I got to wondering the other day. Other than quarterback, which position, drafted in the first round, is most likely to provide dramatic improvement to a team in terms of immediate help as well as long term success?
Now it can be argued that Running Back is the next most important position after Quarterback but in terms of committing a first round pick on a RB, I find it difficult to overlook a few things in that consideration. First off, the average shelf of a starting RB is something like 3-4 years so long term team success through that position seems highly unlikely especially given that we’re talking about spending a 1st round draft pick. Second, quality RBs, historically speaking, have been found all throughout the draft; not just the 1st round. Third, the NFL is increasingly becoming a passing league so the significance of the offensive run game is becoming a less prominent feature of the NFL’s evolution.
All that being said, I feel I should probably put this analysis into at least a little bit of context in terms of what the Chiefs might, should, or could do with their first pick in the upcoming draft. I consider it highly doubtful that the Chiefs would commit the #11 overall pick for either a RB or a QB … I could be wrong about that though. If for some reason Trent Richardson is still sitting there when we pick, I suppose it would be very tempting to take him but I imagine it would be a lot more tempting to trade that pick because no doubt there would be a lot of teams chomping at the bit to get their hands on a weapon of that caliber. I also believe that you don’t use the #11 pick on a QB who comes with very little experience and a lot of question marks, and is at best a development project. This is especially true if you’re a team that still has a little bit of infrastructure work yet to do.
So, I’m just going to assume that the Chiefs are not going to use the #11 pick on either a QB or a RB. That being the case, if I’m Scott Pioli looking to bring the most value to my team with a top 15 draft pick, I’m probably going to look at my roster and think in terms of both immediate and long term impact, hopefully identifying that one player most likely to bring solid football skills, a high level, high motor competitor, with leadership traits who can contribute on day one. Another, perhaps lesser, goal is to go with a pick that allows me the luxury of creating quality depth for an already solid roster . . . i.e., a talented, core player that can challenge another good player for the starting spot thus facilitating better talent in your depth.
Now I know I’ve said I would be most excited if the Chiefs selected Dontari Poe with the #11 pick and I haven’t wavered from that hope. I say this only because selecting Poe would signal to me that Pioli, Crennel, and the scouting department have done their homework and gotten a player they believe will transform our defense into a dominant, elite level for years to come. Nearly every major media scout and mock draft has Poe going in the top half of the draft so outside of AA, there remains a massive amount of respect for what Poe is capable of. However, for a variety of reasons, including those well articulated here on AA and elsewhere, I don’t honestly expect Poe to be the pick. It’s just a hope on my part that he is.
Barring a Poe “surprise” pick, I feel compelled to return to my original point about selecting a talented, competitive player, other than QB or RB, who can come in to play an important role for the team and who possesses the greatest potential to make a significant impact immediately and long term. Barring a trade, a popular sentiment here at AA and among a lot of draft mockers, is that the Chiefs will respond to that challenge by selecting either OG David DeCastro or ILB Luke Kuechly. Each is regarded the consensus top rate talents at their respective positions and deservedly so.
Let’s first consider the importance of the guard position to the Chiefs in more or less general terms.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that the Chiefs interior OL has been extremely soft for many years now. As a matter of fact, I’ve been leading the charge and very vocal in pointing this fact out in many of my regular season DVOA weekly stat reviews. In other words, there is no question in my mind that the Chiefs would benefit significantly by upgrading the guard position. I would be actually pleased if that’s the direction the Chiefs took, even if it meant using a #11 overall pick for a “once-in-a-decade” guard like David DeCastro to do so.
Nevertheless before we start high fiving each other about using our first pick on a guard phenom, ask yourself this – just how important is the guard position in general terms and to the Chiefs in particular? In terms of positional value on any OL, I believe the order of importance goes Left Tackle, Right Tackle, then Center. Individual talent aside, guard sits a little lower on the totem pole relative to other positions. What’s more, unlike say Left Tackle, Pro Bowl type guards can be found all throughout the draft, rounds 1 through 7 and even in free agency. So it’s not like you can’t find a really good guard after the first round.
Another question that merits consideration is what kind of an offense are you? In the Chiefs case, we are decidedly a running team. Taking this a step further, one must ask exactly what kind of running team are you?
Well, with Jamaal Charles as the feature back, our backfield is not really set up to be a steady “downhill, between the tackles” attack but rather one that finds its greatest success when using Charles’ quickness to bounce outside the tackles where isolated linebackers and secondary must work to chase him down. To that end, I assert that having Eric Winston as our Right Tackle will have more of a positive impact for this particular team’s offense, not just in the running game, but also in the passing game, than would any rookie guard no matter how talented that guard might happen to be.
