Chiefs’ top draft choice likely depends on Lions’ willingness to gamble
By ADAM TEICHER
The Kansas City Star
Mike ZarrilliThe Chiefs hope Detroit makes Georgia QB Matt Stafford its No. 1 pick.
DANA POINT, Calif. | With the NFL draft inching closer, the Chiefs aren’t saying as much, but they’re hoping the Detroit Lions are in a gambling mood with the first pick.
If they are, that means the Lions will grab quarterback Matt Stafford of Georgia and, of more importance to the Chiefs, leave them with the pick of defensive players when their turn rolls around at No. 3 of the April 25-26 draft.
The Rams are in-between with the second pick and seem certain after releasing veteran Orlando Pace to go for one of the top offensive tackles, Jason Smith of Baylor or Eugene Monroe of Virginia.
“Certainly the tackle spot we’ve got to address,” St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo said last week at the NFL meetings. “You’ve got to build with the linemen first. Offensively and defensively. To me, that’s always a focus.”
The Chiefs, with new general manager Scott Pioli and new coach Todd Haley, haven’t tipped their draft plans. Haley is a former offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, so it wouldn’t be a wild pick for them to select a receiver like Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech or to further the rebuilding of their offensive line by choosing Smith or Monroe, if available.
But with the Chiefs having a bigger need for talented defensive players, that would seem where they’re headed with that third pick. Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry would appear to be a good fit for the Chiefs.
Two other defensive players, Florida State linebacker Everette Brown and Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji, would certainly fit needs, Brown as a pass rusher and Raji as the big run-stuffer the Chiefs currently lack.
If the Chiefs want their choice of the draft’s defensive players, the Lions are the bigger problem. St. Louis selected a defensive end, Chris Long, with the second pick in the draft last year. While the Rams could go for defense again, they are more likely to grab an offensive lineman with their top pick.
The Lions, who last season became the first NFL team to finish a season 0-16, have a need for Curry, but they also need a quarterback. That’s where the gambling part comes in.
When he was hired in January, coach Jim Schwartz talked about that need, saying it was finally time for the Lions to replace Bobby Layne, the great quarterback who last played for Detroit 50 years ago.
“We need to find a quarterback,” Schwartz said last week. “I’ve been on the record saying quarterback is the most important position on the team. But there are a lot of different ways to get that quarterback. I’ve said this before, Peyton Manning was drafted No. 1 overall. Kurt Warner, a Super Bowl champion and a Super Bowl (participant) this year, was an undrafted free agent. There are a lot of different ways to get that quarterback.”
At quarterback, the Lions have veteran Daunte Culpepper and two developmental players, Drew Stanton and Drew Henson. Culpepper’s best NFL seasons happened with the Vikings when Scott Linehan was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator.
Schwartz hired Linehan to run Detroit’s offense.
But Culpepper is 32, making it difficult for the Lions to build around him.
“We need to be long-term at that position,” Schwartz said. “We need to have a guy that’s that guy.”
Stafford, generally considered the draft’s top available quarterback, would be a gamble for the Lions. He has unquestioned ability but wasn’t a standout player in college and left Georgia early. Underclassmen quarterbacks generally haven’t fared well in the NFL as rookies or as veterans.