Chiefs still have time to get out of No. 1 pick
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — No wonder the Chiefs are keeping the window open for business until the last possible minute: According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, an offensive tackle taken with pick No. 9 or pick No. 3 will be worth roughly the same to your franchise, long-term, as one taken with the top pick overall.
The popular database offers up a slew of very cool metrics, but this one might be the coolest, especially in lieu of NFL Draft week. In an attempt to replicate baseball's "Wins Above Replacement" (WAR) and "Win Shares" (WS), Pro-Football-Reference has a stat called "Approximate Value" (or AV), in which a player's contributions in a given season, regardless of position, are boiled down by a complex formula to a specific numerical grade. (Peyton Manning, last fall, was a 15; Matt Cassel was a 2. You get the idea.)
The Kansas City Chiefs have the No. 1 pick for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger of 1970, and general manager John Dorsey intimated last Friday that the club had narrowed it down to four prospects, primarily. With Eric Winston out the door and Branden Albert possibly next, the logical (and, let's be honest, safest) call has Kansas City snapping either Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher first off the board.
And history is, believe it or not, actually cool with that. Since 1980, only two tackles have been selected first overall in the NFL Draft — Orlando Pace, by St. Louis, in 1997 and Jake Long, by Miami, in 2008 — and both worked out reasonably well. Pro-Football-Reference charts them with 17 seasons as a primary starter for their respective teams, averaging a weighted AV of 8.35 over those 17 campaigns. Again, to put that number in perspective, Jonathan Ogden, a Hall of Famer, arguably the best left tackle of Generation X, averaged a weighted AV of 7.42 over 12 years.
So, yeah, eight is good. Eight is the bar. You'll take that every time.
But therein also lies the rub: Precedent says you can find an eight — or pretty darn close — in other spots later in the first round.
In fact, once you break down the numbers of tackles with at least four years of starting experience (throwing out fluke injuries or flameouts) drafted since 1980, the tackle spot most guaranteed of career success is with pick No. 3, where the weighted approximate value averages out to 8.96. That's a group that includes Joe Thomas (6 seasons, 50 AV), Jamar Samuels (9, 57 AV) and, most tellingly, Anthony Munoz (12, 135 AV), a subset of excellence all to himself.
Pro-Football-Reference's metrics also dig the ninth pick overall, as tackles go, with an average weighted AV of tackles of four-plus years of starting experience of 8.05, largely carried by the long and productive careers of Richmond Webb (12, 98 AV) and Lincoln Kennedy (9, 71 AV).
Pick No. 2? An AV of 7.
Pick No. 6 and Pick No. 12? An AV of 6.83, each.
Pick No. 10? An AV of 6.63.
So, yeah, if tackle is the plan all along — and as Dorsey himself said, this is a draft crop highlighted by pass blockers, defensive tackles and cornerbacks, not skill-position stars, the way last year's class was — it would behoove the Chiefs to get the heck out of No. 1.
And, well, there's your second rub.
Good luck finding somebody willing to take that slot off your hands, willing to sell the farm for a crack at Geno Smith. The fewer marquee quarterbacks available for the plucking/dangling, the harder it is to move. (Only the Chiefs, trying to repent from a sordid history of developing their own marquee signal-callers, could land the top pick the year AFTER Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson were on the menu.)
"It is (tough)," Dorsey allowed. "You have to weigh so many variable options, for the betterment of this organization. When you're in this seat, you're not only responsible for yourself, but you're responsible for numerous other things within this organization.
"So you have to weigh those factors in. And at the end of the day, you have to do what's best for the organization and acquire the best possible player for this organization."
Or multiple players, if the situation dictates. A team with the No. 1 pick has traded out of it eight times — either willingly or unwillingly — since 1983. If you use Pro-Football-Reference's AV to evaluate who came out on top, long-term, in those trades out of No. 1 (as in, who really did get the most value out of the deal), of those eight clubs, five came out ahead in terms of weighted AV points with the players acquired; two came up on the short end (most notably, the Colts in the '83 John Elway swap); and there was one push (The Eli Manning/Philip Rivers swap in '04 between the Giants and Chargers — the latter got quantity, but the former got two Super Bowl rings out of the swap).
It's not a perfect yardstick — most fans, given the benefit of hindsight, would rather have Eli under center than Rivers — but it does seem to follow one universal truth: Unless you're convinced the kid in the green room is destined for a bust in Canton, you're better off moving down, better off turning one potentially very good player into three or four pretty good ones. If it's not an Elway or a Pace in your sights, quantity, more often than not, takes quality to the cleaners.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org