The Kansas City Chiefs have the first pick in April’s draft and that means there is a lot of talk about who the team will select. The Chiefs have been linked mostly to Geno Smith and Luke Joeckel, and for good reason. Considering the Chiefs have big issues at quarterback and left tackle Branden Albert will be a free agent—both players make sense.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to anticipate what the Chiefs are going to do with their first pick, but the reality is that a lot can change in free agency. If the Chiefs sign Jake Long and Alex Smith, you wouldn’t see a lot of mock drafts with the Chiefs taking Geno Smith or Joeckel.
Things will change before April’s draft and team needs will shift as the Chiefs try to balance their roster and draft board. It’s possible that the Chiefs will be looking hard at defensive linemen in April, which is Andy Reid’s favorite position to draft with his top pick.
Star Lotulelei and Sheldon Richardson are among the favorites to land No. 1 overall. It’s just as likely that the Chiefs could want to pair cornerback Dee Milliner with Brandon Flowers. Kansas City could also move down a few spots to land a few extra picks and draft a wide receiver to replace Dwayne Bowe.
What should be painfully clear to the fans in Kansas City by now is that being a skilled talent evaluator isn’t all there is to do with building a good football team. Scott Pioli’s biggest failure was failing to bring in a quarterback, and he’s still believed by many to be a good judge of talent.
Building a team is about manipulating free agency and the draft to get the best possible players at the positions the team needs. The depth at some positions in the draft will mean that some teams will ignore those positions in free agency, while other teams might be buying cheap. The strategy matters and plays a big part in who the team drafts.
If a team were so inclined, they could have signed several quality running backs in recent years, but they didn’t because it’s far too easy to select one in the middle rounds of the draft. It’s a passing league and the position of running back has been significantly devalued in free agency.
A smart team will sign free agents to fill needs at positions where they don’t anticipate drafting a player. By the time the draft arrives, the pick fits a need that is actually there. On occasion, something unexpected happens, and that’s when you have to let your board guide the process.
The Chiefs have the first pick, but there is plenty of work to be done in free agency to make sure the draft board falls into place. The work that is done in March makes the decisions in April easy. If the new regime in Kansas City is smart (and I think they are), they will calculate every move.
There’s also a fair amount of manipulation that can be done since each team is competing with 31 other teams for these players. It’s not enough to evaluate all the players correctly or to stick to the draft board if you can’t navigate the rough waters of the NFL. The Chiefs will need to adjust on-the-fly to changing conditions.
It’s fun to speculate right now what the Chiefs might do with their pick, but things will get clearer and clearer as the team goes through each stage of the offseason. The Chiefs probably don’t even know what they want to do yet, but they will by the start of free agency. It’s best not to fall in love with one idea when things can change so drastically by April.