The last time he was in position to select the best player in the NFL Draft, Charley Casserly had what seemed at the time to be a wealth of talent to choose from.
The Houston Texans had the first pick in the draft in 2006 and Casserly, their general manager at the time, could have chosen a dynamic running back in Reggie Bush, a quarterback such as Vince Young, Jay Cutler or Matt Leinart or a potentially great offensive tackle in D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
Casserly instead selected a relatively little known defensive end from North Carolina State by the name of Mario Williams.
The pick shows that even in this age of seemingly endless draft information, a general manager can go against the grain — and the sentiment of his team’s fans — and make a surprise pick.
“If you have confidence in your scouts and coaches, which I did, and confidence in your process, it’s not that difficult to do,’’ Casserly said recently. “You’re isolated from what everyone else is saying you should do. You don’t listen to that stuff and you don’t let it bother you. You just make your decision and go.’’
Surprise picks are unusual at the top of the draft but as shown by the case of the Texans and Williams in 2006, they can happen. This would seem to be a prime year for a surprise pick by the Chiefs at the top of the draft, given that none of the top available prospects seem to stand out above the others.
The Chiefs still appear locked in to offensive tackle. Their starting left tackle, Branden Albert, stayed away from the offseason conditioning program and last week’s mini-camp because of unhappiness with his situation. He could be traded soon.
At this point, it would be a surprise if the Chiefs went with a player other than one of the two top available tackles, Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Eric Fisher of Central Michigan. The selection of one of those players would give the Chiefs leverage over Albert in the short term and stability at an important position the long run.
“I think with Joeckel, the floor is extremely high,’’ ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said, meaning Joeckel projects to being a solid player even if he doesn’t reach his potential. “I can’t imagine him coming in and being a bust because, when I study him on tape, I see a player that has the 39 games starting, three straight years. He’s durable, great football character. He’s a technician. He can run block.
“When you compare the two, Fisher is not as technically sound. You also don’t see consistently the tape against top competition. That is nothing that Fisher has done. He can only play who he can play. But I just think Joeckel to me has the highest floor of the (two) and that’s why ultimately … that seems to be the right pick, because there is very little bust potential when it comes to Joeckel. If Kansas City decides to take Fisher over Joeckel, it’s not a huge stretch. I’ve got Joeckel as the No. 1 player in the class with a 97 grade out of 100. I’ve got Eric Fisher (graded at) 96 as the No. 2 rated player in the class, so there is not a big difference to me.’’
That seems to be the consensus, that Joeckel and to a slightly lesser extent Fisher are the safe picks. But what if new Chiefs general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid want to gamble for, say, a pass rusher like linebacker Dion Jordan of Oregon? Or what about a small but fast and talented receiver in Tavon Austin of West Virginia?
Unlikely. But the Chiefs have gambled before, though not with the first pick. In 2006, the same year the Texans drafted Mario Williams, the Chiefs in the first round went with defensive end Tamba Hali of Penn State.
The Chiefs already had a pass rushing end in Jared Allen. Hali wasn’t very fast and didn’t have many other desirable physical qualities.
To the surprise of many, the Chiefs drafted him anyway. It took some time for Hali to develop after he joined the Chiefs but he is a two-time Pro Bowler who in 2010 led the AFC in sacks.
“He had a great upside,’’ said Herm Edwards, who coached the Chiefs at the time. “Tamba was still learning how to play football and how to be a professional when we had him. Sometimes it takes guys a little bit longer to acquire a pass-rush move. The way they use him now helps him. They stand him up, they move him around.’’
As for Casserly and his selection of Williams that year, everything worked out fine. Casserly was finished as Houston’s general manager shortly after that draft, but Williams eventually turned into one of the NFL’s best pass rushers.
He signed a lucrative long-term contract last year with the Buffalo Bills.
The others at the top of the draft that year? Other than Ferguson, who became a Pro Bowler, they are either still trying to establish themselves or already flamed out.
“We really liked Mario Williams,’’ Casserly said. “We didn’t feel like we were settling for him at all. We thought Bush could be a good player but a role player. We liked D’Brickashaw Ferguson, so there were some options up there.
“We liked Jay Cutler. We would not have drafted Vince Young. I just didn’t see him being an NFL quarterback. Matt Leinart was available, but I didn’t think he was better than (starting quarterback) David Carr. At that point, we had a new coach coming in, Gary Kubiak. He liked David Carr. We liked David Carr. None of us were ready to give up on David Carr at that point in time.’’