It has been a mind-blowing 34 years since the Chiefs have drafted a quarterback in the first round. It is a ridiculous streak and might stretch to 35 years, depending on what they do with the 27th overall pick in this NFL Draft.
But if the Chiefs once again pass on selecting a quarterback — a fate so many fans seemed resigned to — it certainly won’t be because of a lack of information, as the club has conducted, or plans to conduct, formal interviews with several top quarterbacks at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Among them: Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II, Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman, who all mentioned during their media sessions Friday that they had formal interviews scheduled with the Chiefs.
Historically, formal interviews are often indicators of a team’s interest because each club only gets 60 15-minute sit-downs with prospects during the combine.
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Of the six known quarterbacks the Chiefs scheduled sit-down interviews with Kizer, Trubisky and Watson have consistently been talked about as first-round picks, with Mahomes, Kaaya and Peterman all garnering second-day buzz.
On the surface, the Chiefs’ interest in investing a high pick on a quarterback might seem weird, considering they’ve spent the better part of a month making it clear that Alex Smith will be their starter in 2017. Most recently, chairman Clark Hunt echoed the previous statements of coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey on the matter to The Star, seemingly putting to bed the national speculation about Smith’s job security following the Chiefs’ disappointing 18-16 home playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
But when he spoke to The Star at the Pro Bowl last month, Smith seemed to understand that good teams always make sure the talent pipeline at the game’s most-important position never runs dry.
“If I were running a team, of course you would continue to bring in young talent — are you kidding me, the quarterback touches the ball every single play,” Smith said at the time. “It’s hard to develop guys, it’s hard to find guys. Every year, you want to be taking a shot — that’s just smart football.”
So to that end, it certainly looks like the Chiefs are doing their due diligence. In a positive development for Chiefs fans hoping to see the team finally take a quarterback early, CBS draft analyst Rob Rang says none of the prospects had any glaring physical concerns.
“The most exciting part of it, if you’re looking for a quarterback, is that all of them came in at least adequate size,” Rang said of the group, who all stood at least 6 feet 2 and weighed at least 220 pounds. “The big question was whether Mitch Trubisky was going to come in at 6-2, and he did that. Was Deshaun Watson going to come in lower than 220? He was not. All of them have at least 9-inch hands. So for all the talk and all the concern about size for quarterbacks, that’s not going to be the issue this year.”
This means teams get to evaluate players on sheer ability this year. And when asked Thursday what he cares about when doing that, Dorsey listed five key traits: mental toughness, mental quickness, athletic feet, arm strength and accuracy. He did not, of course, specify in the order in which he values them, though the Chiefs’ draft history since Dorsey’s arrival might offer a clue.
Aaron Murray and Kevin Hogan, the club’s fifth-round quarterback selections since 2013, share similar traits. They each were four-year college starters, and came from pro-style offenses that included verbiage somewhat similar to the lengthy playcalls Reid is known for. Each player was also asked to make NFL-like progressions in college and had good enough athleticism to throw on the run. Each player’s deficiencies, namely arm talent and mechanics/footwork, eventually led to their release in September.
This year’s crop of quarterbacks, as you might expect given the Chiefs’ interest, shares some of Murray and Hogan’s strengths. Kizer, Watson, Trubisky and Mahomes all have above-average athleticism in the pocket, and while Hogan and Murray each won big in college, Watson is hailed as the biggest winner of the new crop of quarterbacks, as he guided his team to a national championship by beating a stacked Alabama team in January. Kaaya and Peterman both come from pro-style offenses while the others will be transitioning from spread-based attacks in which they very rarely took the ball from under center, leaving the Chiefs to figure out if their tantalizing arm talent is worth the additional time they might need to acclimate.
The Chiefs will have an opportunity to get a closer look at each on Saturday morning, when all are expected to perform in throwing drills at the combine in just he latest step of a quarterback evaluation process that seems to be heating up.
“The biggest thing is, teams want to see if you have touch, if you have velocity, and then, are you a competitor? If you have a bad throw, if you have a receiver drop the ball, do you go into the tank? Or do you come back firing. If the quarterback in front of you or the quarterback behind you starts to do well or do poorly, do you adjust to them? It’s all those factors. Your body language.”