What Would Pioli Do?

Two years ago, as we all debated what the Chiefs might do with the fifth overall pick in the draft, I wrote a series of columns called "What Would Herm Do?" Now we have to change that.

The premise was pretty basic. First, I laid out a few different scenarios for the draft's first four picks. Then by taking what we knew about the proclivities of former Chiefs' head coach Herm Edwards, I tried to determine which of the still-available players he'd draft at #5.

With a brand new regime in control of the franchise, I didn't continue the concept a year ago. But this year, with the Chiefs back in the #5 spot and everyone having a little more insight into general manager Scott Pioli, I thought I'd give it another try.

The first four picks, after all, will be critical in determining which players the Chiefs will have to choose from. I made up a handful of four-pick mock drafts for the columns back in 2008, but not a single one involved Glenn Dorsey falling to the Chiefs. That's the beauty of the draft. A player everyone wants the team to select might already be gone, and a player nobody thought would be available might fall right into their laps.

For our purposes here, we'll assume the Chiefs can't trade down and have to take someone at #5. After all, simply saying "they'll trade down" would be way too easy.

We'll take a look at the first four picks, discuss the top names that are still available, and then ask the question: What Would Pioli Do?

Draft Scenario #1

For our first go-round, we'll look a scenario that – while perhaps outdated now – seemed to be reflected in tons of early mock drafts.

1) St. Louis Rams - Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
The Rams are in desperate need of a quarterback, but they feel they just can't pass up on a potential game-changer on their defensive line. Not only should Suh be a force on his own, he might make that investment in former #2 overall pick Chris Long start looking better.

2) Detroit Lions - Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma
All set at quarterback after drafting Matt Stafford, the Lions weigh the merits of an offensive tackle, but happily take the higher-rated McCoy to plug the inside of their defensive line.

3) Tampa Bay Bucs – Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
The Bucs were hoping to see one of the defensive tackles fall to their spot. But since both of them are gone, they look to the next best defensive player in the draft instead. With the connection both sides have to defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Berry to Tampa Bay is a natural fit.

4) Washington Redskins – Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State
For the last several weeks, many assumed the Redskins were debating between a quarterback and a tackle. With their recent trade for Donovan McNabb, upgrading his protection becomes a no-brainer.

5) Kansas City Chiefs - ?
If the board fell this way for the Chiefs, the list of best available players would start with Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen, the top two quarterbacks in the draft. But would the team actually consider drafting either one of them?

Let's look at the facts. Matt Cassel didn't exactly light the world on fire in 2009, and he's due a large roster bonus if he's still on the team in 2011. As for Brodie Croyle, we have to assume his unfortunate injury history pretty well eliminates him from getting serious consideration as the full-time starter.

There's no doubt that Cassel dealt with some tough circumstances last year. Other than injury, it's hard to imagine worse circumstances for a quarterback than spending an entire offseason learning a certain offense, only to have the whole thing scrapped two weeks before the season.

But when looking ahead to 2010, Todd Haley's decision has given the entire squad a jump on learning his scheme. When the upcoming campaign gets under way, Cassel will have had both a full season and a full offseason in the system. Add in the addition of Charlie Weis and there are certainly reasons to hope that Cassel can improve.

However, as we've covered here at WPI in the past, there are also some perfectly valid reasons to think he won't.

If Cassel struggles his way through 2010, the team will have two unpleasant options to choose from: cut him to avoid paying the bonus he's due, leaving the team with nothing at quarterback, or keep him and pay him money he hasn't earned because the team has left itself with no alternative.

Someone might say "If Cassel plays badly, can't we just draft a quarterback next year?" That's certainly a possibility. But it's also possible that the Chiefs won't find themselves in a position to do so.

The 2010 schedule has seven games against teams that are picking in the top 10 of this year's draft. Even if Cassel doesn't play any better, the easier schedule alone might account for a few extra wins. That could push the Chiefs' first-round draft pick past the point where the top quarterbacks are taken.

In other words, in a worst-case scenario, the Chiefs could have nothing at quarterback a year from now. And to make matters worse, they could have passed on a potential franchise QB not once but twice -- in 2009 with Mark Sanchez and again in 2010 with Bradford, Clausen, or both.

