Pioli & Personnel – The Draft & Rookie Free Agents

We’ve been taking a comprehensive look at the player personnel decisions made by Chiefs GM Scott Pioli since he was appointed to the job in January 2009. We’ll look at the moves in three parts:

  • FIRST PART – Inherited players, here’s the link.
  • SECOND PART – Veteran players acquired as free agents, in trades and waiver claims; here’s the link.
  • TODAY – Draft picks and rookie free agents.
  • FINAL – A personnel wrap-up and look ahead.

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When an NFL team makes it known that it wants to build its roster through the annual Draft that does not leave much room for error. It takes a consistent record of adding multiple players each and every year. A draft-day bust creates a domino effect on the personnel future of the team as it tries to recover from the mistake.

Each season the process begins with seven selections per team and that number goes up and down depending on how much wheeling and dealing is done. Draft picks are powerful currency in the NFL. Building through the draft requires that the large majority of this currency pays off in talented players on the roster.

Chiefs GM Scott Pioli has gone through three NFL Drafts as the man in charge of Chiefs personnel. His first draft class in 2009 has been a major disappointment, a group that led to roster red ink. His second draft class in 2010 had a strong rookie season, including a trip to the Pro Bowl for first-round pick SS Eric Berry. After one season, it’s in the black.

His third draft class in 2011 received high grades from the draftniks who rate those types of things. There’s no question that for the Chiefs and their road to building a team that annually competes for a spot in the playoffs, the draft picks in ’11 are hugely important. Failure is not an option.

But those players have not even gotten on the practice field yet for the Chiefs because of the NFL owners’ lockout, and that makes it impossible to grade what they’ve brought to the team.

So our analysis today is limited to the classes of 2009 and 2010, along with the undrafted rookie free agents that were signed for both years. Those players, although not considered talented enough to be selected as one of 250-plus in the NFL Draft, are frequently the difference between championship teams and those that are mere contenders.

It’s a role that cannot be discounted – Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Joe Perry, Emlen Tunnell, Willie Wood, Willie Brown, Emmitt Thomas, Larry Little, Jim Langer and John Randle all made the Pro Football Hall of Fame after not being drafted. Others like Raymond Berry, Deacon Jones, Nick Buoniconti and Bart Starr were selected in Round No. 13 and later, and would not be draft choices today. That’s why we give analysis of undrafted rookies as well.

Each of the 15 draft choices and 31 free agents have been rated either hit, miss or incomplete.

Realistically, a good three to four seasons of play are necessary to judge whether a player is a star, starter, contributor, mediocre or a bust. We accept that fact in our process and understand that there’s a chance players can move from hit to miss, or miss to hit before their careers are over. Our evaluation is based on what we’ve seen and where they were selected in the Draft.

Here’s a complete analysis of each of the 46 players.

And here’s how it all played out in our grades:

 

Hit

Miss

Incomplete

Total

2009-10 Draft Choices

7

7

1

15

2009-10 Undrafted Rookies

7

18

6

31

Totals

14

25

7

46

Essentially it is our estimation that Pioli has added 14 contributing rookies to the roster in the first two years. Hitting on seven of 15 draft choices is not a good percentage for a team building through the Draft. Hitting on seven of 31 rookie free agents in two years is a good percentage and contribution to the talent pool, including a starter at ILB in Jovan Belcher, and big contributors in the kicking game like ILB Cory Greenwood and WR Verran Tucker.

Here’s a look at Draft decision made in 2009-10 and where they stand right now:

1ST-ROUND – DE Tyson Jackson, SS Eric Berry.

So far, Jackson is a miss, a big miss. Berry is a hit, a big hit. Those evaluations are subject to change. Before he was injured in the season opener and missed the next four games, Jackson showed improvement from his poor rookie season.

But even that improvement did not provide a confirmation of taking him with the third choice in the ’09 Draft. Players taken in the top 10 of the first round should be immediate contributor and difference makers on the field. Jackson has not reached that standard. Most teams had him rated at the bottom half of the first round, anywhere from No. 25 through No. 40. Reaching that far down the road for a player at No. 3 is not sound a sound draft choice.

