GM Pioli explains organizational thinking on big draft

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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The Kansas City Chiefs didn't just pass the test at this year's NFL draft. They aced it.

When Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News graded last weekend's draft he handed out one A+, and it was to the Chiefs. Gosselin admired every move the team made, and, frankly, so do I. They found value in every round and accomplished their pre-draft goals of landing solid players, improving team speed and identifying future leaders.

Eric Berry? Captain. Dexter McCluster? Co-captain. Javier Arenas? Captain. Six of their seven draft picks were captains of their teams, with only Troy's Cameron Sheffield keeping the Chiefs from completing the sweep. So what? So they found responsible, productive players who doubled as team leaders, which means they just helped themselves on and off the field.

The bottom line is that Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli did in this draft what I thought he failed to do in 2009, which is to nail top-rated players with every choice. I'm not sure what happened, so I decided to ask Pioli. Here are his responses:

FIRST ROUND

Eric Berry, S, Tennessee (5)

Early forecasts had the Chiefs taking Berry or the best available left tackle, with the tackle the favorite. I thought if Oklahoma State's Russell Okung slipped to them, which he did, the Chiefs would jump on the guy. But they went for Berry instead. That tells you that neither Okung nor Trent Williams was much of a consideration here, or that Berry was someone they targeted all along. It turns out that Berry was their man.

Pioli: "We kind of predicted and had a feeling what 1, 2 and 3 were going to be but weren't sure what was going to happen at four. But once 1, 2 and 3 went, we were standing there knowing we were going to get one of our top-rated players. Eric was a guy we were focused on, though there was another player up there we liked as well. But when he had the opportunity, we took Eric. We think he's a dynamic player at a position where, as a staff, we felt that during different times of the year having more speed and tackling at that position would've helped our defense. The coaches had done a study about the number of big plays we had given up and how that position was responsible for it. Along with adding what think is a really good football player, we think his makeup is off the charts. He has leadership, confidence and humility. Talk to anyone who's been around this guy at any level of his life, and they'll tell you that he is, without a doubt, a special person. I mean, this is a guy who goes down to the equipment room and helps guys clean helmets before the game. There is something different about this kid. When Eric was available, he was the guy we wanted."

SECOND ROUND

Dexter McCluster, WR/RB, Mississippi (36)

Javier Arenas, CB, Alabama, (50)

One of the second-round upsets was not having offensive coordinator and former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis talk the Chiefs into drafting quarterback Jimmy Clausen or wide receiver Golden Tate. I never figured Clausen to the Chiefs, not with the investment the club made in Matt Cassel, but Tate seemed like a natural. Ultimately, the Chiefs chose neither, and now I see why. McCluster is this year's Percy Harvin, a playmaker you can line up inside or out and someone who offers speed, versatility and return ability. Arenas is one of the best blitzing cornerbacks I've seen in years and is perfectly suited as a nickel back -- which always helps when you play in a division with Philip Rivers. Plus, he's another guy who can return punts and kicks, which made him attractive to a team that ranked no higher than 25th in either category.

Pioli: "Let's start with McCluster. With the group of coaches we have here we talked about this at length, and we love the guy's dynamic playmaking ability -- and that's everyone. Coaches. Scouts. Myself. All of us. First of all, he was one of our top-rated wide receivers, and one of our top-rated running backs. So, with that, we felt here's a guy who has dynamic playmaking ability, improves our team speed, improves our speed on offense and also gives our coaching staff flexibility to do a number of things. I think coaches will be able to put together a number of different packages where sometimes he'll be a wide receiver, and sometimes he'll be a running back. He's going to be able to do a lot of different things, so we took him. At that point, there were really three players at 36 we were talking about -- and we had to make the decision which one had the best chance of getting to 50. So we took Dexter because we thought he had the least likelihood of making it to 50. Afterward I had three calls from different people I know and trust who said he wouldn't have made it to 50. There was another guy we were considering at 36, but the other two were ahead of him. And what ended up happening was that we tried trading up earlier than 50, weren't able to get it done and the other player that we wanted went off the board. And then the next guy was Javier (Arenas), so when it came to 50 Javier was our guy.

