By the end of the 2014 season, the Chiefs’ primary positions of need for 2015 began to come into focus.
On the whole, the interior offensive line struggled to consistently pass protect and win in the running game, and the receiving corps had difficulty getting open and making plays after the catch.
On defense, the inside linebackers were too inconsistent with their tackling, physicality and gap discipline against the run without injured star Derrick Johnson.
And while there are other positions the Chiefs would love to fortify — like the secondary and defensive line depth, for instance — it stands to reason that general manager John Dorsey will be forced to upgrade at the above positions of need.
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The first step toward doing that — via the draft, at least — will come at this week’s Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala. And fortunately for the Chiefs, draft analyst Eric Galko, the owner of OptimumScouting.com, says there’s plenty of talent to be mined at the game, particularly at receiver.
“It’s another fairly deep class at receiver, so we’re pretty lucky,” Galko said.
The first of four players that Galko mentioned as being intriguing fits for Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s West Coast scheme is East Carolina slot receiver Justin Hardy, who is listed at 5 feet 11 and 186 pounds and caught 121 passes for 1,494 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He’s wildly productive, he finishes away from his body and makes plays in the middle of field with coverage on him, which is huge for a slot receiver,” Galko said.
Galko says a pair of Big 10 receivers — Michigan State’s Tony Lippett (6-3, 190) and Ohio State’s Devin Smith (6-1, 198) — should also get a hard look this week. Lippett caught 65 passes for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns while Smith caught 33 passes for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“He has great length to him, but he’s a bit lean and thin, so the question is how he does against press coverage,” Galko said. “But he can win downfield, and he has a high football IQ and can come back to catch the ball.
“Smith, I wasn’t sold on him early, but over the year you noticed that him and DeSean (Jackson) have the elite ability to consistently time deep passes and go vertical,” Galko said. “It really is a remarkable skill-set, and that’s probably his best and only comparison. That skill alone will get him in the top 100 picks.”
Finally, Galko lists Auburn speedster Sammie Coates (6-2, 200), who caught 34 passes for 741 yards and four touchdowns this season as another player to watch.
“He’s a bit straight-linish, but he’s a vertical threat who reminds me of (Dallas’) Terrance Williams, even though he can do a bit more in terms of making guys miss,” Galko said. “But you can’t ask him to run a whole multitude of routes.”
On the offensive line, Galko sees three Senior Bowl tackles — LSU left tackle La’El Collins (6-5, 315), Colorado State left tackle Ty Sambrailo (6-5, 310) and Pittsburgh right tackle T.J. Clemmings (6-5, 305) as potential first-round picks.
“Collins plays with a mean streak and power, and Clemmings has extremely good length but needs development,” Galko said. “Sambrailo is more of a zone-blocking guy, maybe a bit like the Giants’ Justin Pugh.”
Add Duke guard Laken Tomlinson (6-3, 330) to the mix, and Galko contends offensive line is certainly a loaded position in Mobile.
“We could have maybe (four) first-round picks,” Galko said.
The Senior Bowl’s crop of inside linebackers took a bit of a hit with the news that UCLA’s 6-foot, 230-pound star Eric Kendricks — who finished with a ridiculous 145 tackles in 13 games — would miss the week with a hamstring injury. But Galko remains high on him.
“He’s very active and he doesn’t take too many false steps,” Galko said. He can finish on the perimeter and not lose balance on the inside. He’s probably best suited for a 4-3, though.”
Galko, however, is high on another smaller linebacker, Hayes Pullard (6-0, 230), as a fit in the Chiefs’ defense. Pullard was a team captain who finished with 95 tackles this season for USC.
“He’s a high IQ guy who can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense because he has ideal bulk and has worked on his coverage,” Galko said.