ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A ninth-year quarterback will have more sway over the success or failure of the Chiefs’ 2013 draft than any of their eight draft selections – a group that includes the No. 1 overall pick.
This isn’t to say that the progress of tackle Eric Fisher doesn’t matter. Far from it. But the odds are strongly in Fisher’s favor. No position has been a more reliable bet in the first few picks than offensive tackle. Further, the three previous three offensive tackles taken with the top pick -- Jake Long (Miami, 2008), Orlando Pace (St. Louis, 1997), Ron Yary (1968, Minnesota) – all lived up to the billing, although Long has been slowed by injuries since opening his career with four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and an All-Pro selection. If Long can heal, he’ll be back on track for a stellar career.
So, history is on Fisher’s side. He has all the tools to be a successful left tackle and a franchise cornerstone: size, footwork, reach and intelligence.
He’ll also have arguably the AFC’s best running back, Jamaal Charles, who will help him look his best. But it’s the quarterback he’ll be protecting, Alex Smith, who cost the Chiefs their second-round pick and whose progress will overshadow Fisher. If Smith shows the form he displayed in 2011 in leading the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship Game, the Chiefs’ quarterback problems will be settled for the foreseeable future, and they can use future drafts to supplement a solid core. If he falters, the Chiefs are back near the top of next year’s draft, and looking for a quarterback among a potentially bumper crop that could include Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron.
Beyond Fisher and the second-round pick that became Smith, the Chiefs’ draft haul offered some surprises. The first pick of the third round wasn’t; Cincinnati’s tight end Travis Kelce (No. 63) was a solid bet here, although one wonders if they would have taken him had Rice tight end Vance McDonald still been on the board; he went eight picks earlier to San Francisco. Kelce had a solid season last year – 45 receptions for 722 yards and eight touchdowns – but doesn’t have as high a ceiling as McDonald, who performed in a lesser conference but had no difficulty translating his athleticism into a terrific Senior Bowl week. Kelce should see some action right away, even though the Chiefs are solid at the position. But Kelce will be a liability as a blocker at first, so don’t be surprised if he operates in a similar role as
But the second third-round pick, Arkansas running back Knile Davis (No. 96), was a surprise – at least at that spot. The Chiefs are gambling that Davis’ size-speed blend – 232 pounds, and a 4.35-second Combine 40-yard dash time – will overcome poor performance and ball-security issues. Davis was benched last year after struggling. He needs to show that his workout, and not his film, reveals his potential, otherwise this was a significant reach.
Kansas City targeted defense with its next two picks, adding Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson (No. 99) and Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings (No. 134). Johnson might start right away, in the linebacker slot that previously belonged to the late Jovan Belcher. In that role, he’ll play about half the snaps, but for a fourth-round linebacker, that’s good value. Commings could be the steal of the Chiefs’ draft; while Commings isn’t a fast cornerback, he’s big – 6 feet and 216 pounds – and has 32-inch arms. Commings might be an eventual fit as a safety, but he’ll get a look at cornerback first, where he can be physical at the line of scrimmage and disrupt timing routes.
The Chiefs added center Eric Kush (No. 170) of California (Pa.) and Kansas State fullback Braden Wilson (No. 204) with their two sixth-round picks. Kush first popped on radars at the East-West Shrine Game and will be groomed to potentially push for a starting slot in 2014. Playing Wilson immediately isn’t necessarily the best idea; fullback has a steep learning curve and playing him extensively too soon could disrupt the Chiefs’ blocking scheme.
Kansas City’s final pick, Princeton’s Mike Catapano (No. 207 overall) has good speed (4.75 seconds) at 271 pounds, is athletic and equally effective in pass rush and against the run, logging 12 sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses last year. His size dictates that he will move from defensive end at Princeton to outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid suggested that Catapano might be used like Tamba Hali.
Perhaps the most interesting acquisition of all, though, is undrafted quarterback Tyler Bray. The Tennessee product surprisingly slipped out of the draft, and barring a horrendous camp is a good bet to stick on the Chiefs roster and be groomed as a backup. The Chiefs also signed a tight end, Demetrius Harris, who never played college football; the 6-foot-7, 230-pounder was a forward for Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s basketball team.
It’s an interesting class, but if Smith doesn’t succeed, the Chiefs will be in much the same place as they have in previous years – doomed to spin their wheels with an inconsistent quarterback. The Chiefs have been plagued with missteps there since the end of Trent Green’s tenure after the 2006 season, leaving their fans weary -- and a bit wary, too.