In 17 games, Berry was a contributor and difference maker and more than justified his selection. Berry allowed that after the season he was beaten up and bruised. The question will always be whether the 6-0, 210-pounder can withstand the constant pounding that comes from his position and style of play.

2ND-ROUND – WR-RB Dexter McCluster & DB Javier Arenas.

On draft day, the selection of McCluster and Arenas in the second round was puzzling. In the 2010 pre-season and the first part of the regular season, the decisions seemed genius. By the end of the ’10 season, there were again questions about the picks.

When the final numbers of the season are shaken out, McCluster had little effect on the team’s offense and a marginal effect on the kicking game. With the exception of his 94-yard punt return for TD in the opener against San Diego, McCluster provided few big plays. Over the 11 games that he played, he had one catch of 20-plus yards, two runs of 10-plus yards, two kickoff returns of 30-plus yards and three punt returns of 20-plus yards. He did not have enough punt returns to qualify in that category in league statistics, and finished at No. 36 in kickoff returns.

That’s not to indicate that McCluster was a bust. He was not. He produced 1,009 yards on offense and returns on 78 touches. That was an average of 7 touches and 91.7 yards per game, or 12.9 yards per play.

A reported ankle injury in the sixth game of the season took the wind out of his sails, and regenerated the pre-draft concerns about his ability to stand up to the physical nature of the NFL with his slight build of 5-8, 170 pounds.

The equally diminutive Arenas (5-9, 195) played all 16 games and the game in the playoffs against Baltimore. Defensively, he finished with 49 total tackles and 3 sacks, but no interceptions. On returns, Arenas averaged 21.2 yards on 24 kickoff returns, with two more than 30 yards. He averaged 8.3 yards on 39 punt returns, with only two returns of 20-plus yards. In the NFL, Arenas was No. 18 on punt returns and No. 32 on kickoff returns. He also had four tackles in the kicking game and forced a fumble.

The 2011 season will be very important for McCluster and Arenas to show durability and production on offense, defense and special teams.

3RD-ROUND – DE Alex Magee, C/G Jon Asamoah & TE Tony Moeaki.

All three choices came out of the Big 10 Conference, but accomplished much different results among them. Magee is the biggest bust on Pioli’s dance card to date. There was obviously no movement forward from his rookie season to his second year with the team. He couldn’t get on the field, as he was beaten out by Shaun Smith, who moved from NT to DE when Jackson was hurt in the season opener. There were questions around the NFL about character with Magee coming out of Purdue and whether that contributed to his demise is unknown. Give Pioli credit for pulling the chain on this one quickly and at least getting something out of Magee’s failure to contribute.

Asamoah got very little playing time last season, but based on what he showed in those snaps and his play in the pre-season, there are those around the NFL who think he could turn about to be the best player in the 2010 class. Smart, tough, aggressive and possesses good quick feet for a man over 300 pounds. He needs to be in the starting lineup in 2011. Score a big one for Pioli here.

Moeaki showed very quickly in his rookie season that he has the base ability to make Chiefs fans put away their wish that Tony Gonzalez was still wearing red and gold. His first year numbers – 47 catches for 556 yards and 3 TD catches – far exceeded those put up by Gonzalez in his first season in 1997 (33-368-2). In fact, it wasn’t until his third season that Tony G. had numbers that equaled those of Moeaki’s first season.

On top of that, Moeaki was a much better blocker than Gonzalez was early in his career. Considering the round he was drafted, Moeaki might be the best draft choice of Pioli’s first two seasons.

4TH-ROUND – DB Donald Washington.

Although he remains on the roster and got more playing time in 2010 than he did in his rookie season, Washington ranks right behind Magee as the biggest draft disappointment of the 2009-10 classes.

He came out of Ohio State a year early and there were questions about his character around the league because of suspensions he served over his last year playing for the Buckeyes.

