The puzzle lingers over what went awry with third-round NFL Draft pick KeiVarae Russell after he was waived with virtually no explanation a week into his rookie season.
No matter why the Chiefs gave up on him so swiftly, the selection proved a waste and the squandering of a vital and limited resource.
In his third year, linebacker Dee Ford, the Chiefs’ top pick in the 2014 draft, flashed earmarks of a breakthrough in the season opener against San Diego … but has much to prove before he demonstrates he was worth the lofty selection.
Ford’s draft classmate, De’Anthony Thomas, the fourth-round pick that year, remains stranded between mystery and disappointment. In his inactive Week One, he was boxed out by the faster, stronger Tyreek Hill — a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft whose selection was marked by the Chiefs’ tin-eared rationalization of the fact that he had pleaded guilty to beating and strangling his pregnant girlfriend in 2015.
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Hill scoring the Chiefs’ first touchdown of the season doesn’t magically erase that from his ledger, and only time will tell if he will prove rehabilitated and justify the Chiefs’ stated faith in helping him.
So, yes, the John Dorsey-Andy Reid regime has had some whiffs and to-be-determineds and curiosities in their four drafts.
But that’s not the signature of their body of work as the Chiefs prepare to play at Houston at noon on Sunday.
A franchise that they steered to its first playoff win in 22 years last season, and a team that experts believe has legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, last week against San Diego continued to substantiate the work of general manager Dorsey by featuring nine starters he drafted.
If you wanted to do some broader creative accounting of how the Chiefs have used their draft picks, quarterback Alex Smith is the product of trading two second-round selections to San Francisco — a maneuver reaping dividends with Smith thriving in continuity he had never known before.
All of which adds up to considerable benefit of the doubt that ought to be extended to Dorsey.
Infinite personnel factors and decisions have gone into the revitalization of the Chiefs under the duo, who inherited a 2-14 team and a franchise in chaos that they converted into an 11-5 playoff run the next season.
There are, of course, the eight essential holdovers from before they took over after the 2012 season: Allen Bailey; Eric Berry; Jamaal Charles (who remains listed as doubtful for Sunday); Dustin Colquitt; Tamba Hali; Justin Houston (due back later this season); Derrick Johnson and Dontari Poe.
Then there are the key free-agent signings, whether the high-profile likes of receiver Jeremy Maclin and offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz, or the alert but less-celebrated sorts, such as running back Spencer Ware (he initially was signed to a future-reserves deal and was on the practice squad before Charles’ season-ending knee injury in 2015 led to his strong impact last season and last week amassing 199 yards of total offense).
But this team’s foundation is the draft, with its most recent roster featuring 29 players who were plucked by the organization (counting Charles and Houston), and 21 by Dorsey and Reid.
That’s as it should be for an NFL franchise, of course, but the point is that for a team enjoying success, that means it has performed well in this inexact science.
That work has hinged on some astute selections, such as stars-in-the-making Travis Kelce and Marcus Peters, starters with budding potential, like receiver Chris Conley, Ford and cornerback Phillip Gaines, and four home-grown starters on the offensive line.
Two of those linemen, Parker Ehinger and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, are expected to miss the Texans game with injuries — with 2014 draftee Zach Fulton one of the known stand-ins.
Still, the season-opening composition of that line in itself tells a story of the versatility and imagination in the Chiefs’ draftwork — not to mention development.
At one end of the spectrum around 2015 second-round pick Mitch Morse at center and 2016 fourth-round pick Ehinger at left guard stands Duvernay-Tardif, a sixth-round pick out of Canada in 2014 who was seen as a gamble considering his rawness in the game.
It seemed most likely he would soon fade from view in the NFL as he continued working toward becoming a doctor. But his development, particularly in the last year, has been remarkable, his future bright.
Speaking of the last year, that brings us to the case virtually opposite Duvernay-Tardif: that of Eric Fisher, the only overall No. 1 draft pick in Chiefs history, just the third tackle taken overall No. 1 since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 and, perhaps most to the point, the first player chosen by Dorsey just weeks after he arrived in 2013.
For a long time, Fisher struggled to deliver. Injuries were part of it, and so was shuffling back and forth across the line.
But even Reid conceded earlier this week that “people got down on him early on, and rightfully so.”
Maybe that was never more so than almost exactly a year ago at Houston, where Fisher was a late scratch from the lineup, apparently because of an ankle injury.
Yet he ended up playing seven snaps, leading cynics to speculate he had come down with “J.J. Watt flu” — an aversion to taking on the menacing Texans defender.
That notion had turned entirely by later in the season, when Fisher and his teammates limited Watt (who admittedly was hobbled by a groin injury at the time) to one tackle in the Chiefs’ 30-0 playoff romp over the Texans.
That playoff game featured the indelible spectacle of Fisher shoving Watt when he was down “to finish the play,” revealing an emerging edginess that also could have been interpreted by some as a cheap shot.
A year after wondering where Fisher’s career was going, the Chiefs signed him to a four-year, $48 million extension in August.
And that serves as a fine reminder that it’s worth letting the question marks play out some before rendering judgment on a draft pick.
Dorsey’s record may not be unblemished, but overall it has been commendable and fundamental in the rebirth of the franchise.