KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The third day of the NFL Draft will be critical to the Chiefs’ finding adequate depth at the offensive skill positions.
The club is set at running back with two-time Pro Bowler Jamaal Charles; they’ve re-signed wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and added Donnie Avery for outside speed; and they’ve acquired a new starting quarterback in Alex Smith as well as his backup Chase Daniel.
So the fourth through seventh rounds on Saturday will be the time to find a backup to Charles and another receiver to complement Bowe and Avery on the outside and compete with Dexter McCluster and Devon Wylie in the slot. And if one of those draft picks can return kicks, it wouldn’t hurt either considering the Chiefs haven’t returned a kick for a touchdown since opening night 2010.
The club could also draft a developmental quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds because it’s clear Ricky Stanzi, a fifth-round pick in 2011, is not the answer.
“You can find running backs at any point in the draft,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. “It’s the one position where you can be as good as a rookie as you’ll ever be at any point down the road in your career, even if you come out as a junior.”
Indeed, a year ago, the NFL’s second-leading rusher, Alfred Morris of Washington was a sixth-round draft choice last year; the 11th leading-rusher, Vick Ballard of Indianapolis, was a fifth-round pick; and one of Baltimore’s key contributors to the Super Bowl was rookie Bernard Pierce, a third-round pick. And don’t forget Charles was a third-round pick by the Chiefs in 2008.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock believes Texas A&M running back Christine Michael could be a mid-round sleeper — literally. Michael missed an interview at the Combine because an admitted alarm-clock error led to oversleeping, and worries about his dependability could cause him to slide.
“I showed up at the East-West game,” Mayock said, “and when you saw (Michael) next to five other running backs, he stood out ... great speed, quickness. He looked like a first- or second-round running back, and why was he at the East-West game? He should have been at the Senior Bowl.
“The answer is he had some issues at Texas A&M. So teams will have to do some homework on this kid. Most teams have fourth- or fifth-round grades on him like Morris a few years ago. He’s got first- or second-round talent.”
Other running backs who could be available in the third through fifth rounds include Clemson’s Andre Ellington, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner and Utah State’s Kerwynn Williams. Barner and Williams could be appealing because of their kick-return ability.
“He can catch the football, make you miss in space,” Mayock said of Barner, whose signature game was a 321-yard, five-touchdown performance against USC. “You could get him in the third round, and I think he’d be a pretty exciting player.”
Wide receiver Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech combines receiving and kick returning ability and could be available when the Chiefs open the third round. His best game last year came in a 59-57 loss to Texas A&M when he caught 11 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns.
An intriguing player in the fourth through sixth rounds could be South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders. Sanders is small at 5-7, 173 pounds but caught 45 passes, including nine touchdowns last season and was SEC Special Teams Player of the Year. He averaged 15.3 yards per punt return and brought back punts for scores against Georgia (70 yards) and Michigan (63 yards).
“Sanders was a kid I thought should have stayed in school,” Mayock said. “He’s got wonderful returnability, and he’s coming off a big bowl game. So regardless of that, the kind of kids with his size and quickness typically fall somewhere in that plus or minus fourth round. If he went in the third round, it wouldn’t stun me, but I think he’s going to be a fourth or fifth round guy.”
Because the Chiefs spent a second-round pick to acquire Smith, it’s hard to believe they would take a quarterback in the first four rounds. But they will certainly look at Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, if any of them are sitting in the fourth round or slide to the fifth.
“Tyler Wilson is the forgotten man in this quarterback class now,” said Kiper. “He went into the year, you thought maybe late first round, early second round, then all of a sudden the wheels came off of the program. If he slides, he becomes a value pick, and if he gets into the third-, fourth-round mix, then there’s a kid who at one point, if things would have fallen right, could have been a first-round pick and I don’t think anybody could have argued with it.
“When you look at Tyler Bray, third round is when he gets really seriously into the discussion, fourth round. I’ve seen big strong-arm guys like Bray go earlier than I project. I’m looking at him as a third or fourth rounder … 6-foot-6, 232 pounds … who knows, maybe somebody takes him in the second.”
One quarterback off the radar who could be taken in the last few rounds is Duke’s Sean Renfree, whose stock fell because he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in his chest in the Belk Bowl and is still recovering.
“I don’t understand why he’s not more highly rated,” Mayock said of Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and completed 67 percent of his passes while playing with marginal talent. “I watched three tapes of his, and this kid gets it.
“He might be a fifth-round pick, but he’s got a work ethic like a Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan.”