NFL: Four draft picks before Chiefs appear set; only Chiefs are a question mark
By Adam Teicher
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NFL draft begins next week, but already the Chiefs, with the fifth pick, are on the clock.
Or so it seems, anyway. The picks ahead of them appear solidified.
The Rams, with the top choice, need a quarterback and signaled last week they will select Oklahoma's Sam Bradford after releasing long-time starter Marc Bulger.
Detroit and Tampa Bay, teams starved for defensive help, have the next picks and look certain to go for, in whatever order, linemen Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma. Washington would then go for Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung to help protect its latest investment, quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The intrigue, then, really begins with the Chiefs. Will it be Tennessee defensive back Eric Berry? Offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga of Iowa or Trent Williams of Oklahoma? Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain? Or will the Chiefs truly upset the draft, as they did last year by picking a lower-rated defensive end, LSU's Tyson Jackson, with their top selection?
"I do think the first four are pretty much set," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "The only issue there is who does Detroit take at two because that obviously impacts Tampa. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will just sit there and take whatever player is left. That's usually a good spot to be in. Let the other team make the call on who they want.
"Then it's Kansas City. You hear Bryan Bulaga, you hear Trent Williams. I still go with the safety, Eric Berry. They don't have anything resembling a big-time safety, a free safety. So, to me, Berry would be fitting in very well there."
The Rams insist publicly they haven't settled on Bradford. But at this point, drafting anyone other than Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, would only further enrage their rapidly dwindling fan base.
The Rams and particularly coach Steve Spagnuolo have done exhaustive research on Bradford. Spagnuolo joked at the recent NFL meetings in Florida that he had spent more time in Norman, Okla., than in St. Louis.
"Everything you hear about him, (everything) that's said, it's legit," Spagnuolo said. "He walks into a room, you can see he's a quarterback. That was impressive to me."
Spagnuolo told a story about the Rams' interview with Bradford at the scouting combine in February in Indianapolis. The cramped room was filled with coaches, scouts and other administrative personnel.
"There were a lot of bodies in there in kind of a small room," Spagnuolo said. "We actually videotaped it so there was one of those (flood) lights. It was a little intimidating I guess is what I'm saying. Or it could've been for a 22-year-old young guy. And yet, he kind of walked in and did not seem to be . . . rattled at all. I think that's a good sign."
Next up are Suh and McCoy, or McCoy and Suh depending on the whims of the Lions.
"I think you always have to look to add defensive linemen," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. "It's a little bit like good running teams are always adding good running backs. Teams that want to play good defense need to keep on adding defensive linemen and keep on rolling those guys through."
The value of defensive tackles to NFL teams has never been more evident than this year.
Six players were designated as the franchise player for their respective teams when the free-agency period started last month. Four were defensive linemen. It's that difficult to find big bodies that can impact a game when the opponent passes and when it runs.
Suh and McCoy well could be two of them.
"They're both great players," Kiper said. "It's something where it depends on your feel for a certain kid and however you feel he can suit your defensive scheme up front. I give Suh the slightest of edges. You've got to pick one over the other. You can flip a coin on these two based on how they played. Character-wise, both of these kids are raved about by people within their programs. You're talking about players and coaches and teammates and opponents.
"Some would argue McCoy is a better pass rusher. That's valid, but it's not like Suh can't get to the quarterback and doesn't push the pocket. I would be very surprised if one of those two players was considered a disappointment."
Tampa Bay gets the one left over. Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris said he would be happy with either Suh or McCoy.
"You're talking about two dynamic guys and two guys who bring dynamic aspects to the game," Morris said. "You're talking about two guys who are slightly different but are both dominant. When you can add players to your football team like that, you like those opportunities. You have to have a guy that you prefer. Sometimes it's about which one you turned off (on film) last."
Even before making the trade with Philadelphia for McNabb, new Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan wanted to repair a decrepit offensive line. Only three teams allowed more sacks and only three rushed for fewer yards per carry last season.
It's even more important for Washington to grab a lineman now after the trade for McNabb. It won't have another chance to grab a lineman until the fourth round. The team traded its second-round pick for McNabb and lost its third-round choice last year.
"He's 33 years old," Kiper said of McNabb. "You can commit to him for three or four years. You better have some offensive linemen. This is arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL. You'd better use that fourth pick on an offensive tackle because you don't pick again until the fourth round.
"Bottom line is, you'd better protect (McNabb) or you won't get a year out of him. You've got to take Russell Okung. You've boxed yourself right into a corner."
Then come the Chiefs, who could reasonably go in any of several ways. That makes Kansas City the place where the fun begins in this year's draft.
"In the draft, nothing surprises me anymore," said NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt, a former Cowboys personnel director. "It's kind of like ice cream. Some people like strawberry ice cream and some like vanilla. They're both good. It's just the club's taste is what it is."