Chiefs draft primer: Top needs, potential picks and surprise scenarios
Most important positions of need
• 1. Receiver: The Chiefs desperately need a fresh dose of youth and talent here. Dwayne Bowe will soon turn 30, and No. 2 receiver Donnie Avery offers the speed Chiefs coach Andy Reid likes but needs to be more consistent. A.J. Jenkins and Junior Hemingway are young receivers with upside, but the fact the Chiefs pursued Emmanuel Sanders this offseason makes it clear this is a position they feel they need to upgrade. Reid prefers receivers with good hands who can beat press coverage, but a player with a vertical skill set would be intriguing. A slot receiver would also be nice after the loss of No. 3 receiver Dexter McCluster.
• 2. Offensive line: As it stands, the Chiefs will have one of the youngest offensive lines in the league. The departure of last year’s starters at right guard, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, means third-year pro Rishaw Johnson is the projected starter there. He offers some upside but is unproven, so perhaps the Chiefs will decide to upgrade there. Chances are the Chiefs will draft a tackle who has the potential to play guard but can also provide insurance for young starting tackles Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson.
• 3. Pass rusher: Tamba Hali turns 31 this year and has cap numbers totaling $23.5 million during the next two seasons. The Chiefs could save a lot of money by cutting Hali after the season, so perhaps they will draft his replacement now. Pass-rushing outside linebackers make the 3-4 defense go, and if the Chiefs take one in this draft, they can team him with Justin Houston to form a strong duo for years to come.
• 4. Cornerback: The Chiefs have a lot of money tied up in this position, and for the money, you can certainly do a lot worse than Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers. But Flowers is coming off a down year and Smith must be more consistent. Both players’ lack of long speed hurt them at times last season. The same also can be said for Marcus Cooper, a big corner who flashed ball skills but hit the rookie wall. Chris Owens is a speedy veteran who was signed this offseason and should improve the athleticism of the group. If the Chiefs decide to move on from Flowers after the season — he has a cap number of $11.5 million in 2015 and doesn’t quite fit the scheme — perhaps it’s best they draft his replacement now.
• 5. Safety: The Chiefs are essentially set at strong safety with Eric Berry, though he spends much of his time as a linebacker in nickel situations. Veteran Husain Abdullah was impressive in limited action last season and should get first crack as the starting free safety, though 2013 fifth-round pick Sanders Commings will also get a shot. The Chiefs believe Commings has the speed and instincts to play “center field” in their system, but was hurt most of last season and must prove he can stay healthy.
Possible targets at positions of need
• WR Marqise Lee, Southern California (Round 1): Durability is the only question with Lee, a tough, competitive big-play receiver who is a perfect fit as a vertical threat in coach Andy Reid’s offense.
• WR Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (Round 4): Tough, competitive slot receiver with good hands who knows how to get open and boasts excellent intangibles.
• WR Ryan Grant, Tulane (Round 6): Possesses exceptional hands and was impressive at Senior Bowl practices. Needs to get stronger but could be an interesting developmental receiver.
• G Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA (Round 1): Needs to get stronger, but possesses the size (6 feet 4, 307 pounds) and athleticism to excel as a run blocker in the Chiefs’ zone-running scheme.
• T Billy Turner, North Dakota State (Round 3): Level of competition is a concern, and he needs to improve his technique but has the quickness and strength to develop into a starter, particularly at guard.
• G Brandon Thomas, Clemson (Round 5): Torn ACL in predraft workout could affect his draft stock, but has big hands and long arms for a guard and is athletic enough to get to the second level as a zone blocker.
• OLB Dee Ford, Auburn (Round 1): Productive rush linebacker in the nation’s toughest conference, he had 10 1/2 sacks in 2013. Lacks size (6 feet 2, 252 pounds) and has durability concerns but gives great effort.
