Sam Mellinger

With the draft over, time to look forward for the Chiefs — good and bad

Paxton Lynch is headed to the Broncos
Paxton Lynch is headed to the Broncos

The forces of change in the NFL can be fickle, but it is likely the Chiefs narrowly missed a major one this weekend.

Nobody outside the small circle of the Chiefs’ leadership can know this for sure, but there is a strong possibility the team would’ve drafted Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch if he was still available with their original No. 28 pick in the first round of the draft.

The Chiefs and GM John Dorsey liked Lynch, and could’ve had him sit and learn behind Alex Smith for a year or two, similar to what the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers when Dorsey worked there.

The move would’ve been big news in Kansas City, of course, where a quarterback has not been selected in the first round since Todd Blackledge in 1983.

This is all a hypothetical, of course, because the Broncos traded up to No. 26 to select Lynch. Only time will tell if the Chiefs would've been better off with Lynch — they also liked Johnny Manziel two years ago, for whatever that’s worth — but as it happened they were able to fill more needs for the upcoming season.

Building and refining an NFL team is much more art than science, but if Smith can stay healthy in 2016 — he’s missed just two games in three years here, but played just two full seasons out of seven in San Francisco — this should be good in the short-term.

Because the Chiefs are in a precarious position.

They have a roster built for the now, and finally winning a playoff game last season is a rallying cry within the organization to take advantage.

The way the Lynch selection went down means Chiefs fans will always wonder what might have been. John Elway has broken the team’s heart nearly as much as an executive as he did as a player, and a shiny record in building the Broncos into the Super Bowl champion has earned trust in Denver and paranoia in Kansas City.

But for the Chiefs' immediate future, not having Lynch to draft may be the preferable outcome. As it happened, they traded out of the 28th overall pick, which meant more selections in a draft that Dorsey felt was strongest in the middle — rounds two, three and four.

Valuing quantity of selections over quality of draft position gave the team a large haul at positions of need — moldable defensive tackle Chris Jones, athletic corner KeiVarae Russell, tough guard Parker Ehinger, aggressive corner Eric Murray, and speedy receiver Demarcus Robinson.

That's five players in the three rounds Dorsey believed had this draft's best value, and all of those selections except for Robinson came on picks the Chiefs traded down to acquire.

The motivation and thought process driving this strategy is easy to understand and get behind. Dorsey's drafts have been fairly productive, and if he believes in the evaluations and work of his scouting department, this is the best way to get the most value.

The trick is that it's likely most of these players won't contribute, at least not in the short-term.

Out of last year's draft, only 16 of the 32 second-round picks were regular starters as rookies. That includes Mitch Morse, who the Chiefs selected 49th overall, but just one of the six corners taken in the round. The numbers are worse as the draft goes on — just four third-rounders started as rookies, five fourth-rounders, three from the fifth, one from the sixth and none from the seventh.

That draft is not an outlier. Building through the draft is the best way to do it, but it generally takes time.

This is how the Chiefs remain with more questions than answers, at least when judging by the new standard of playoff success and Super Bowl contention.

Because this offseason has included more bad news than good. Justin Houston is likely to miss games this season with a bizarre ACL injury discovered after the playoffs, Roger Goodell made an egregious overreach in stripping the Chiefs of a third-round pick (and a sixth next year) for a tampering violation, Husain Abdullah's surprise retirement thinned the secondary, and the fact that the Chiefs expected star corner Sean Smith's price to be too high for them doesn't make his departure any less significant.

It hasn't all been bad. Mitchell Schwartz is a significant upgrade for the offensive line, Rod Streater adds needed depth for the receivers, and the Chiefs were at least able to retain defensive players Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Jaye Howard and Eric Berry (through the franchise tag).

But, now that the draft is over, it becomes clear again what's been true all along: The Chiefs will step forward or fall backward in 2016 based much more on the guys who were there in 2015 than anyone added since that strange two-minute drill in Foxborough.

That means that even taking the optimistic view on a draft class deep in numbers but without an obvious immediate impact player, the Chiefs' chances of making and advancing in this season's playoffs remain dependent upon Marcus Peters jumping from a No. 2 corner to a No. 1, Houston finishing the season healthy, someone (Chris Conley?) giving the offense an extra dose of dynamism, and so on.

The current leadership group has dragged the Chiefs from perennial disappointment to a now consistent winner, but the distance from here to the Super Bowl may be even more difficult.

The men in charge hope their newest draft class will help, but they also know the advanced steps they now face are generally beyond the scope of second- and third-day draft picks. This roster has by now been entirely built and chosen by Dorsey, coach Andy Reid, and everyone who works under them.

With a sober evaluation, it's hard to see how this offseason puts the Chiefs in better position for 2016 than 2015.

But they've made undeniable progress in their time here so far. The progress ahead of them is the most difficult to make in the NFL. They will succeed or fail based on the players Chiefs fans have already seen, not the ones fans are now getting to know.