Sam Mellinger

Sam Mellinger: Chiefs’ draft class backed with reason, guts, and loads of potential

One of the weirdest feelings in sports is when the team you follow does exactly what you want them to do. For years now, you’ve been able to purchase that feeling through a video game for $49.99. EA Sports has generated billions and billions by hooking millions of us on the power.

But here, for one NFL draft, the Chiefs are giving away that feeling to many of us for free.

The guy they liked wasn’t going to be available with their first pick, so they traded up to get him — and he’s a quarterback.

They needed depth and presence along the defensive line, so they drafted Tanoh Kpassagnon, a man who weighs 289 pounds with just four percent body fat, and somehow this entire sentence is true.

They needed a running back, so they traded up for Kareem Hunt, who finished third in rushing yards per game and scored five touchdowns in his bowl game.

They needed to improve their run defense, so they drafted Ukeme Eligwe, an inside linebacker who contributed as a freshman to a national championship team.

It may all blow up — the NFL draft is a roulette spin often sold as science — but at least it all makes sense.

The Chiefs’ draft this week is an enticing mix of risk and talent, long-term help with immediate needs, projectable talent and play-now production.

None of us should even pretend to know how this or any other draft by any other team will turn out, but the thought process and priorities behind these picks align with what general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid have shown themselves to value — explosive athleticism even if it means unrefined skill, unquestionable dedication to football, and the willingness to overlook what’s become known as “character questions.”

Quibble with any of that if you want — there is no absolute way to build a football team — but those values have turned the disconnected 2-14 disaster they took over into one of the NFL’s most consistent winners over the last four seasons.

As with anything, you can make a case against the Chiefs’ strategy.

The most obvious downside is that the 2017 team will not be as good as it otherwise might. The 2018 team will carry some of the burden, too, and possibly beyond.

Because if the only thing that mattered was winning the next Super Bowl, then the Chiefs would’ve taken run-stuffing inside linebacker Reuben Foster at No. 27, and used the third-round pick they traded to add more help (defensive line depth, perhaps) for the upcoming season.

As it stands, run defense is by far the team’s greatest weakness. They were shaky against the run last season, then atrocious after Derrick Johnson’s Achilles injury. Even assuming (another) full recovery for Johnson — far from a sure thing — this is a big enough weakness to be considered a potential fatal flaw for the 2017 Chiefs.

Having traded out of last year’s first round, and trading two first-rounders to select a quarterback they don’t want to play until 2018 at the earliest, the Chiefs will likely play at least three seasons in a row without a first-round pick.

They have a quarterback they know they can win the AFC West with, and their immediate prospects would’ve been best boosted by attempting to close the considerable but not unsurmountable gap with the rest of the roster.

So, sure. If you want to blast holes in what the Chiefs did, that’s your path. It’s an easy one to take.

But if you look at this with open eyes, an appreciation for what’s realistic, and the benefit of the doubt to a scouting department that’s shown itself to be adept, the logic and potential with this draft class is both obvious and exciting.

In the span of three days, the Chiefs may have found their franchise quarterback of the future, and filled important needs on both sides of the ball.

They had extra picks, and are likely to have one of the league’s lowest rates of roster turnover this offseason, so Dorsey used the inventory to make the picks he wanted instead of the picks that would’ve been available.

This is another trait Dorsey has shown. He won’t nickel and dime. He pays for what he likes. He’s the guy who orders top shelf, even when house is on special. Sometimes his disinterest in sticker price has backfired — his first major move was the Dwayne Bowe contract, they’ve repeatedly paid more in contract extensions by waiting too long, and they’re constantly in possession of around $3.50 in salary cap space.

But Dorsey’s Chiefs have made it work by generally getting the big decisions right, and by balancing big expenditures with low-cost values like Ron Parker, Tyreek Hill, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

Since taking over around 10 years ago, Clark Hunt has told everyone who would listen that he values consistency over all else. His franchise failed in spectacular fashion in that regard for his first six years, but is now on its best stretch in 20 years.

The thought process and vision of this draft is to maintain and support that consistency now, while providing the opportunity for even more later.

There is no possible move the Chiefs could’ve made to give themselves a bigger potential future impact than trading up for Patrick Mahomes. And they were still able to use their inventory of picks to address needs on the defensive line, linebackers, secondary, and backfield.

You are a fool if you pretend to know how any of this will turn out, and naive if you believe anyone who says they do.

But we can make judgments about intentions, and the thought put into these picks, and on those levels it’s easy to see what the Chiefs are trying to do.

They didn’t improve for 2017 as much as they could have. But if their penchant for getting the big decisions right continues, this could be the most impactful draft they’ve had in decades.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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