• OLB Marcus Smith, Louisville (Round 3): The 2013 American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year, Smith racked up 14 1/2 sacks last season. Lacks bulk (6 feet 3, 251 pounds) and needs to be coached up but is an intriguing developmental player.
• OLB Howard Jones, Shepherd (Round 5): Super-productive small-college pass rusher with impressive athleticism (4.60 40-yard dash). Needs to bulk up — is only 6 feet 2 and 235 pounds — but is an intriguing developmental prospect.
• CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (Round 1): Gilbert seems to be all over teams’ boards as draft analysts have him going as high as No. 10 to Detroit or as low as the mid-20s. If he does fall that low, the Chiefs could be hard-pressed to pass on one of the most athletic corners in the draft, someone with proven ball skills who is inconsistent and needs to improve his technique.
• CB Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State (Round 3): Big, 6-foot-2 corner with very good timed speed (4.45) and the physicality general manager John Dorsey likes in a cornerback. Also started seven games at safety in 2013. Only three career interceptions.
• CB Walt Aikens, Liberty (Round 6): Illinois transfer has the size (6 feet 1, 205 pounds) and press-man ability the Chiefs like, though his technique and eye discipline need to improve.
• S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois (Round 1): With the top two safeties (Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor) expected to be off the board by the time the Chiefs pick in the first round, they would have to reach to get a gifted, versatile player like Ward.
• S Marqueston Huff, Wyoming (Round 3): Smart and athletic, Huff is a cornerback who also played safety. Needs to improve his technique and ball skills but covers a ton of ground and is a willing run defender.
• S Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State (Round 5): Smart, competitive safety who has experience making calls, can tackle and can play zone coverage. Is short (5 feet 10, 211 pounds) and doesn’t have great speed or range.
1. The Chiefs take a tight end in the first round.
The Chiefs still have high hopes for Travis Kelce, an athletic tight end they selected in the third round last year whose rookie season was wiped out because of a knee injury. Coach Andy Reid knows how to use two athletic tight ends in his offense, and while Anthony Fasano and Sean McGrath are solid, they aren’t dynamic downfield threats. Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a big, athletic guy who looks the part and is projected to go in the second round. But perhaps the 4.56 40-yard dash he reportedly ran in a recent workout is enough to entice teams at the bottom of the first round (like the Chiefs) to take a chance on him.
2. The Chiefs take a quarterback in the first round.
This is a long shot because the Chiefs traded away two second-round picks for Alex Smith. But Reid loves to develop quarterbacks, and he and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson are masters at it. If an intriguing talent such as Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater falls to them at No, 23, perhaps they draft him, let him sit a year behind Alex Smith and hand him the reins if Smith walks as a free agent. Doing so would save the Chiefs millions on the cap in the next five years, which could be intriguing because money could again be tight next offseason if Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston sign lucrative extensions. The quarterback doesn’t necessarily have to be a first-round guy, either — someone like Georgia’s Aaron Murray has the smarts and short-to-intermediate accuracy to make Reid’s West Coast offense work.
3. What about a trade?
With no second-round pick, it’s safe to say the Chiefs will entertain a trade down. Perhaps the best-case scenario is that one of the top-tier quarterbacks falls and QB-needy teams at the top of the second round try to trade up to bypass Cleveland, which could easily take a quarterback with the No. 26 overall pick. The Chiefs could also restock their supply of picks by trading a veteran such as linebacker Tamba Hali or cornerback Brandon Flowers, but with this draft being so deep, they wouldn’t fetch much in return.
That said, the best way to acquire a premium pick or two is by trading safety Eric Berry, who is young enough (25) and talented enough (three Pro Bowls) to command a nice return. Trading good, young players is always risky, but Berry has cap numbers totaling nearly $20 million the next two seasons and plays a position (strong safety) that is not as important as free safety in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme. If the Chiefs don’t believe Berry can play free safety, perhaps it’s best to trade him and draft his replacement now. Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said Friday that there are a lot of intriguing box safeties in this draft.