SAM MELLINGER

Even by playing it safe, there are no sure things in the NFL Draft

Updated: 2013-04-25T22:44:33Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

— They say there is no surer commodity in the NFL Draft than a premiere left tackle, so by that logic the Chiefs are in a terrific position to make the first overall pick Thursday. You know the parameters by now. Many scouts believe Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher will be among the NFL’s best five or so left tackles fairly soon.

If you can’t have Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III at the top of the draft, a premiere left tackle is a fine consolation.

There’s just one catch: left tackles aren’t the sure thing they’re often made out to be.

Or, to put it more precisely: they are a sure thing only in the relative terms of the educated guesswork of the NFL Draft.

As fun as it is to make grand declarations about the draft — and you’ve been hearing them for months — it’s worth remembering that the people making those grand declarations are just guessing. That’s all.

Consider that of the eight left tackles taken with top five picks in the last decade, only three have made Pro Bowls. So you might find an anchor like Jake Long (first overall in 2008 and a Pro Bowler his first four seasons), but you also might waste time and money on a bust like Jason Smith (second overall in 2009 and now a backup with his third team).

There are no sure things, in other words, no matter how hard we pretend otherwise.

Scott Pioli’s personal style aside, he’d probably still be in charge of the Chiefs if he drafted better. The draft record in Green Bay is the biggest reason John Dorsey is now the general manager.

The Chiefs have fallen behind the last four years. Nobody in football disagrees with that. In the 2008 draft, the Chiefs got Branden Albert, Brandon Flowers, Jamaal Charles and Brandon Carr. But since then, their best players are Eric Berry, Justin Houston and … Kendrick Lewis? Javier Arenas? Ryan Succop?

Meanwhile, the Packers have drafted better than anyone else in the NFL during the last decade or so, but even replacing Pioli with Dorsey isn’t the sure thing it has been labeled by some.

The Packers’ last two classes have yet to produce a regular starter (though 2011 second-rounder Randall Cobb has made a nice impact as a receiver and returner). They could’ve used a running back last year, but selected defensive end Nick Perry three spots ahead of Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie. This is all nitpicking. You could do this with any team.

The point here is that as the NFL Draft has morphed from administrative function to enormous three-day television event — more people watched last year’s first round than the NBA Western Conference finals — there’s been a tendency by many to overreact and oversell.

The draft is critical, no question, as much in the NFL as in Major League Baseball. But Dorsey doesn’t have a secret, and he’ll be the first to admit it. He works hard and plays the percentages. It’s not magic, and he’s mostly working with the scouts and football operations folks who were with the Chiefs when he was hired.

So the overreaction comes when we try to instantly decide winners and losers. Remember the joy around Kansas City when Glenn Dorsey was supposed to be the best player in the 2008 draft? The overselling comes when we try to convince each other we know it was a good pick or a bad pick. Taking stands and arguing them into the barstool is part of sports’ charm, but nothing turns guessers into experts like the NFL Draft.

There is an inside joke among many who work inside the NFL that picks up this time of year. You will hear draftniks talk about players rising up or falling down boards, sometimes in the wake of news about a past injury or 40-time that the people making the actual decisions already know.

This information is leaked to someone in the media, always with an agenda of some sort, so that the guessers’ ranking of a player “rises” or “falls” closer to where the NFL consensus had him the whole time.

What’s really happening is the guessers are catching up with the teams making the real picks. And those teams making the real picks are guessing, too. This is a world without sure things — including top left tackles.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow him at Twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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