Top-5 pick assured, Chiefs can’t afford to miss

KANSAS CITY, MO – Why Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli Is Full Of Hooey, Reason 37: Since 2002, of the last 10 Super Bowl champions, seven — 70 percent — featured a former first-round draft pick at quarterback. Take Tom Brady out of the mix, and it’s seven of the last eight.
 
Of the last 20 NFL teams to win a conference championship, 11 of them featured a former first-round pick at signal-caller. Take out Brady, and it’s 11 of the last 16. Of the last 40 NFL teams to reach the conference championship, 26 of them featured a former first-round pick under center. Take out Brady, and it’s 26 of the last 35.
 
There’s the flip side, of course: Take Raiders 15, Chiefs 0. Sunday’s tilt between Kansas City and Oakland showcased two former first-rounders dueling at quarterback. It also showcased 11 punts, 12 penalties and zero touchdowns. Yikes.
 
So, no, not every theory is airtight.
 
The Right 53 can get you to 9-7 or 10-6, if that’s the bar. But for franchises with championship aspirations, it’s all about the Right 1.
 
Since December 1969, the Kansas City Chiefs have a total of six postseason wins. Len Dawson was at the helm for three of them; Joe Montana had two; Steve DeBerg one. Of those six victories in 43 seasons, five were led by future Hall-of-Famers. Coincidence?
 
There are dozens of ways to make the playoffs. But there’s usually only one way to be assured of surviving them. Anyone can get you to the postseason dance. Teams with great quarterbacks have a tendency to stick around longer once they get there.
 
Which brings us back to the 2012 Chiefs, who — with a record of 2-12 and Indianapolis and Denver up next — appear to be on a collision course with the No. 1 draft pick, or at worst, No. 2. With the Matt Cassel Era imploding, Brady Quinn providing no relief and Ricky Stanzi walking around with a clipboard stapled to his coat, the roster makeover starts under center. That’s not up for debate.
 
But this is: In the 2013 draft, is there a Right 1 to be had? And is it worth spending one of those first two picks on the guy?
 
Historically, a first-round quarterback is the NFL’s riskiest investment. In recent seasons, most studies show, roughly a third are a hit, a third peak as journeymen, and another third wind up busts.
 
According to an April 2012 piece by Bo Mitchell of SportsData LLC, over the last 10 drafts, just nine of the 30 signal-callers taken in the first round, or approximately 30 percent, have wound up reaching at least one Pro Bowl in their careers to date. The safest bets? Safeties (56.2 percent made a Pro Bowl), tight ends (53.8 percent), interior linemen (42.8 percent) and linebackers (40.6 percent), the latter making a fair argument for grabbing Notre Dame tackle machine Manti Te’o, and rebuilding defense-first, just like the Schottenheimer days.
 
Something else to chew on: Unlike last spring’s draft class, neither of the top quarterbacks available for 2013 — West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley — are rated as among the best five or six prospects available in the pool overall. That’s not to say Smith or Barkley couldn’t replicate the success of the Colts’ Andrew Luck or Washington’s Robert Griffin III, but, on paper, according to most scouts, there’s not a lead-pipe-cinch “franchise” guy in the bunch. Given the performances of Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and even RGIII’s backup, Kirk Cousins, it seems the Chiefs could be stuck quarterback-shopping one year too late.
 
And that, ultimately, will be Scott Pioli’s most damning legacy, once the shouting finally stops. He poor-mouthed the importance of signal-callers while constantly downgrading his own quarterbacking units, presumably in an effort to make the contract he handed to Cassel look like a prudent investment (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t). Pioli gave Cassel weapons (or tried to); gave him protection (or tried to); and gave him little or no viable competition to retain the starting slot. Didn’t matter. The weight of multiple offensive coordinators and near-constant vilification in the community proved to be too much. By mid-October, Cassel was, physically and psychologically, a beaten man.
 
He needs a fresh start. So do the Chiefs, who can’t afford to miss, either; history also shows that a whiff on a quarterback taken in the Top 10 will set your club back four years, minimum. It’s the major reason why the Chiefs haven’t drafted a quarterback in the first round since Todd Blackledge in 1983. That one blew up in their faces, the team sank into a bog eerily similar to the one they’re in now, and they vowed to never make the same mistake twice.
 
Then again, desperate times call for desperate measures. And after 109 passing yards at Oakland, it doesn’t get much more desperate than now.
 
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler

or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com