The Chiefs signaled their thoughts on this year’s available college quarterbacks when, despite holding the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, they traded for Alex Smith and signed Chase Daniel.
Their intentions for that pick, at least when it comes to quarterbacks, became clear. This will be the 30th straight draft without the Chiefs selecting a quarterback in the first round.
What makes 2013 unusual in that regard is that the Chiefs are in position to select any quarterback they like. West Virginia’s Geno Smith? Southern California’s Matt Barkley? Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib? The Chiefs certainly don’t have to worry that any of those players will be off the board by the time they make their first pick.
The Chiefs haven’t been in a position to take the first quarterback off the board since 1997. The Chiefs passed on a quarterback in the first round then. But it’s impossible to look back and view that as a mistake, because they drafted a tight end from California by the name of Tony Gonzalez instead of mostly forgettable quarterbacks Jim Druckenmiller, Jake Plummer and Danny Wuerrfel.
But this time it’s the No. 1 pick, and the Chiefs will instead use it on an offensive lineman, probably tackle Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M. Will the Chiefs, unlike in 1997, look back with regret at this missed opportunity to draft and develop a first-round quarterback?
“That’s not how we feel at all,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I like the guys we have. There are some good players out there at the quarterback spot, but I’m happy with what we’ve done there.”
While there’s little else for Reid to say publicly about the matter, the Chiefs even privately don’t seem to think much of this year’s class of quarterbacks.
Consider the case of Geno Smith, generally considered the best of this year’s rookie quarterbacks and most likely the first one to be drafted. He has many of the tools teams look for in a starting quarterback, including the athleticism and live arm. As a senior, he completed 71 percent of his passes for 4,200 4,205 yards and 42 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
A closer inspection reveals he would be a huge gamble for the Chiefs with the first pick.
“He has no awareness of the rush surrounding him,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “So his pocket awareness … five sacks in the first half against Texas, three of them he could have gotten rid of the football easily, and one of them he was stripped of the football in the end zone for a touchdown. There is no internal clock, there is no feel.
“(On) deep ball accuracy, I’ve put a reel together of six to eight throws that should have been touchdowns, wide-open vertical guys that he overthrew or underthrew. The more tape I watch … he stares down receivers and he throws the football late. So there is a lack of anticipation and timing. Now, having said all of those things, I recognize the big arm, the athletic ability. He’s a great athlete, he’s a natural thrower of the football. I just don’t see it enough on tape. I couldn’t take him in the top 10. I don’t think I could take him in the top 20.”
That’s Mayock’s opinion, but it appears he shares it with general managers from the Chiefs and other quarterback-needy teams near the top of the draft. The Chiefs were looking to replace Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn and did it with veterans from other teams.
The Raiders, who have the third pick, replaced Carson Palmer with Matt Flynn. The Cardinals, who have the seventh pick, acquired Palmer and Drew Stanton. The Bills, who draft eighth, signed Kevin Kolb.
Confidence in the draft’s top quarterbacks appears to be missing leaguewide. Smith and perhaps others may get drafted in the first half of the draft, but they won’t get the same type of commitment from their teams that, say, Andrew Luck received from Indianapolis and Robert Griffin III received from Washington last year.
“I can’t expect to prove any of those people wrong without even playing a down in the NFL,” Smith said.
“My only expectation is to become as polished as I possibly can when I enter into the NFL and compete and be a competitor. That’s all I know how to do.
“Once I set foot on a team and I’m drafted, I’m going to come in with the same mentality. It’s not going to change. I’m going to continue to grow as an athlete and a person.”
Last year’s group of rookie quarterback may become one for the ages. Five were immediate starters, and at least Luck, Griffin and Seattle’s Russell Wilson have the look of becoming franchise quarterbacks.
Many quarterback classes would look weak in comparison, and this year’s certainly does.
“Those guys came right away and played and made their marks, won playoff games,” Barkley said. “There’s always going to be that comparison, whether it’s just or unjust. I don’t feel like there’s any pressure on my part to live up to them. I know every situation’s different. I have my standards, and hopefully those are high enough.
“I guess time will tell how (this year’s quarterbacks) pan out.”
If Smith, Barkley or any of this year’s rookie quarterbacks go on to have a great career, the draft will look like a failure for the Chiefs unless Joeckel or any other player they might draft with the first pick goes on to become a Hall of Famer.
Much is made of the Chiefs’ inability to draft and develop their own quarterback, but it’s really more of a refusal to even try. They haven’t drafted a quarterback in the first round since Todd Blackledge in 1983. Many of their drafted quarterbacks since have been late-round picks.
This is their chance to change that. Smith in particular may not be as safe of a selection as Luck or Griffin last year, but that’s not to say that with the proper coaching he won’t eventually become a great NFL quarterback.
“I like the fact he can spin the ball,” draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “He’s got the live arm, can make any throw he wants. He’s mobile, very good mobility. He can beat you with his legs, can run for significant yardage. He’s a kid who seems like he’s going to work hard at his craft.
“The concerns would be that the pocket collapsed a lot for him. The offensive line didn’t do its job, and when he was harassed, the accuracy diminished and he made some bad decisions. He has some fumbles in the pocket. Ball security was an issue. He’s got to take better care of the football. Can’t have fumbles in the pocket. He’s got to be a little more precise with the football, but I thought he hit his guys in stride pretty well at West Virginia. He gave them a chance to do a lot after the catch, which impressed me. Some of the other quarterbacks did not. He reads the whole field, which I like. He’s not just reading half the field.
“He’s the kind of guy that if handled properly can be a very, very good NFL starting quarterback.”