KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This isn’t Digger Phelps’ NCAA Tournament bracket; somebody, somebody good, was always going to wind up being left out of the party. We get that. Only so many seats on this party bus to go around.
And yet: No Dontari Poe? Really?
It’s the NFL’s "Top 100 Players of 2014" time, and word on the NFL Network early on was that your rags-to-riches sweethearts, the Kansas City Chiefs, would place five guys on the list.
The results of the players’ poll have been released, piecemeal, in reverse order, with solid reps all-around: inside linebacker Derrick Johnson landed at No. 64, outside linebacker Justin Houston at No. 57, safety Eric Berry at No. 50 and outside linebacker Tamba Hali at No. 43. Berry and Hali’s selections "dropped" (as they say in the music biz) on Wednesday night, and both were unquestionably deserved.
Basic math says there’s one Chief left, and common sense says it’s running back Jamaal Charles, who led all NFL ball-carriers last autumn in combined rushing/receiving touchdowns scored (19) and rushing touchdowns (12). If No. 25 isn’t in the NFL’s Top 20 — let alone the Top 10 — send in Mulder and Scully.
In Poe’s case, it’s less a conspiracy and more a brain-cramp. Over picks 41-100, 10 have been defensive linemen: the Jets’ Muhammad Wilkerson (42) and Sheldon Richardson (94), the Ravens’ Haloti Ngata (45), the Bengals’ Geno Atkins (48), the Panthers’ Greg Hardy (53), the Bills’ Marcell Dareus (62), the Dolphins’ Cameron Wake (66), the Bears’ Jared Allen (68), the Niners’ Justin Smith (69) and the Saints’ Cameron Jordan (99).
Not a stiff in the bunch, granted. But not all stiffs — and all statistics — are, shall we say, created equal.
Pro-Football-Reference.com keeps a handy-dandy stat called approximate value, or AV, which attempts to grade out every player, every season, on a unified scale, regardless of position — in other words, something that can measure the relative worth of, say, a punter, a guard and a tailback, all under one umbrella. It might be the closest thing we NFL metric nerds have, at the moment, to baseball’s wins above replacement (WAR).
At any rate, we pull out the AV ratings for 2013 of the defensive linemen the players liked better than Poe and, unlike our man No. 92, things start to get all pear-shaped. Of those 10 linemen already tabbed for the NFL’s Top 100, only one, Jordan, posted a higher AV number (13) last fall than Poe’s 12; only two, Smith (12) and Hardy (12), equaled him.
The boys at Pro Football Focus (PFF) are a little less bullish, but five of those elite 10 linemen wound up with lower 2013 cumulative ratings than Poe’s +23.5: Wilkerson (+17.9), Ngata (+14.5), Atkins (+20.5), Allen (-3.0) and Smith (+13.2). Last month, the site even went out of its way to place the Memphis native at No. 30 among its "The PFF 101: Best of 2013" chart.
"Plays the whole game," Poe’s teammate Johnson said at the start of organized team activities late last month. "Nobody in the league does that at 350 pounds. My hat’s off to him. He’s a centerpiece to this defense. All my success I’ve had the last two or three years, he’s a big, big part of it."
Last autumn, D-Poe was the Chiefs’ defensive anchor, the near-constant. By PFF’s reckoning, the big man logged the most regular-season snaps of any NFL defensive tackle (1,004) in 2013 — and he did it in just 15 games, having sat out the Week 17 "Split Squad" game at San Diego.
Whenever defensive coordinator Bob Sutton hatched another of his dozens of mad blitz formations, he’d start with 92 in the middle, holding court, then build the rest of the beast from there. Besides that spine of Poe, Johnson and Berry up the gut and a healthy Houston and Hali on the wings, all other parts were flexible and interchangeable, depending on down and distance.
"Dontari Poe is a lifesaver for inside linebackers like myself," Johnson said. "He’s heck to deal with in the middle. Anytime he’s one on one, he wins."