuechly (40) pursues Wake Forest Demon Deacons wide receiver Lovell Jackson (20) during the second quarter at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-US PRESSWIRE

Positional Depth In The 2012 NFL Draft (A Kuechly Contingency Plan)

Last week I presented all the Pro-DeCastro Chiefs fans with a Contingency Plan in case the Chiefs decide to pass on the elite guard prospect in this month’s NFL Draft. This week I set out to do the same for Uber-LB prospect Luke Kuechly. Unlike last week when I stated that the OG draft class was very deep in 2-4 round prospects, the ILB pool in this draft is relatively small.

That got me thinking about positional depth in this year’s draft and just where the best value may lie for the different positions. So before I present you with some ILB options in case we don’t draft Kuechly, let’s take a second and look at the positional depth for all the positions.

I put together the following chart using WalterFootball’s Consensus Rankings. Basically, they take the positional rankings of most of the major sites and average them out to get an overall average ranking for each position and an overall big board. What I did is I looked at how many of each position are ranked in the top 150 prospects. I broke it down from 1-50, 51-100, and 101-150. Below the chart are what picks the Chiefs have in that range.

Let me start with a couple of disclaimers. First, I provided an extra row of Total OL because several of the OG prospects were actually listed in the OT column of the consensus rankings. So if you just look at the OG numbers, it doesn’t look as deep as it actually is. Not knowing where individual teams will see different OL playing for their team I thought it best to include a total OL number to look at.

The other spot where the lines are blurry is in the DT, DE, OLB rankings. Depending on what defense a team runs would move players into different categories. For example, most of the prospects that the Chiefs would consider for their 3-4 DE spots are actually listed under DT. The line between DEs and OLBs can also be blurred depending on the system a team runs. So just keep that in mind when looking at these rankings.

So now what can we take from this?

Well first let’s start with the shallow pools. Looking at that chart you can see that the positions that are weakest in this year’s draft are TE, C, ILB, and S. That means if you want a clear upgrade at one of those positions, you may have to reach on someone. This supports the pro-Kuechly crowd. There are only 4 more ILBs rated in the consensus top 150 after Kuechly is gone. One of those is Dont’a Hightower who will almost certainly be gone when the Chiefs select in the second round. That means that if they don’t take an ILB in the first round then there are only three more ILB that have a consensus ranking in the top 150 picks. We’ll discuss those three in a moment.

The other position that is thin that we may want to take note of is safety. The Chiefs were exposed last year when Eric Berry went down for having a lack of depth at the safety position. Thus far this offseason, the Chiefs have done nothing to remedy that situation. Therefore it would stand to reason that the Chiefs may be looking to draft another safety. However, the lack of quality players available may mean that KC will have to reach for one sooner then they would like (perhaps the third or fourth round) in order to get a player that they feel is good enough to contribute.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the WR, OL and CB positions. Let’s start with CB. The consensus rankings have 17 CBs in the 51-150 range. That means that 17 percent of the prospects in that range are CBs. In order for all those CBs to be drafted in that range 1 out of every 6 picks would need to be a CB. Since many teams may not be on the market for a QB in those rounds some of those players will slip past where most value them. That means that there is a decent chance that when the Chiefs are on the board for their fourth or fifth round pick that there may be a CB sitting there that they had a second or third round grade on but has slipped due to the depth at the position in those rounds. The same can be said for WRs in the 100-150 range where 1 in 5 picks would have to be a WR to go through them all. Meaning that when the Chiefs draft in the sixth round, there could very well be a WR sitting there that they had a fourth or fifth round grade on. The offensive line is also deep throughout the top 150 prospects (specifically OG). I already discussed many of those prospects in my DeCastro contingency piece I linked previously.

These are all things to keep in mind when predicting who the Chiefs might select.

Now let’s look at the few ILB options available if the Chiefs pass on Kuechly but still want to address the position in the draft. The best option if they don’t draft Kuechly would be Dont’a Hightower. Hightower is an even better fit for what the Chiefs ask of their “mike” LB. He’s big and strong (listed at 6’2″ and 265 pounds), but still ran a 4.62 forty. The problem is, Hightower would be considered a reach at #11 and as I mentioned already will likely not be available for KC in the 2nd round. So Hightower would probably only be an option if KC was able to trade back.

The three other ILBs in the top 150 are, in order of ranking:

Mychal Kendricks – California
5’11” 239 pounds
4.41 forty
24 bench press
Projected Round: 2-3

Nov 19, 2011; Stanford CA, USA; California Golden Bears linebacker Mychal Kendricks (30) celebrates after a play against the Stanford Cardinal during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium. Stanford defeated California 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Kendricks blew up the Combine more then any other LB. He ran the fastest 40 yard dash, did 24 reps in the bench press, and looked good in the field drills as well. He also produced on the field well enough to be named the PAC 10 Defensive Player of the Year. So he’d be a great pick in the 2-3 round for the Chiefs, right? Well, actually I’m not sold on the guy. When you watch tape of the guy he looks small for an ILB, even against college level competition. It didn’t hold him back in college, but the NFL is another story. He’s like a homing missile when he has a straight path to a ball carrier, but I think he’ll get washed out of a lot of plays at the NFL level going against bigger, faster and stronger blockers. I do think he could be a dynamic special teams player. The nail in his Chiefs draft prospect coffin for me was this quote from his NFL Draft Scout scouting report:

If Kendricks scores as poorly on the Wonderlic as I’ve been told scouts expect based on his struggles on the white board during team interviews, his stock could drop significantly. Teams hold inside linebackers to a higher standard than many other positions when it comes to intelligence.

