Early Kansas City Chiefs Draft Outlook

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Dec 7, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Chiefs 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

First round draft picks from Dorsey are littered with offensive linemen and pass rushers. We touched on this last draft season, and we’ll touch on this again over the next few months, but Dorsey’s philosophy for first round picks seems to be based on offensive linemen and pass rushers. His first two first round picks – Eric Fisher and Dee Ford – don’t deviate from his Green Bay tutoring.

(Note: Green Bay drafted a defensive front seven player or offensive lineman in the first round eight straight years before drafting safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with their first round picks last year.)

There are some expectations to this rule, of course. The Packers spent a a late first rounder to nab Aaron Rodgers (that’s worked out) and a first round pick to select defensive back Ahmad Carroll. It isn’t a strict rule of ‘Lineman or Bust’ but it is a pretty clear pattern.

A few things to consider about first round picks include the salary cap. The new collective bargaining agreement helps create some flexibility by making rookie contracts significantly cheaper, but the the cap still plays a part in how players are valued. When it comes to positions, the most valuable ones as it relates to the cap are quarterback, pass rusher, high-end cornerbacks, offensive tackles, and ‘dynamic’ players. These positions, for various reasons, are some of the most important players on the field and thus tend to cost the most. To keep money open for these players you don’t want to be spending a large part of your salary cap on fullbacks and kickers. That’s just part of navigating the cap. So when you come down to a tie-breaker on the draft board between an offensive tackle and an inside linebacker, tackles tend to be the way a general manager will lean because of the value of that player to your cap.

For instance, the 18th pick last year had a $1.556 million cap number for their first season. The average left tackle in 2014 cost their team about $5.3 million in cap space. The average defensive end was a $4.3 million cap hit. The average wide receiver cost $4.1 million. The average guard was $2.6 million. The average inside linebacker cost $2.8 million. (These numbers include both starters and backups.)

Assuming the Chiefs took a player who will be starting immediately (make your Dee Ford jokes now), then the Chiefs would see the most value to their cap by drafting a tackle (about $3.8 million in value) as opposed to a guard (about $800k in value).

Simply, money matters here. There’s more value to the cap in adding a pass rusher or offensive lineman with first round picks than selecting a guard or inside linebacker. This doesn’t mean you avoid guards or inside linebackers in the first round, you just have to make sure they are particularly exceptional at their position if you’re going to sacrifice the cap value.

And cap value matters. Russell Wilson is the extreme version of this value idea. His third round rookie contract makes him nearly $8.2 million cheaper against the cap compared to the average quarterback. Add in his abilities on the field and he is one of the most financially valuable players in the NFL. The money he is saving the Seahawks against the cap has allowed them to load up some cap hits on Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and K.J. Wright plus spend a little extra money on positions where they needed help. It’s part of the way they were able to trade for Percy Harvin, for example.

No, cap value isn’t everything, but it is a factor in how a draft board is set up. It is probably also a factor Dorsey considers when putting together his board, which makes it an important thing to consider when trying to figure out what the Chiefs are going to do in the first round.

Considering the cap situation and the Chiefs’ needs, it would seem likely an offensive lineman or a pass rusher is selected in the first round. We all know the issues what the Chiefs’ offensive line so a tackle would makes sense for the Chiefs in the first round. A pass rusher may throw some people.

Consider two things with the pass rusher idea outside of the cap value aspect of it. First, the Chiefs are still in a sticky situation with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Hali is near the end of the road and the Houston contract situation hasn’t been figured out yet. Yes, Ford was drafted last season as part of a replacement plan but that plan assumed the Chiefs would likely be able to keep Houston. If the Chiefs are forced to franchise tag Houston then Dorsey may go for another outside pass rusher incase a deal cannot be reached with Houston.

Second, Seattle built their defense by loading up with as many pass rushers as they could. Their constant rotation of pass rushers meant the front seven was always fresh and the pressure on the quarterback was constant. Dontari Poe, Hali, and Houston essentially have to be on the field for every passing down if the Chiefs want to ensure some sort of rush on the quarterback. Take Houston out and the outside rush suffers tremendously. Take out Poe and there is virtually no pass rush coming from the defensive line.

Yes, Allen Bailey took a step forward and Ford is in the mix too, but the Chiefs are going to need some more depth in that front seven if they want their defensive scheme to hold up. This draft happens to be deep in edge pass rushers both on the line and at outside linebacker. It may be a pool Dorsey chooses to dip into with the idea of it being a win-win situation no matter what happens with Houston’s contract.

So, in the first week of January, it would seem a pass rusher or offensive tackle is at the top of the list for the Chiefs. What does that mean for wide receiver?

Next: Round of the Wide Receiver