Athletically, he’s one of the most gifted players on the team, but it has not translated to play on the field. In two seasons, he’s played in 20 games, with a total of 27 tackles on defense and 13 on special teams. Washington doesn’t have a sack, an interception or caused/recovered a fumble. He was moved from cornerback to safety in 2010 and because of injuries actually started two games.

Washington could still bounce back in 2011. Right now he’s a miss and a big miss for a fourth rounder.

5TH-ROUND – OT Colin Brown, FS Kendrick Lewis & LB Cameron Sheffield.

In the preparation leading up to the ’09 draft, Brown was not on any team’s radar screen save one – Pioli’s. He was considered a possible free agent signee by most teams. Yet, Pioli selected him in the fifth round. Brown never played a down for the Chiefs, spending the ’09 season on the injured-reserve list and then being released before the start of the ’10 season. He’s scheduled to go to training camp with Buffalo. Brown ranks as a big miss.

While Lewis ranks as a big hit. Whether he has the package of abilities to hold a long-term spot on the back-line of the Chiefs defense remains to be seen. He missed four games because of injury, which is a concern. But when he played, he finished with 47 tackles, 3 interceptions and 1 forced fumble. That along with 10 starts on the defense is a nice contribution from a fifth rounder. In the last 10 NFL Drafts, the only other 5th-rounder to make a bigger contribution for the Chiefs as a rookie was CB Brandon Carr in 2008. Lewis was a nice hit.

Sheffield was a projection, moving from a defensive end-type spot that he played at Troy to outside linebacker. Early on the transition was slow, but at the end of the pre-season, Sheffield started to show himself. Then he suffered a neck/head injury against Philadelphia and was out for the year. He remains an unknown commodity, although he said at the end of the ’10 season that he’s been cleared to return to the field.

6TH-ROUND – QR Quinten Lawrence.

Sometimes players are drafted for one of the physical skills they possess. With Lawrence, coming out of a Division 1-AA program at McNeese State where he was hardly a record-setter, his ticket into the draft order was speed. On a team that desperately needed a receiver with speed, in Lawrence they got a speedy guy who played receiver. He showed early that his hands were questionable and not always reliable. As he went through his first training camp, there seemed no urgency on his part and he appeared overwhelmed by his entry into the NFL. Last season, was no different.

Now, after two seasons, six games, he has 1 catch for 9 yards, 2 runs on reverses for 42 yards, 16 punt returns for a 19.8-yard average and 5 tackles in the kicking game. All of those came in ’09, as he spent 14 games on the practice squad and three games (including the playoffs) as a game-day inactive player.

During the open players’ mini-camp lockout practice, Lawrence was playing defense, at cornerback. That’s a position where he saw some action in college. If he’s made the switch, it’s an indication his time in red and gold is short. Now 6th-rounders are not premier picks, it goes down as a miss for Pioli since Lawrence provided almost nothing in the way of a contribution.

7TH-ROUND – RB Javarris Williams, TE Jake O’Connell & K Ryan Succop.

In two seasons Succop goes down as one of Pioli’s top three or four draft choices. The kicker out of South Carolina has the skills to play a long time in the league, although his first two seasons have been OK, but not sensational. He’s a solid hit.

Williams is a miss and really was never much of a factor in the offense when he got minimal playing time as a rookie. In three games of action, he had 6 carries for 6 yards and did not contribute on special teams.

And what to make of O’Connell, a 7th-round TE that cost the Chiefs two draft choices when Pioli traded back into the last round to select him. In 19 games over two seasons, he’s caught 5 passes for 38 yards. On special teams he’s had just two tackles but did deflect a punt in ’09. His contribution has been as a blocker.

For a single draft choice, O’Connell might be considered a hit. For the cost of two draft choices, he’s a miss.


One Response to “Pioli & Personnel – The Draft & Rookie Free Agents”

  • July 26, 2011  - Kyle says:

    O’Connell did not cost 2 draft choices. He was picked in the 7th round of 2009′s draft for 2010′s 7th round pick.




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