"Our return situation on punts and kicks were abysmal last year. I think we went through five kick returners and had five punt returners. Anyway, one of our problems last year was where our offense started on the field. Too many times we had 85 yards to go. The other thing was that this was a guy who ended up being No. 2 in NCAA history in a number of different categories in punt and kick returns. So he's one of the best returners to come out in a while. Just as important to us, Javier is a guy who lines up at what we call the 'star position,' which is someone who lines up on the slot receiver in sub packages. He's done that, and he has the skill set and intelligence to do it. And let me tell you, if you can do that for [Alabama coach] Nick Saban you can do it for anybody. He was very productive for Nick as that 'slot corner,' and he was a very productive blitzer. You look at his numbers, his tackles for losses and his sacks and they're off the chart -- and that's for a corner. That's because of the position he lined up at because he was so close to the line of scrimmage. This past year he had 12 tackles for losses and five sacks, and, remember, that's for a corner. So which of them returns kicks? That's the beautiful part. Either can. We have depth at that position now."

THIRD ROUND

Jon Asamoah, G, Illinois (68)

Tony Moeaki, TE, Iowa (93)

Pioli: "We were very surprised to find Jon Asamoah still there when we picked in the third round. At that point, he was clearly our top-rated offensive lineman. This offseason we signed Ryan Lilja and Casey Wiegmann, but there's nothing wrong with getting a good young guy who doesn't need to be forced on the field immediately. Plus, he gives us depth at two positions. He started three years at guard but he practiced at center. He was (Illinois') emergency center, so if they were going to have a problem at center he was their next guy. He's strong. He's tough. He's a leader. He's humble. He's really, really smart. And he has position flexibility. We spent a lot of time with the guy, and this is one of those things where we were just happy he was there.

"With Moeaki, I know he's had some durability issues, but whenever he's been healthy he's been dynamic. He's different but somewhat similar to (tight end) Dave Thomas, whom we drafted from the University of Texas when I was at New England. Go back to Iowa's bowl game against Georgia Tech, and (Moeaki) lined up the whole day against Derrick Morgan, and wore him out. As I said, when he's healthy he's a darned good player. He's another guy who's really smart, who can line up at the 'Y' position on the line of scrimmage because of his size but whom you can also use as a 'move' guy. Basically, he's smart enough to do multiple things."

FIFTH ROUND

Kendrick Lewis, S, Mississippi (136)

Cameron Sheffield, DE, Troy (142)

Pioli: "Kendrick Lewis was a guy who was thought pretty highly of up until his workout ... and then he ran a slow time in the 40. At the combine he ran a 4.77, and it killed him. He dropped like a stone. At the Mississippi pro day he ran a 4.69, which was a little bit better but not by much. We had another time on record, a legit time, that was better than the 4.69, but I'm not a big stop watch guy. A couple of our scouts were really high on this player and pushed myself and the coaches to watch more tape on him. And that was a time where it was really important to listen to the people who were essential to this whole process. I've seen how fast this guy plays, and he’s a fast football player. Plus, he's another guy who is a leader. He and McCluster were co-captains at Ole Miss, and makeup wise he's the total package – someone who is fearless as a hitter. I watched him against Auburn running back Ben Tate, and watching the hits and the tackles and plays he made … well, it was pretty impressive. I think he's going to be a good safety. Everyone liked Kendrick Lewis until his 40 at the combine, then, all of a sudden, he disappeared and everybody wrote him off. I'm a firm believer in tape, not just numbers, and while I didn’t completely ignore [the times] -- because when you saw the speed it affected him on our board -- you go back and do more work on the guy. And what I discovered was at the combine he had a flare up of knee tendinitis. There were a couple of other guys we were talking about at this position, but he was the guy we were going to draft.

"Sheffield started at Troy as a defensive end, but we'd like to convert him to outside linebacker. He started 37 games, is a good pass rusher, is strong, can hold the point and is another guy who plays faster than what he timed. We need to get developmental players at outside linebacker, and he's a solid, solid football player, with 12.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for losses over the last two years. We think he can rush the passer, and we also think he's another good character guy who is going to help us in the locker room and who is smart enough to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. At this spot there were a couple of other considerations, but this is a spot where we said we felt a greater need at this position, so we were looking at him and one other player. And we went with him."

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