The Kansas City Chiefs are getting close.
After a year in which three of their premier players—Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki—all went down with season-ending knee injuries, this Chiefs team could be very close to making a deep run into the playoffs.
The question for GM Scott Pioli and new Head Coach Romeo Crennel is what player can they find in the draft who can be another difference maker on Sundays and help this team take that next step?
At the end of last season, I would've told you that the Chiefs needed to do everything in their power to trade up to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil. However, thanks to the Houston Texans, the Chiefs resolved their tackle issue with the signing of free agent Eric Winston.
Then the obvious point of need, with Charles coming off his blown ACL, would be to find another runner who could out-produce the three yards and a cloud of dust the team got out of Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle last season.
Pioli addressed that with the off-season signing of Peyton Hillis, who not only is a hard-nosed runner but an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
Beyond those two positions, there wasn't a glaring need prior to free agency for the Chiefs.
However, there are two positions where the Chiefs could grab a substantial upgrade and tip the scales in their direction for making a playoff run in 2012.
Last season, one of Pioli's key acquisitions was veteran Kelly Gregg. Gregg was brought in to fill a huge need at nose tackle and to provide a veteran influence to mentor sixth-round pick and project Jerrell Poe out of Mississippi.
Gregg, clearly on the backside of his career, produced just 39 tackles and a sack, while Poe was only on the active roster once all season. Now with just Poe on the roster as the team's only true nose tackle, it's almost certain that the Chiefs will go after one of the top prospects in the draft.
The Chiefs linebacking corps developed into one of the best in the AFC by season's end.
he passer or in pass coverage means that the Chiefs could likely upgrade in rounds one or two.
Inside, Derrick Johnson flew all over the field making plays, while outside backers Tamba Hali and rookie Justin Houston tormented opposing quarterbacks and registered a combined 17.5 sacks.
Where the Chiefs could use an upgrade however, remains on the inside opposite Johnson. The team recently re-signed veteran Javon Belcher, but his lack of versatility rushing the passer takes away from his value on the field.
Here are the Chiefs' options in the first two rounds for impact players and players who are likely starters and could help the Chiefs get back into the playoffs in 2012:
Nose Tackle - Dontari Poe, Memphis
After turning heads at the NFL Combine, with a sub-5.0 40-yard dash time and putting up 44 reps in the bench press, the 346-pound Poe is quickly rising up NFL draft boards.
Scouts have been quick to compare him to the guy who pushed Gregg out of Baltimore—the Ravens star Haloti Ngata. For the Chiefs, who have a desperate need for a disruptive influence on their defensive line, Poe would definitely fit the bill.
Inside Linebacker - Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Kuechy is elite as they come at the inside linebacker position. Not only are his instincts as good as anyone in the game, he is an absolute tackling machine (191 tackles in 2011).
Drafting Kuechy would give Crennel the flexibility to employ more blitz packages to take advantage of Johnson's athleticism, without the fear that Kuechy would miss a play behind him. That's something he can't do with Belcher in the lineup.
Nose Tackle - Devon Still, Penn State
For old-school Chiefs fans, Still's bloodline—his cousin is former Chiefs DE Art Still—will be enticing.
The former Nittany Lion has fallen from a middle of the first-round certainty to a solid player who should still be on the board when they Chiefs second pick comes around.
His production in one of college football's best conferences could allow the Chiefs to bypass the upstart Poe in round one, and opt for Still later.
Inside Linebacker - Lavonte David, Nebraska
Like Kuechly, David has been a tackling machine in his two seasons with the Cornhuskers.
He is an extremely reliable wrap-up tackler with speed, coverage skills and an unrelenting motor that would make him an excellent sideline-to-sideline option for the Chiefs.
Read more from James Adkins at kcchiefsblitz.com