ACL tears robbed Kansas City of three of its top players in 2011, and the season seemed lost until the club reeled off three wins in its final five games, including a sparkling Week Fifteen upset of the Green Bay Packers. The late-season victories and returns of Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Tony Moeaki give Kansas City reason for 2012 optimism.
Defensive line: Ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson are both entering what amount to contract years (Jackson is owed a $14.72 million salary in 2013), and the only legitimate nose tackle on Kansas City’s roster is 2011 sixth-round pick Jerrell Powe. The Chiefs are commonly connected to Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe in mock drafts, but they may opt for a “safer” pick at No. 11 overall. They need an impact year-one nose tackle to clog lanes up front.
Inside Linebacker: Derrick Johnson has developed into one of the league’s top inside ‘backers, but the Chiefs need two of them to execute coach Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 scheme. Jovan Belcher is a replacement-level player who’s caused just one turnover in two seasons as a starter and comes off the field on passing downs. A linebacker capable of blowing up opposing lead blocks could shore up Kansas City’s defensive interior. Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower would certainly fit the bill if he’s available in the second round. A more realistic draft target might be Nevada’s James-Michael Johnson.
Quarterback: The Chiefs will run a ground-and-pound offense under Crennel and new play-caller Brian Daboll. They are installing a zone-blocking scheme to cater to new right tackle Eric Winston’s strengths, and signed Peyton Hillis away from Cleveland to complement Charles in the backfield. Matt Cassel can play the game-manager role, but his consistency has been openly questioned by Crennel, and Cassel is not a quarterback capable of carrying Kansas City deep into the playoffs. If Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill falls to the 11th pick, G.M. Scott Pioli will surely give him a long look.
Offensive line: Kansas City has five solid starters in Branden Albert, Winston, Jon Asamoah, Ryan Lilja, and new center Rodney Hudson. Lilja and Albert are in contract years, however, and Asamoah’s deal lasts only through 2013. For a team built on running the football, talent infusion in the front five should be among Pioli and Crennel’s priorities in the middle rounds of the draft.