Chiefs look to fill holes along line in draft
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Scott Pioli gazed out his office window, which overlooks the outdoor practice facility of the Kansas City Chiefs, and pondered the team he has put together for next season.
It was still a couple of weeks before the NFL draft, and already the general manager had signed a new offensive tackle, a one-time Madden cover-boy running back, a veteran tight end and a slew of other players to provide competition and depth across the board.
“You know,” Pioli said, “we could go out there and play right now with what we have.”
That takes a bit of pressure off the draft, where the Chiefs have the No. 11 selection in the first round Thursday night. It also gives Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel some flexibility – unlike some years, Kansas City doesn’t necessarily need to address one specific position.
Sure, holes remain at defensive tackle, and depth along the offensive line is questionable. The Chiefs could use another middle linebacker and more help in the defensive backfield. But they also could grab a quarterback or any number of other positions.
What it amounts to is this: Only Pioli seems to know what Kansas City will do.
“I love the talent this draft,” he said, carefully choosing his words. “I think there’s a lot of talent at a lot of different positions, and the talent goes deep at a lot of positions.”
Pioli’s goal since arriving in Kansas City is to build a team around homegrown players, and to some extent he’s accomplished that. Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers and Jamaal Charles have turned into stars, though some have taken longer to arrive than others.
But the GM also proved he’s willing to pay for talent, as he did this offseason, opening the purse strings of team owner Clark Hunt to woo offensive tackle Eric Winston, former Browns running back Peyton Hillis and tight end Kevin Boss.
The result is a depth chart mostly filled, even if several positions could use an upgrade.
“It’s a process we go through, and we’re working on it,” Crennel said last week. “It’s not completed yet, and we’ll continue to evaluate, tweak, try to get the best players we can in this draft. That’s what it’s all about.”
Among those linked to the Chiefs is linebacker Luke Kuechly, who could pair with Johnson to provide a pair of potential superstars in the middle of their 3-4 defense. The former Boston College star spoke to the Chiefs at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, but wasn’t sure whether the team would bring him in for a visit before the draft. Still, he said he liked the idea of playing for Crennel, who will also serve as defensive coordinator.
“I did meet with them at the combine, but they’re real brief things. They get to know you a little bit,” Kuechly told The Associated Press. “All I know is once it’s all over, I’ll be good – a weight off your chest. You know where you’ll be and you get that off your shoulders.”
One of the reasons Kuechly has been tied to Kansas City is that he’s graded out as one of the best players expected to be available when the Chiefs are on the clock. But middle linebacker is considered less an area of need than several others, particularly defensive tackle.
That means the Chiefs could target Michael Brockers of LSU or Dontari Poe of Memphis, a pair of run-stuffing tackles whose stock has risen over the past few weeks.
Brockers entered the draft after his redshirt sophomore season, when he helped the Tigers reach the BCS title game. The 320-pound lineman has impressed in pre-draft workouts, though some critics believe that his age and relative inexperience could work against him.
As hard as it was to miss Brockers last season, it was hard to find Poe.
He had just one sack and eight tackles for loss, but blew teams away at the scouting combine. He pushed 44 reps with 225 pounds on the bench press, and showed that he was light on his feet at nearly 350 pounds by running a sub-5-second 40-yard dash.
Offensive guard David DeCastro of Stanford has emerged as the fan favorite in Kansas City, even though he plays a position that is hardly glamorous. The Chiefs’ offensive line was miserable last season, and some believe DeCastro could become the next Will Shields.
Then there’s Ryan Tannehill, the Texas A&M quarterback whose stock is all over the map.
Pioli said that he likes to draft at least one quarterback every year – he chose Ricky Stanzi in the fifth round last season – but he wasn’t sold on where or when that might happen.
In the case of Tannehill, he may be gone if the Chiefs stand pat with the No. 11 pick. And if that should happen, don’t expect Pioli to offer more than a shrug.
After all, chances are he’ll pick the next best player available.