So will Pioli take any steps to avoid this potential disaster? Much like San Diego did a few years ago with Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, the Chiefs could draft a quarterback, sit him, and see what happens with the incumbent starter.

But I can't see Pioli doing it. I wrote last year that the Chiefs should consider drafting Sanchez to sit behind Cassel, but that didn't happen. The Chiefs let Weis' protégé Brady Quinn head to Denver for pennies on the dollar. I can cross my fingers and wish all day for the team to get some insurance in case Cassel doesn't pan out, but I've seen nothing whatsoever to suggest they'll actually do it.

So let's eliminate the quarterbacks from the equation. Who's next? An offensive lineman, perhaps?

I've made my feelings on that topic pretty clear over the last several weeks. With the options for Branden Albert being narrowed down to right or left tackle, I don't think moving him is in the cards. Switching him to guard was one thing, but right tackle makes no sense. And with Okung already off the board, they would have to go and reach for a tackle to make this nonsense scenario possible.

Even though it's the favorite theory of the mainstream media, I don't think Pioli drafts a tackle.

So who's left? At this point, we could look at some of the "best player available" candidates who don't fill immediate needs for the Chiefs. But if we learned anything from Pioli last year, it's that he doesn't mind dropping down a bit and plucking someone who can fit into the team's system.

Receiver Dez Bryant might be a wildcard, but at this point I can't see Pioli touching him with a ten-foot pole. So we can probably narrow the choice down to two players: Alabama linebacker Rolondo McClain or Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams.

To put it simply, I don't think there's any way Pioli will draft McClain with the #5 pick. While discussing Aaron Curry a year ago, there were lots of debates about the value – or lack thereof – in taking an inside linebacker so high in the draft.

Ultimately, we got a glimpse of Pioli's opinion on that topic. Curry was there at the Chiefs' pick, he was one of the top players available, and Pioli opted to reach for Tyson Jackson instead. If the top linebacker prospect in the draft falls to the Chiefs and Pioli still looks elsewhere, it tends to suggest that ILB isn't a position he puts a high premium on.

With that in mind, I can't see Pioli turning around and deciding to make a reach at the very same position he passed over a year earlier. And McClain would indeed be a reach at #5 – most analysts have him ranked outside the draft's 10 best prospects.

We also have to factor in the recent revelation that McClain suffers from Crohn's disease. Like most ailments, Crohn's is a condition that affects everyone differently. McClain, thankfully, only seems to have a mild case that he's been managing since his freshman year in high school.

But there's no guarantee it'll always stay that way. Reports say he never had to leave a game at Alabama because of the condition, but it's impossible to say that such a thing won't happen in the future. The fact that it flared up during his pro day seems troubling, since he surely would have done everything in his power to prevent that from happening.

By itself, the Crohn's issue may not be a major concern. But combined with what saw from Pioli last year where a linebacker was concerned, it becomes the icing on the cake. The end result here is that we cross off McClain at #5. If the Chiefs can trade down, then McClain becomes as likely as anyone. But I just can't see him going at five.

That leaves Williams as the winner by default. Of course, given that Pioli passed over an inside linebacker for a defensive lineman a year ago, it shouldn't be a surprise that Williams would get the nod here. A nose tackle is critical to a 3-4 defense and Williams is considered the best among those prospects.

Of course, that doesn't mean he's without his flaws. Before his senior season, Williams was considered something of an underachiever at Tennessee. Did he finally manage to turn the corner? Was he coasting until he knew his future finances were at stake? Was he just the beneficiary of a much-heralded NFL mind like Kiffin taking over a college defense? These are questions that need to be answered if he's going to be the Chiefs' pick.

We also can't ignore the sad fact that Williams would be another Jackson-like reach.

In reality, with the two top quarterbacks still available for the taking, this scenario might result in some decent trade-down offers. There are always a few QB needy teams, and the #5 pick would give them their pick of the litter. If teams don't want to run the risk of someone else jumping ahead of them, perhaps they'll look to move up.

But for our purposes, we're making a pick at #5. And given the way our board has shaken out, we've turned in our card.

5) Kansas City Chiefs – Dan Williams, NT, Tennessee
That's only my opinion, though. What do you think Pioli would do in this situation? Let your voice be heard at the WPI message boards.

Next week, we'll look at a brand new draft scenario and see how it impacts the Chiefs' top pick.

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