Kansas City Chiefs Should Go Defense Early in Draft


Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Enough already! Everyone says the Kansas City Chiefs need to take a wide receiver with their first pick in the draft. Draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both came out with new draft projections this past Wednesday and they both had the Chiefs taking a receiver (albeit, different players).

Believe me when I tell you that I’m not a big fan of the current group. I like Dwayne Bowe‘s physicality and hands and I am actually somewhat smitten with A.J. Jenkins‘ potential but the rest of the group isn’t doing much for me. On the whole, they drop too many balls and they fail too often to correctly read coverages often leaving Alex Smith hung out to dry.

But here’s the thing, the Chiefs didn’t really have much difficulty scoring points during the last half of the season. In fact, they averaged 31 points per game after week 8, including the 44 points they scored in the playoff loss to Indianapolis without Jamaal Charles. Meanwhile, the defense gave up an average of 28 points over that same time frame.

Given that kind of offensive production, and that sort of suspect defensive play, I’m not sure why there is so much focus on taking a wide receiver in the first round, particularly with the depth at the position. Let’s also not forget that typically, it takes wide receivers two or three seasons before they truly start to understand the complexities of the game and produce.

Of course, there are always exceptions but trust me when I say there is no A.J. Green or Calvin Johnson in this year’s draft. The Chiefs should take a receiver later when there’s better value to be had and consider looking to free agency for a stop-gap solution.

Conversely, the Chiefs defense was great early in the season. Some of that was a product of the caliber of opponents but, in this league it’s not easy to do what the Chiefs did during the first 9 weeks and it wasn’t until week 9 that they finally gave up more than 17 points.

Part of their success may have been due in part to the fact that there wasn’t much film on the Chiefs running this scheme. Moreover, guys like Justin Houston and Dontari Poe took the expected steps forward having put their rookie seasons behind them and learned the ropes a bit.

Then the wheels fell off. After week 9, the Chiefs defense didn’t even resemble the squad we saw earlier in the year. Again, a combination of factors contributed to this, including the league finally catching up with the Chiefs scheme and personnel.

The film from early in the season revealed their tendencies and weaknesses and teams adjusted. Finally, perhaps the most significant impact on the defense was injuries. Most notably, key injuries to Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Mike Devito, and Tyson Jackson. There were also some issues in my view with the play-calling and offensive execution at times that resulted in the defense being put in some bad situations.

In hindsight, what jumped out to me as I reviewed the season was that this team, for all the talent in the starting lineup, really lacks depth and there are a couple of spots in the secondary that were, in my opinion, exposed as the season progressed.

In fact, I may have lost years off my life as a consequence of some of the epically bad secondary play the Chiefs displayed, particularly when facing the likes of Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Andrew Luck. Against those three alone, the defense yielded as follows…

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Manning: 323yds/1TD
Rivers: 392yds/3 TDs
Manning: 403yds/5 TDs
Luck: 241yds/1TD
Rivers: 229 yds/3 TDs
Luck: 443/4 TDs

In my view, anything the team can do to avoid having Kendrick Lewis and Sean Smith on the field would be a good thing. Your starting Free Safety MUST get more than 1 INT throughout the year and I can’t even count the number of times both Lewis and Smith either blew an assignment or just flat out got beat. I’m still suffering from flashbacks of T.Y. Hilton running free through the Chiefs secondary.

Of course, we all remember poor Marcus Cooper getting owned by Denver’s Eric Decker to the tune of 8 catches for 174 yards and 4 touchdowns. But Cooper is a rookie and as I indicated in a previous column, we typically see the most improvement in a player between his rookie season and his sophomore stint. He’s also not the starter so there’s time to develop him.

Besides, that was not a typical performance for Cooper and I don’t think it will ever happen again. I saw flashes out of Cooper that made me think the kid may actually be a player. He did have 3 INTs last year and he’s shown a nasty streak that I think will distinguish him in the future, particularly now that he’s learned all those valuable rookie lessons.

Fortunately, the solution may very well be available when the Chiefs pick 23rd. Alabama Safety Hasean Clinton-Dix or Louisville safety Calvin Pryor may be available and both are top notch upgrades to the current incumbents. Rob Rang at CBS Sports has already projected the Chiefs will take Clinton-Dix.

Clinton-Dix is a big hitter with good speed and anticipation who comes from a top-notch program while Pryor is another big hitter with good speed and great hands whose game is actually very similar to Clinton-Dix. Some project them both to be gone no later than the 17th pick but others think they may slip a little and both or one could easily still be there at 23.

If neither are available, the Kansas City Chiefs need to be thinking cornerback. Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard leaps to mind. He’s a tough kid with the physicality to give opposing receivers real problems. It also doesn’t hurt that many “experts” think he’s the best cover guy in the draft.

If the Chiefs insist upon putting Sean Smith on the field, wouldn’t it be great to see him at safety rather than corner. He’s got the size to be a solid safety and he wouldn’t get continually left on an island in single coverage.

Failing that, taking the best available defender on the board should be the priority. Hali and Johnson are starting to get older, we can always use some depth on the line, and in particular, getting Dontari Poe some help would probably be a very good thing.

Anyway, I know a lot of folks think I’m probably a little “out there” with this column but that’s just how I see it. I look forward to hearing yours.