December 24, 2011; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs fans show their support during the first half of the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. The Raiders won 16-13. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Stuck In The Middle With You

Clowns to the left of me!

Jokers to the right!

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

~ Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan, 1972

That pretty much summarizes the Kansas City Chiefs 2012 drafting experience for me last weekend. Now that I’ve had a few days to step away from the ledge, I realize it could also describe what the Chiefs accomplished in this draft.

If it’s baseball, great teams are great up the middle: catcher, pitcher, shortstop, second baseman and center fielder.

If it’s basketball, great teams have traditionally started with a great big-man, in the middle, although not so much since the Jordan era but, the value still holds true.

If it’s football, it’s also the middle: from QB to safety. Controlling the middle of the field means you’re controlling the game. When I think about the Ravens, Steelers and the Giants of today, they all fit the mold. Of course the great teams of yesteryear follow suit as well.

Many NFL teams have gone away from this traditional trend because of the growing significance of the passing game. Now, edge players seem to rule the day but, the need for strength up the middle has never gone away.

Why? Because most teams… even teams with top notch passing games in place… want to be able to control the game with some semblance of balance between the run and the pass. In other words, no team in the league is abandoning the run.

For Chiefs fans, you don’t have to be reminded about the particulars of the loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Arrowhead in January of last year. Lyle Graversen wrote in his post Remember the Ravens Game:

That game was definitely an eye opener. The young, upstart Chiefs were coming off a surprise 10-6 season where they won the division. Chiefs fans were on cloud nine. That is, until the Ravens sent us all crashing back to earth. Despite having a lot of young talented play makers like Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Tamba Hali, and Eric Berry the Chiefs were no match for Baltimore in the trenches. Both the offensive and defensive lines were manhandled by the physical Ravens team.

 

There were many reasons the Chiefs lost that game but, essentially: they were weak, in the middle of both lines. NFL Network confirms what Lyle Graversen indicates and said earlier this week that, “The Kansas City Chiefs made building their lines on both sides of the football, a draft weekend priority. Half of their eight picks were interior based.”

I not only believe what Lyle and the NFL Network have suggested is true but, I’d go further and say that more than half of this draft was designed to make the Chiefs bigger, tougher, stronger and faster… up the middle.

Obviously Dontari Poe gives the Chiefs a new found immovable object in the middle of their defense. I know there are many naysayers when it comes to Poe but, you can’t deny that Romeo Crennel knows more about football than you do. Especially defensive linemen. The one great complaint since Scott Pioli has landed in KC is that… he hasn’t found a NT yet. Well, you can cross that one off his bucket list and now, the Chiefs are gargantuanly bigger and stronger, up the middle.

When asked, “Was Dontari Poe the best pick at 11?” Kent Babb of the K.C. Star said, “I think I like it more than a lot of people in Kansas City do because it fills the last remaining need on either side of the ball.”

Beyond the Chiefs’ good fortune of landing Poe in KC is the real life saga of how he got here. Abandoned by his father as a child, faced with daily oppression of drugs and violence in his neighborhood… Dontari survived.  However, what’s lost on a lot of people who hear a story like his is that when a father evacuates… and a mother has to work multiple jobs to provide… the child essentially loses the daily companionship of both parents. Then it becomes a story of abuse by neglect. Dontari’s brother Pierre, who’s 8 years older, has been the closest thing he’s had to a male role model. Another brother, Robert Jr. didn’t fare so well, and is now in jail on drug and gun possession charges. A bigger story than Poe’s size is that he’s the first member of his family to ever even attend college. You can believe that being drafted by the Chiefs means more to him than it does to most prospects. It’ll be rather refreshing for a first round pick to come to Kansas City with a sense of humility and appreciation, instead of the usual, disturbing, sense of entitlement.

I love cheering for the Chiefs and I will really be rooting for Dontari.

Then there’s the… No-Name-Jeff-Allen selection. I’m sure this is what’s griping a lot of fans: the Chiefs didn’t take the most popular prospects. Or maybe it’s that Allen was projected by sites like CBS Sports to be the 73rd best overall prospect but, the Chiefs took him 44th. Well, if you’re willing to follow suit with the idea that the Chiefs are instituting the “Patriot Way” then it shouldn’t bother you so much because four picks later the Pats took Tavon Wilson with the 48th pick… although CBS Sports had him rated #212 overall. This draft made it ever so clear that each team has their own board and their own value system. An important aspect of the Allen pick is that he was announced by ex-Chiefs great Will Shields as “Guard” Jeff Allen. Mike Mayock, shortly thereafter, went on to say that 31-year-old Ryan Lilja should watch out, because Allen could step in on day one, and take his job away. After Cyrus Gray, Jeff Allen is my favorite draft pick of the Chiefs this year and I’d be shocked if he’s not the Chiefs starting left guard by mid season. Jeff Allen: remember his name because he’s the next Brain Waters. At 6-3 ⅞ and 308 lbs. Allen makes the Chiefs bigger, stronger and tougher immediately. Where? Up the middle.

Donald Stephenson is a developmental tackle who is also a Chiefs loyalist having grown up in KC/Blue Springs. Some have suggested that his upside includes someday playing as a starting OT. You would expect that if the Chiefs have selected him in the third round, they believe the same potential is there. It’s all wait and see with Stephenson although at 6-6 and 312 lbs. he has really quick feet, flashes great technique (which also means he’s not consistent) and it’s notable that he has run a 4.85 time in the 40. Christopher Amick of The Bleacher Report says Donald Stephenson’supside is through the roofand I agree. However, Stephenson comes across as a “young” 23 year old. Living in his stomping ground may, but may not, be an advantage. It’s all, wait and see with Stephenson.