So let’s at least acknowledge that while upgrading guard is an important need, it is probably not the biggest addressable need for the Chiefs, and all things being equal, a rather expensive way, committing a high 1st round pick, towards that level of need. I mean I acknowledge that there is a somewhat romantic notion to the idea of possessing “the best” OL in the NFL by selecting David DeCastro but is that really a practical perspective to insist upon in the Chiefs’ case? Moreover, is David DeCastro the one and only means by which we upgrade the guard position through the draft? As if there will never, ever be another opportunity to do so? I highly doubt it; nay, I would argue that when it comes to the guard position, simply getting better is probably good enough for the Chiefs to succeed.
In putting this piece together, the thought crossed my mind that it might be interesting to look at what position, drafted in the first round, most commonly resulted in post season recognition via Player of the Year (POY) awards and also Rookie of the Year (ROY) awards. On offense, such awards (almost) invariably go to either a QB or a RB. On defense, while a bit more varied amongst roles, the dominant positional leader for those honors lies with linebackers.
Since 1971, LB’s have been awarded DPOY 14 times, DE’s 9 times, DT’s 7 times, CB’s and S’s 5 times each. However on the DROY front, going back to 1967, a LB has won it 23 times, a DE 8 times, a CB 6 times, and a DT times. Note as well that 1st round picks at each of these positions are well represented among post-season honors. In the case of LB’s in particular, they effectively comprise 18 of the 23 DROYs and 9 of the 14 DPOYs.
Of the 14 LB’s who’ve won the DPOY, 4 times they led the overall #1 defense, 4 times led the #2 defense, 3 times led the #3 defense, and the remaining 3 playing for the #6, #7 and #13 ranked defenses. Continuing, 5 of these LB DPOY honorees led their defenses to Superbowl Championships, 3 played in Conference Championship games, and the rest (excluding Lawrence Taylor during the playoff-less 1985 strike season) were on teams who experienced varying levels of post-season success.
See where I’m going? I’ll spell it out anyway. I would argue that by taking a high quality LB in the first round, assuming history is any indication, the chances of you upgrading your defense significantly, immediately, and long term appear to be much greater than can be said for any other position on defense.
Now let’s talk specifically about the Chiefs for a minute and what ILB Luke Kuechly might bring to the table. The Chiefs have the makings of a decent linebacking corps but by no means one that could be characterized as elite. Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson are established veterans of course and Justin Houston seemed to be flashing some promise towards the end of last season. ILB Jovan Belcher has developed into a pretty solid tackler but also lacks quickness and good ball instincts and is a real liability in the short passing game – an area of significant underachievement for the Chiefs. In short, Belcher is a good role player but really the weak link among the Chiefs linebacking corps. Belcher however is very valuable to the Chiefs as a depth player if his position can be upgraded.
Lest we forget, the Chiefs gave up an average of 132 yards per game last year. Clearly, stopping the run remains a major area of concern for this team going into the 2012 season.
Luke Kuechly, for his part, is first and foremost a tackling machine, being #1 or #2 in the country, in solo tackles and total tackles for all of his 3 years at Boston College. Kuechly is a well seasoned defensive leader type with lots of tape and gawdy college stats who will likely contribute on day one, making him an immediate and certain upgrade over Belcher for an important area of concern with the Chiefs defense. His speed and ranginess, his nose for the ball, his elite tackling skills, his motor and work ethic all suggest he is the type of player who will serve as a major asset in the Chiefs effort to stop the run. He is also very likely to be the type of player who could even challenge the likes of Derrick Johnson if push came to shove. Yes, I just said that.
Kuechly doesn’t just come with tape. At the combine, he impressed with 4.5-ish speed and a 38” vertical. Bottom line, he is both effective and athletic. There is a little doubt in my mind that he will be the defensive quarterback of whichever NFL team drafts him. I also expect him to be the kind of impact player one looks for early in the draft and a guy whose name that one can expect to see singled out and recognized when all is said and done.
On the downside, if Kuechly has any weakness, it’s in coverage particularly against RBs. He does seem to hold his own in zone coverage and against TE’s however. In any case, the Chiefs secondary, especially with the addition of Eric Berry, have gotten a lot better against the short pass. Besides, when it comes to linebacker coverage skills, I believe that has more to do with being in position – a skill that can be easily taught and developed through effective coaching. Again, the biggest ongoing weakness of the Chiefs defense has been stopping the run. Kuechly addresses that particular weakness, and more, in spades.
That’s my Double Take, Addicts.
If forced to choose between DeCastro and Kuechly, which player, at pick #11, makes the most sense to you and why?