I think we’re all still trying to wrap our heads around the new regime’s first draft and its apparent strategy moving forward.
While most fans have been hoping to see the team tick as many need boxes as possible in the course of the three days at Radio City Music hall, that doesn’t appear to be the way that Chiefs GM John Dorsey does things. It seems that Dorsey views free agency as a means to fill holes, while the Draft serves to add talent, regardless of position.
The team selected SEC players with its compensatory 3rd-rounder, its 4th and its 5th-round pick but the rest of players it took were from relatively small programs. 1st overall pick OT Eric Fisher was the first player from the MAC selected that high in the conference’s history. DE/OLB Mike Catapano became the first Princeton player drafted in 12 years. NFL fans worldwide suddenly learned that there is a University of California … in Pennsylvania … after Kansas City picked C Eric Kush in the 6th round.
Chiefs fans who were furiously googling these guys likely found very little – often not even a photograph. On one hand, the obscurity of these names showed that Dorsey and Chiefs HC Andy Reid have been doing their homework and were digging for diamonds in the rough. On the other hand, one wondered whether these guys were even on any other team’s draft boards.
I think it shows that the new regime is realistic about what it is going to get from the Draft. This is a team that counts on getting prospects – not players – from the Draft. With virtually all the team’s needs filled through free agency, late April was a time to pick up some young, unfinished products. The two big knocks against small school players is that they are difficult to evaluate due to the quality of the opponents they faced on tape and they are also expected to have a longer, tougher transition to the NFL.
But, for Fisher, Kush, Catapano, and TE Travis Kelce, that won’t be a problem, they won’t be expected to make major contributions this year. With the exception of Fisher, who will likely end up as the team’s full-time right tackle this year, the other small school guys have a line of veterans ahead of them.
However, it would be a mistake to view these guys as purely depth players. One of the biggest blind spots in Draft coverage is that commentators tend to only look at each team’s current needs and evaluate their draft on how those picks fit with what the team will need in the coming season. The reality is that actual front offices are looking much further to the 2014 and 2015 seasons – especially regimes in their first year or with solid job security.
Indeed, one of the over-looked aspects of the Chiefs’ draft was not how they added pieces for this season, but rather how it shows they are building the team for 2014.
Take a quick look at the list of Chiefs starters whose contracts will be up in the next two years and you’ll see what I mean. The notables include (presumed starters in italics):
Free Agents in 2014:
WR Dexter McCluster (slot)
TE Tony Moeaki
S Kendrick Lewis
G Jon Asamoah
G Geoff Schwartz
RB Shaun Draughn (3rd down back)
Free Agents in 2015:
C Rodney Hudson
FB Anthony Sherman
WR Jonathan Baldwin
DE Allen Bailey
RB Nate Eachus
QB Alex Smith
Looking at this list and projecting that most of the 2013 draft class will sit this year now makes sense. All three of the Chiefs’ starting interior O-linemen are up for free agency in the next two years and the only one who we have under contract until 2015 is Hudson, who is a bit of a question mark coming off of a broken leg. In this situation, it makes perfect sense to take a high-upside center from a small school knowing that he may have to step in at one of those three interior roles in the next two years.
Similarly, despite the fact that the Chiefs already had two good blocking/pass-catching tight ends in Moeaki and Anthony Fasano, it makes perfect sense to draft Kelce knowing that Moeaki is injury-prone and in a contract year. Kelce may not see the field this year, but his presence on the roster gives the team options at TE next year when Moeaki will be looking at the door. Depending on how Moeaki plays and his health holds up, he may be disposable or he may be valuable, but the team will have a better bargaining hand with Fasano locked up long-term and a young, dynamic tight end in the wings who will be playing on a cheap, multi-year contract.
The same goes for the running back position behind RB Jamaal Charles. Third-round pick Knile Davis was the biggest head-scratcher of the Chiefs draft. He’s been banged up and last put up good tape in 2011. Spending a year in the meeting rooms as the #4 RB will hopefully allow him to heal up and be ready to take up the reins as the contracts for the two guys ahead of him come to an end.
Both De’Quan Menzie (who spent his rookie season on IR) and 5th-round pick Sanders Commings project as CB/S hybrids and both have the big bodies and hard-hitting style to make them potential replacements for Lewis, who is oft-injured and also in a contract year.
I should say that I don’t necessarily expect these draft picks to replace all of the incumbents, but you have to admire the cleverness and forethought that Dorsey brings to this front office. No matter what happens this season, he has already set up the team to have flexibility and depth at positions where it will potentially be vulnerable after the next round of free agency.
The one big looming 2015 free agent on that list is obviously Smith and anyone’s guess is as good as mine what the team’s opinion of him will be when February 2015 rolls around. He may have just won us a championship; he may have proven to be garbage without the mentorship of 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
I also have absolutely no idea what to expect out of UDFA QB Tyler Bray. He may turn into something, he may turn into nothing. What I do know is that the team wagered absolutely nothing on him so even if his ceiling is that of an average backup, it will have been a sound move.
One way or the other, given that Smith is 29, don’t be surprised to see a quarterback taken high in next year’s draft regardless of how he plays in 2013. His contract will be up the following year and this is just how Dorsey rolls.