The Chiefs could be poised to take advantage of one of the deepest interior defensive line drafts in recent memory.
With Jaye Howard and Mike DeVito, two significant contributors this season, slated to become unrestricted free agents in March, it’s safe to say the Chiefs could have a need there, even with a pair of good, young interior stalwarts — nose tackle Dontari Poe, 25, and defensive end Allen Bailey, 26 — under contract for 2016.
Poe, however, played through back issues this season and is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Given the Chiefs’ recent habit of using their first picks to fortify premium positions a year ahead of potential free-agent departures, you can’t count out the chances of them using the 28th overall pick this year on an interior defensive lineman — a position that happens to be unusually strong.
“It’s a defensive draft,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “It’s the best interior defensive line I’ve seen, maybe, since I’ve started doing this.”
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Mayock isn’t alone in that assessment.
“This is one of the deepest defensive tackle classes I’ve ever seen,” said Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller.
Mayock said the way the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 — with a suffocating, deep pass rush at all five positions along the line of scrimmage — is a continuation of a league-wide emphasis on affecting the quarterback, a trend that began about five years ago as the NFL morphed into a pass-first league.
“So what you saw from Von Miller in that defensive front of Denver is what teams have been trying to build for the last four or five years,” Mayock said. “And I think the good news is, we’re so deep on defense — those defensive tackles and corners, especially — it’s gonna be a good year for those groups.”
In fact, so good for interior defensive linemen that Mayock said he’s heard 10 to 12 defensive tackles have received first-round grades from various teams this year.
But at the end of the first round, wise teams typically select the best player available. If that player happens to be an interior defensive lineman, Mayock really likes some of the options that could be there.
Among the ones he expects to be off the board: Oregon’s DeForest Buckner (6-7, 287), Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche (6-4, 296) and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins (6-2, 287). However, Alabama has two impact first-rounders in Jarran Reed (6-3, 311) and A’Shawn Robinson (6-4, 320) who fit what the Chiefs do from a scheme perspective, Mayock said.
“One or both of those guys could be there, I would guess,” Mayock said.
Mayock also likes UCLA’s Kenny Clark (6-2, 310), Baylor’s Andrew Billings (6-2, 310) — “probably the best pure nose tackle in this draft, strong as can be, probably more of a two-down guy” — and Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler (6-3, 325).
“Butler is a guy that could do a lot of jobs and fits what Kansas City does,” Mayock said. “He could play nose, he could play five-technique. He’s a really intriguing player.”
The options don’t end there. Miller mentioned several of the same players that Mayock did, and a few second-round possibilities as well, including Penn State’s Anthony Zettel (6-4, 258) and Texas’ Hassan Ridgeway (6-4, 307).
“Could a guy like Anthony Zettel maybe play a three-tech as a subpackage guy? I definitely think he could,” Miller said. “I like Hassan Ridgeway from Texas in round two. He could play the nose, but he’s also moved around on that D-line for the Longhorns. Played some one-tech, played some zero, played some three. He’s a top-50 to 60 player who could definitely be there in round two and make a pretty early impact.”
But even if the Chiefs pass on some of these guys early in the draft to fortify other positions of need, there’s enough depth in this year’s draft to get tremendous value at the position, provided it is addressed at some point.
“I think what you’re gonna see happening with that interior defensive line group — and I had this discussion with a lot of people, and this is how good it is — you could wait until the third or fourth round this year and get a defensive tackle that, in past drafts, was a first- or second-rounder,” Mayock said.