Of course, for most Chiefs fans who've suffered through a four-win season, the draft has already been a heavy topic of discussion for several months. But since the NFL's annual scouting combine is set to kick off in two weeks, the issue is about to officially take center stage.
Unfortunately, unlike most years, I can't say I'm looking forward to it all that much. Because of the precedent the Chiefs set a year ago in drafting Tyson Jackson, many attempts at rational draft discussion are going to be heaved out the window over the coming months.
Going into the last draft, few if any considered Jackson a viable candidate to be taken with the third overall pick. While word leaked out about a day beforehand that a few 3-4 teams had a higher view of Jackson than most, even then many assumed the talk to be nothing more than pre-draft smokescreens and posturing.
A few days before last year's draft, I put together a piece on the Chiefs' top six prospects that incorporated the rankings of football's best-known draftniks – ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, and the NFL Network's Mike Mayock.
Out of the multiple draft outlets I used, only one analyst – Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News – actually considered Jackson to be among the draft's 10 best players. It was only because of his inclusion on Gosselin's Top 10 that I even included Jackson among the list of potential Chiefs' picks in my column.
This year, because the Chiefs took a player who nobody figured would be drafted that early, it's nearly impossible to rule out anyone at the #5 spot. If you've been talking about the draft with your friends, you've probably had a conversation resembling this:
"Hey, how about Alabama DT Terrence Cody with the fifth pick?"
"Well, most people have him falling into the second round now. Maybe we can grab him there."
"Yeah, but he might be gone then. And he would fill a need at nose tackle. That's important in a 3-4 defense, you know. I think they should take him."
"Come on, they would be crazy to take him at #5."
"You never know! They took Tyson Jackson!"
In the past, when discussing what the Chiefs might do with their first pick, we were normally able to come to a consensus and narrow things down to a small handful of players. But the decision to take Jackson has blown the doors wide open.
Do you have a friend who wants the Chiefs to draft a tight end to replace Tony Gonzalez at #5? How about a guard? Or Tim Tebow? The decision to reach on Jackson makes almost any suggestion defensible. No matter how ridiculous your friend's position may be, once he says "Nobody thinks they'll take my guy, but nobody thought they'd take Jackson either," the discussion is over and he's won.
It's going to be a difficult few months.
For our purposes here, though, we're going to assume – perhaps "hope" is a better word – that the Chiefs resist the urge to shock us with their first selection. Several extremely talented players will be available at #5 without the need for a reach.
And let's be honest – coming off three straight seasons with four wins or less, the Chiefs' new regime can't let doubt and disillusionment to start creeping in.
A year ago, after all the excitement and jubilation of hiring Scott Pioli, a lot of people came away from his first draft feeling a bit underwhelmed. It wasn't just Jackson – more than a few things occurred on draft weekend that could make you go "hmm." In time, Pioli may well have the last laugh on all of it. Nearly a year later, though, most of the decisions that were questioned back then aren't looking much clearer today.
Despite those issues and some questionable decisions in free agency, many were content to give Pioli the benefit of the doubt. His first year was written off as an evaluation season where he simply tried to steady the ship while analyzing the many needs of the Chiefs' roster. That's all well and good, but we can all agree that the evaluation season has ended.
Now it's time for Pioli to deliver.
Between the draft and free agency, if the upcoming offseason produces more of the same underwhelming reactions and overall confusion that last year's did, it won't mean the Chiefs made another round of bad decisions. But we just finished a season where several questionable moves didn't pan out. It's going to be hard to bite our tongues and hope that, this year, those types of decisions will suddenly start to pay dividends.
This year's draft is going to be of critical importance – for Pioli, for the Chiefs, and for a fan base that hasn't seen much to get excited about on the field for the last few years. And it all starts at pick #5.
Be sure to come back over the next two weeks as, from a Chiefs' perspective, we'll weigh the pros and cons of some of the draft's top prospects.
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