 

Devon Wylie is the Wes Welker we’ve never had. His lateral quickness reminds me of Dante Hall. He can shift his weight from one hip to the other in the blink of an eye, it’s eye-popping. I’ve already enjoyed watching some of his “ankle-breaking” moves. The challenge for Wylie, like McCluster, or any other player their size (5-9, 187), is staying healthy. Wylie, who has had a history of injury problems says that it’snot a case of durability but unfortunate accidents.” Hopefully he’s not talking about 300-lb.-linemen-landing-on-him kind of accidents because there are plenty of those where he’s headed. However, Wylie’s presence means the Chiefs will likely be attacking the middle of the field more and consequently, winning the middle of the field more. Wylie means the Chiefs will be faster and quicker, up the middle. Les Miles, LSU head coach, spent some time on the NFL Network set on Saturday. I paraphrase but, he said that TEs and slot receivers help with the “direct” passing game and he calls it the “direct” passing game because the receivers are directly in front of the QB and those are also the shortest, most direct, passes to complete… in the middle of the field. It will be exciting to see how the Chiefs utilize Wylie and if they use him in the slot on a regular basis.

With Wylie, and the addition of Kevin Boss in free agency, the Chiefs and new OC Brian Daboll appear committed to controlling the middle of the field on offense.

DaQuan Menzie, 5-11, 202, can play the slot and he projects well to Safety. Another first team level Safety makes depth a non-issue for the Chiefs and hopefully his presence means we never have to talk about Sabby Piscitelli again. Menzie played the same “STAR” position (nickelback), vacated by Javier Arenas, at Alabama two years ago. He played opposite Dre Kirkpatrick for the national champion Crimson Tide so he’s faced the highest level competition for the past two season. His 4.55 speed is not elite for a corner but, plays with a lot of instinct and his speed is workable for a Safety. Michael Schottey who is an Associate NFL Editor for The Bleacher Report, says DaQuan Menzie compares favorably to safety Sean Jones of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Schottey also says Menzie has good ball skills and is a hard hitter. Menzie has an NFL body and is quicker than fast which also makes him well suited to match up in the slot. The point: Menzie makes the Chiefs stronger… up the middle.

RB Cyrus Gray. This is my favorite pick by the Chiefs this year. Why? Because it’s probably the only “sexy” pick by the Chiefs this year. I also think he’s an incredibly good value at pick number 182. Cyrus Gray had 3,298 career rushing yards at Texas A&M and added 30 TDs to that resume. Gray has 4.4 speed and runs with his pads low, really low. On AA Radio this past Sunday, on Big Matt and Paddy’s “Review of the Draft” show, they joked that Gray runs with his pads so low, he’s “Thomas Jones low”, who runs so low… he’s on the ground. Do you know where Cyrus Gray is really good at running the ball? Wow, you’re getting good at this… that’s right… up the middle. Even so, Gray averaged 5.5 yards per carry in his junior and senior seasons combined. He owns an excellent jab step and can, one-cut and go, between the tackles with the best of them. At 5-10 and 206 lbs., Gray is a patient runner, willing to follow his blockers, so much so that, he reminds me of Priest Holmes. However, when he sees the hole his quickness gets him through right away but, he’s not the speed demon Jamaal Charles is so you won’t find any comparisons there. If Hillis goes “Hillis” on the Chiefs, they’ll still have plenty of juice to ram the ball down the throats of the opposition because of Cyrus Gray. So, Gray is like Hillis Insurance and that should be good for Hillis too. Now, a Gray-out will be better than a black-out and I can’t wait to pull that one on the Raiders so we can see how they like taking some Gray matter to the mid-section. Diagnosis: stronger up the middle.

No Draft Grading
I’m not for grading a draft until some length of time has gone by. One year at the minimum but, to be fair to the development and growth potential of the prospects, three years seems more appropriate. So, it seems a bit silly to be grading this draft now.

PFT seems to agree with me and here’s what they have to say about why people get hooked into grading the draft:

Even though there’s no way of knowing what will happen, that doesn’t stop people from pretending to know, all in the hopes of satiating the public’s unquenchable thirst for reasons to be optimistic that their favorite teams could possibly find a way this year to navigate through their schedule and make it to the playoffs.  And given the multiple recent examples of teams turning a skin-of-their-teeth postseason berth into a Super Bowl win, there’s never been a better time to sell hope.

 

While I’m not for grading these prospects, I think we can begin to project the ways these current Chiefs coaches will utilize and develop them as NFL level players.

Although I was miffed and felt completely… on the outside looking in… during the draft weekend, I recognize the present Chiefs management is basing a great deal of their decisions upon whether or not prospects have “malleable personalities.” Personalities they can work with.

We all want players who have talent. However, that alone is obviously not enough for those currently piloting the Chiefs. The one aspect of the selection process that we, the fans, are not privy to is: the importance that temperament, reliability, mannerisms and tendencies play in the evaluation of prospects. IOW… a player’s personality. That was never more in evidence than during the 2012 Drafts’ three-day event: especially for Chiefs fans. Frustratingly so.

Out of the loop… and feeling like a nincompoop.

Like you, it leaves me  wanting to know more. A lot more.  

I guess I’m… stuck in the middle with you.

So, Addict Fanatics… was there anything about this draft that left you… wanting more?

 

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