The wait is almost over.
The 2012 NFL draft begins on Thursday, and that means we can finally put to rest speculation and mock drafts and let the proceedings begin.
Before we do, however, let's take one last look at the Kansas City Chiefs, who pick 11th overall in the first round.
When it comes to needs, the Chiefs don't have a ton of glaring ones. They need a long-term answer at nose tackle, but finding a consistent presence at the position is a difficult chore.
They could also stand to upgrade at the "mike" inside linebacker position, as well as adding depth to both the offensive line and safety positions.
With that in mind, here's a rundown of five players that the Chiefs should consider in the first round.
1. Mark Barron, Safety, Alabama
This is a name that hasn't been strongly linked to Kansas City throughout the pre-draft process, but he's become a hot commodity in recent days.
I plugged Barron into my most recent mock draft for the Chiefs, and he presents the best option for the team in my estimation.
From a value standpoint, Barron is arguably the second-best defensive player in the draft (behind Morris Claiborne) and would become the Chiefs' starting safety opposite of Eric Berry from day one.
For those who are wondering about what it would mean for Kendrick Lewis, keep a couple of variables in mind: The Chiefs need depth at the position, as was evidenced last year when they lost Berry to a torn ACL, and it's becoming increasingly common for teams to play with three safeties on the field in what is a pass-heavy league.
Barron could also be a staple of the defensive game plan against new division foe Peyton Manning.
Romeo Crennel used safety Jon McGraw as a primary coverage player against tight ends versus Indianapolis when the two teams played in 2010, and that's a strategy he'll be likely to continue to employ this season and beyond.
Barron can be a physical, man-to-man defender who will allow both Berry and Lewis to control the back end.
2. Luke Kuechly, Linebacker, Boston College
If Barron isn't the second-best defensive prospect in this draft, then Kuechly is.
He won practically every major defensive award that he was eligible for in college football last year. He's sharp as a tack, athletic, productive and a ready-made NFL player.
Kuechly would slide in next to Derrick Johnson and push Jovan Belcher out of his starting role, giving the Chiefs a pair of three-down linebackers. Kuechly is an excellent zone-drop player, something he showed during his time at Boston College.
The question for Kuechly is his ability to add weight to his frame.
He'd be asked to regularly take on blocks for Kansas City, and although he's shown a willingness to do so, he's a little light in the trunk as it currently stands. If he can bulk up while maintaining his athleticism, he has a chance to be a star in Kansas City.
3. Dont'a Hightower, Linebacker, Alabama
Hightower is considered by many to be a rung below Kuechly as it relates to inside linebackers, but this guy can flat-out play.
He's a comparable athlete to Kuechly, but where he separates himself is with his well-built, durable frame. At 265 pounds, Hightower possesses the girth needed to consistently take on blocks and free up space for Johnson and other defenders to run.
He did so in college, and will likely welcome the same role in the pros.
Hightower is not the pass-coverage linebacker that Kuechly is, but he would provide an upgrade and add a lot of toughness to an already promising defense in Kansas City.
One scenario to watch here would be the Chiefs considering a trade down. While I don't think Hightower is a stretch or reach at pick No. 11, the team may look into moving back a few spots to accumulate additional draft capital, and then draft the former Alabama standout.
4. David DeCastro, Offensive Guard, Stanford
The Chiefs already have five starting offensive linemen, but DeCastro is a fine guard prospect who will garner a lot of looks during the first round of the NFL draft.
He's tough, technical, strong, sufficiently athletic and a sound player who can mash on the inside of the line. He'd likely take over for Ryan Lilja as the starter at left guard, which would give the Chiefs some interior depth—something they need more of in 2012.
Here's the kicker with DeCastro: Guard is simply not enough of a premium position to invest in a guy at No. 11. This year's class has a number of solid options who could be had further down the board, and even the strongest guards in the league don't measure up in terms of value to their elite tackle brethren.
I sense DeCastro could end up being picked somewhere further down the board, but probably no later than pick No. 21 to Cincinnati.
Finally, the Chiefs may target an offensive lineman with positional flexibility. They need a third tackle, and if they could find a player who could swing between guard and tackle (much like Wade Smith), they'd be in very good shape.
5. Dontari Poe, Nose Tackle, Memphis
This scouting combine wonder presents quite the juxtaposition for NFL teams leading up to the draft.
On the one hand, Poe flashes remarkable physical abilities that one simply cannot ignore. Conversely, his game tape shows a lot of film that just doesn't measure up to his athletic abilities.
Alas, it's worth keeping in mind the most important adage in college scouting: draft traits, not production.
If the Chiefs believe enough that his superior strength and athleticism can translate to the NFL level, then Poe could become the next anchor on the interior line. If they question some of his intangibles, then he isn't worth the investment.
The Chiefs have a couple of options currently on the roster to use at the nose tackle position, and there are a few free-agent options that still remain as well.
Much like the quarterback position, you cannot try to squeeze a square peg into a round hole as it relates to nose tackles. Taking a chance on a guy who you think could be a nose tackle is not a sound option.
If the Chiefs don't see a sure-fire nose tackle game inside of Poe, then I wouldn't bet on this guy being the pick.
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