KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs have needs at wide receiver, free safety and potentially offensive line depending what happens with left tackle Branden Albert in free agency.
Current mock drafts from various media outlets reflect the demands, as the Chiefs seek improvement on last year’s 11-5 roster.
Still, Kansas City doesn’t have a second-round pick in May’s NFL Draft due to the 2013 trade that brought quarterback Alex Smith from San Francisco.
And with the 23rd pick overall in the upcoming draft, the Chiefs likely can’t afford to miss if the chosen player is expected to contribute immediately.
“At 23, obviously they want to take the best player that they can get that makes sense short- and long-term,” said Dane Brugler, CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com draft analyst, in a phone interview. “But if the player can start right away, that really helps at the 23rd pick.”
So which areas should command the Chiefs’ attention?
Brugler’s counterpart at CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com, senior draft analyst Rob Rang, believes the Chiefs must concentrate on two positions.
“You always want to have big-play potential at the wide receiver position, and then on the flip side big-play potential in the secondary,” Rang said in a phone interview. “Those are two areas of significant concern when you look at the Chiefs roster, and even more so because of the opponents they face in the AFC West division.”
The big plays were lacking from the Chiefs’ starting wide receiver corps during the 2013 regular season. Dwayne Bowe recorded 57 catches for 673 yards and five touchdowns, while Donnie Avery had 40 catches for 596 yards and two touchdowns.
The team’s leading receiver came out of the backfield, as running back Jamaal Charles recorded team highs in receptions (70), yards (693) and touchdowns (7).
Slot receiver and punt returner Dexter McCluster was third on the team with 53 receptions, but he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent when the league’s 2014 calendar takes effect on March 11.
Additionally, the Chiefs have three free safeties scheduled to be unrestricted free agents: Kendrick Lewis, Quintin Demps and Husain Abdullah.
While mock drafts can and will change numerous times leading to the NFL’s annual draft, Brugler and Rang have the Chiefs addressing both areas with underclassmen in CBSSports.com‘s latest mock draft.
Brugler leans LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
“I think when you look at offense, they need to add a playmaker receiver, a guy that can stretch the field and be a No. 2 next to Dwayne Bowe,” Brugler said. “Beckham out of LSU is a guy that can play on special teams and be a good No. 2, a guy that can create with the ball in his hands. He’s really improved over the years to be explosive.”
Despite tagging a defender in his mock draft, Rang, doesn’t argue with Brugler’s selection of the 5-foot-11, 193-pound LSU wide receiver.
“He struggled a little with consistency in terms of catching the football, but at the same time is such a spectacular athlete,” Rang said of Beckham. “I think he would make a great deal of sense as well.”
Still, another wide receiver that could pique the Chiefs’ interest is USC underclassman Marqise Lee, provided he falls to 23.
Both CBSSports.com draft analysts project Lee to be off the board before the Chiefs make a selection.
But Rang said the 6-foot, 195-pound wide receiver would be an ideal complement to Bowe if Lee is available.
“He’s a dynamic playmaker, a guy with great agility, great straight line speed and acceleration,” Rang said of Lee. “He’s a player who can line up in the slot and can also line up on the outside. That versatility would make him a guy who I believe would give Alex Smith a receiver to get the ball and he’d be able to make the big plays and complement Smith’s lack of an elite arm.”
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have to address a defensive secondary that was torched in the second half of the 2013 regular season.
The Chiefs entered the Week 10 bye ranked sixth against the pass (208.3 yards per game), but ended the season tied at 25th (247.6), largely in part to the plays surrendered down the field.
“I think we gave up too many big plays,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of the defensive slide during his Jan. 5 end-of-season media session. “That’s what it came down to. That’s what you saw if you look at the different stats, that’s really where it points to. You can’t do that.”
With the 23rd pick overall in May, the Chiefs could forgo wide receiver and focus on the free safety position.
“The safety is such an important position in the NFL and you need guys that are versatile and can play receivers in the slot, man up against tight ends, so I think safety is a big-time need for a lot of teams,” Brugler said. “But if one is on the board at 23, I think it’s a solid pick.”
Of course, a concern surrounds what many draft prognosticators, including Brugler and Rang, don’t consider an overall strong group at the position.
But with the Chiefs lacking a second-round pick, the team may have to pull the trigger if a free safety they like is available.
“I believe it would make a lot of sense because in this year’s draft class, if you’re looking for a free safety that could come in and play immediately, then you may have to pick one in the first round,” Rang said. “There may not be an elite safety in this year’s draft, but there are a few that I project to be quality NFL starters.”
One of the players Rang likes and selected for the Chiefs is Alabama free safety Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix.
“Clinton-Dix is a rangy, athletic safety that because of his ball skills, because of his fluidity in coverage, he makes a lot of sense,” Rang said. “He is a guy that when you look at the AFC West – that’s a big part of how I project players and what type of football he’ll play – they throw the football around. Dix makes sense.”
Brugler projects Clinton-Dix, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, to be off the board before the Chiefs’ selection.
However, he agrees the position fits what Kansas City needs if the Crimson Tide free safety is available.
“Clinton-Dix did it all at Alabama,” Brugler said. “He played inside the box, he played zone, he really showed he has the ability to do a lot of things.
In the meantime, Rang emphasizes it’s important to remember the amount of time remaining between January and May’s NFL Draft.
There will be hype surrounding individual draft prospects based on how they performed at recent all-star games, including the Senior Bowl; the NFL Scouting Combine; and Pro Day workouts.
Rang, who’s covered the Senior Bowl since 2001, cautioned not to read too much into reports whenever a team talks to a player during workouts.
“The Senior Bowl is like any all-star game,” Rang said. “The scouts are going to talk to virtually every player. It can be a little bit deceptive if you go off of who teams are talking to because there’s usually an individual scout who needs to finish up something during the interview process.”
And he adds another annual NFL offseason event still to occur will impact how a team addresses needs in the coming months.
“Obviously free agency is also going to play a role,” Rang said. “Some areas of concern will be filled potentially when a team signs a veteran or lose a veteran or two they were counting on to return to the team.”
Other notable early 2014 mock drafts