Tank Carder – TCU
6’2″ 236 pounds
4.56 forty
19 bench press
Projected Round: 3-5

Nov 19, 2011; Fort Worth, TX, USA; TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Tank Carder (43) during the game against the Colorado State Rams at Amon G. Carter Stadium. TCU won 34-10. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

Tank Carder is a solid NFL prospect. He may not be great at any one area, but he doesn’t really have any glaring weaknesses. My thought on Carder is that it’s debatable if he’ll be ready to start day one for an NFL team. I think he’ll eventually be a quality starter, but I just don’t see elite level upside. I think in his prime he’ll be a better all around LB then Jovan Belcher, but maybe not enough of an upgrade to be worth the pick. He’d definitely be better in coverage, but it’s debatable if he’d be as good at taking on blockers to free up DJ as Belcher is. I’d be fine with KC taking him in the fifth for depth and special teams play with the possibility of him eventually overtaking Belcher, but I don’t think he’d be a clear upgrade from day one.

James-Michael Johnson – Nevada
6’1″ 241 pounds
4.60 forty
23 bench press
Projected Round: 3-5

I actually like Johnson the most of the ILB prospects on this list despite the fact that he is the lowest rated. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I think Johnson will turn into a superstar. However, he fits the profile for what the Chiefs ask of their “mike” LB in the base 3-4. In fact, after Dont’a Hightower you’d be hard pressed to find an ILB prospect in this draft with a better physical make up to take on blockers and stuff the run. Here are his strengths from NFL Draft Scout:

Tough between-the-tackles defender who shimmies past blockers to fill lanes. Downhill, aggressive run-stuffer with enough strength to stop ballcarriers in the hole. Vocal leader and team captain. Shows some flexibility to loop to the quarterback as a pass rusher. Gets his hands in the passing lanes. Effort is there in coverage.

Now, even though there aren’t any more ILB prospects rated in the top 150 picks, I’m going to discuss one more that many Chiefs fans have discussed.

Vontaze Burfict – Arizona State
6’1″ 248 pounds
4.93 forty
Projected Round: 5-7

Sept. 24, 2011; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict (7) during the game against the Southern California Trojans at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils beat the Trojans 43-22. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The Chiefs WILL NOT draft Burfict, period. You can talk to me all you want about his upside. You can try to compare him to Justin Houston with how his personal question marks will cause him to slide to where he’s a steal. In my opinion, there is just no chance. This is a guy who some reports say had to be told where to go and what to do by his teammates before every play in college despite the fact that he plays the position that is supposed to be the leader of the defense. This is a guy that amid all these questions about him showed up completely out of shape to the Combine, running the slowest time of all the LBs. This is a guy that is completely out of control on the field, often drawing personal foul penalties. He’s just not the kind of guy KC will draft. Even if he’s still on the board for our second seventh round pick and we haven’t drafted a LB yet, I would bet we still pass on him.

Now, because we here at AA go above and beyond your traditional draft coverage, I’m going to present you one last Kuechly contingency plan that involves a LB that not one other draft site in the country will profile. However, I think there is a very good chance that this guy is exactly who the Chiefs are targeting to be their ILB if they don’t take Luke Kuechly.

Jovan Belcher – Kansas City Chiefs
6’2″ 228 pounds

Jan 9, 2011; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher (59) talks to defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel (right) during the game against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2011 AFC wild card playoff at Arrowhead Stadium. Baltimore won the game 30-7. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

Look, I know Belcher isn’t exciting. I know he’s never going to be a Pro Bowler. I just don’t think he’s hurting us. I know he’s not good in coverage but I feel like Romeo has figured out how to keep him out of those situations. He’s good against the run. He frees up DJ to make plays. Maybe I’m blind, but I just didn’t find myself watching the Chiefs defense last year and saying “Man, Belcher is killing us in coverage out there!” The Chiefs actually did a better job of stopping TEs over the middle than they had the previous couple of seasons when they just KILLED KC (and that was with Eric Berry out all season). I think we would be just fine starting Belcher for another season if we pass on Luke Kuechly.

So my official vote would be to pass on Kuechly, despite the lack of depth at ILB in the draft this year. I would use the pick to take a player that could make an impact at a more premier position where talent is hard to find, like say an interior pass rusher (cough, Fletcher Cox, cough). Then I’d target James-Michael Johnson in the mid rounds and develop him for a year behind Belcher. Given time, I think Johnson could turn out to be a quality 3-4 “thumper” to pair next to a playmaker like DJ for years to come.

So there you go, KC fans. That’s my Kuechly contingency plan. What do you think? Did the chart on positional depth change your viewpoint at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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

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Tags: 2012 Nfl Draft Kansas City Chiefs Luke Kuechly

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