The clock ticks towards the start of the 2011 NFL Draft on Thursday evening. The Chiefs like the rest of their league brethren sit and wait.
The hay is in the barn as far as preparing and evaluating. You can bet there are few of the scouts and personnel types that are working the phone lines, talking to guys with other teams who are doing the same things. They continue to drop a line into the draft pool in hopes of hooking some sort of new information.
The evaluation process in preparing for the draft has two avenues. As a team you look at what you have, and then you look at what might be available. Every team hopes they can somehow connect the needs with the avails.
So just what are the Chiefs needs after their 10-6 AFC West winning season? Let’s break down the offense, with the defense and the avails to come. For each position we will provide a level of need for the Chiefs to find somebody in this draft class.
- Roster β Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko.
- Without a contract β Brodie Croyle.
- Level of Need? Moderate.
After five star-crossed seasons it’s obvious that Croyle’s time in Kansas City should be over. It’s hard to believe that Croyle wouldn’t agree. He’s five years into his career and his only chance to play with the Chiefs will be an injury to Cassel. His start last year when Cassel was recovering from his appendectomy was awful β hitting 7 of 17 passes for 40 yards against San Diego. Certainly it wasn’t like he was given a normal game plan in that case, but the fact the Chiefs coaching staff backed off what they had been doing and tried to keep the ball out of his hands is telling enough.
What to make of Palko? It’s hard to say. For some reason, head coach Todd Haley really likes the guy and I think it goes beyond their shared western Pennsylvania roots. But there’s been nothing we’ve seen from Palko in pre-season or his short appearances in the ’10 regular season that says he can be a reliable starting quarterback.
The Chiefs haven’t drafted a quarterback since Croyle (2nd-round, 2006.) The time is right.
- Roster β Jamaal Charles, Tervaris Johnson (IR), Thomas Jones, Dexter McCluster.
- Without a contract β Jackie Battle.
- Level of need? Moderate.
The decision to move McCluster into a full-time role at RB changes a bit of the landscape at the position. If he becomes a third-down option or a flash-dash duo with him and Charles together in the backfield, it will provide the Chiefs offense a nice punch.
Charles has been handled quite well by Haley and his offensive staff over the last two seasons and it’s hard to understand why some fans can’t figure out why his touches have been limited. Charles has averaged 16.3 touches in the last two seasons and that work load has made him one of the most productive backs in the NFL. He’s also taken a pretty good pounding along the way at 16 touches a game.
Thus, there needs to be a fairly talented alternative to give Charles a blow and keep the Chiefs offense humming. At times last year, Thomas Jones provided that role. But as the season wore on, Jones appeared to wear down, or the coaches were trying everything to keep him fresh. First 8 games he averaged 17.1 carries; last 8 games he averaged 13.5 carries. First 8 games he gained 570 yards; last 8 games he ran for 326 yards.
All this points to the fact the Chiefs need to find a young RB to replace Jones next year and challenge him for carries this season. That guy will not be McCluster, so he’s going to have to come from outside.
- On the roster β none.
- Without contracts β Tim Castille, Mike Cox.
- Level of need? β Low.
The position has been in a state of flux around the NFL for the last decade. Fullbacks no longer get a chance to have their hands on the ball and the Chiefs offense is no different. Castille and Cox combined for 19 touches, totaling 73 yards. They are blockers, special teams performers and sometimes receivers.
There’s no reason to use a draft choice on a fullback.
- On the roster β Tony Moeaki, Jake O’Connell, Cody Slate.
- Without a contract β Brad Cottam, Leonard Pope.
- Level of need? β Moderate.
Moeaki is the man at the position, so what the Chiefs need behind him are some specialists, TEs that are more blockers than catchers, or a guy that’s more catcher than blocker, but provides a different look or style.
Cottam’s situation has almost been forgotten by most Chiefs fans. He suffered a broken neck at the end of the ’09 season, had surgery and was not given the go-ahead to practice again last season. As far as we know, he’s not been told that he can’t play again. Pope is a blocker first and foremost. O’Connell’s role is largely as a blocker or H-back.
Somewhere in this draft the Chiefs need to find somebody to challenge Pope, who figures to re-sign with the team.
- On the roster β Dwayne Bowe, Chris Chambers, Jeremy Horne, Quinten Lawrence, Verran Tucker, Jerheme Urban (IR), Chandler Williams (IR).
- Without a contract β Terrance Copper, Kevin Curtis.
- Level of need? β Great.
Let’s start with the premise that Chambers will be gone. Considering the fact he was a healthy scratch for the playoffs is not an indicator that he has any place in the future of the offense. After two years of producing one catch for nine yards, Lawrence’s time with the Chiefs should be about over as well. The development of Tucker last year was one of the least talked about improvements in the program. Eleven games and just six catches for 114 yards is not a career-making season, but Tucker showed great improvement through the season. Plus, he was one of the best special teamers on the roster.
The wildcards here are Urban and Curtis. Urban spent the season on the injured-reserve list with a hand injury. He could raise the level of play from the position if the year off hasn’t robbed him of some of his skills. Curtis arrived for the post-season and caught one pass. If he can return with his speed, it will change the landscape a bit.
But that’s too many ifs, and that means the Chiefs need to find themselves a wide receiver. It would be best if he could bring the element of speed to the offense. Bowe’s contract is up next year, and with a personality like his there’s never a guarantee that he’s going to fit with the team’s salary and ego landscape.
A third or fourth-round receiver would make sense.
- On the roster β Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah, Bobby Greenwood, Darryl Harris, Ryan Lilja, Brian Waters.
- Without a contract β Rudy Niswanger, Ryan O’Callaghan, Barry Richardson, Casey Wiegmann.
- Level of need? Great.
The focus and discussion among fans always seems to fall on talking about tackles, especially RT with Richardson. No question the level of play needs to improve there. But let’s remember that the Chiefs led the league in rushing and until the end of the season did a good job of pass protection with Richardson and every down player.
The area of concern with the Chiefs on the offensive line is center and guard. Consider Wiegmann retired. Whether he’s done or not, the Chiefs need to approach the draft and roster as if he’s not coming back. The same might be said for Waters, although he’s given no indication he’s thinking about walking away. Wiegmann, Waters and Lilja wore down last season; it was evident in the final games of the season when they produced just 201 yards against Oakland and 161 yards against Baltimore in the playoffs.
Asamoah gives every indication that he’s got what it takes to step into any of those three inside positions. After that, the cupboard is bare. It’s also empty when it comes to backup tackles if the Chiefs sign Richardson and let O’Callaghan walk.
But a center-guard prospect, one that can play now, would be a huge infusion for the Chiefs roster. Note: the Chiefs haven’t drafted a center since 1996, when they grabbed two in the seventh round in Ben Lynch and Jeff Smith. The last high draft choice they used on a center was a second-rounder for Tim Grunhard in 1990. The odds say it’s time.
OFFENSIVE REVIEW/LEVEL OF NEED
- Great β Wide receiver, interior offensive line.
- Moderate β Offensive tackle, quarterback, running back, tight end.
- Low β Fullback.