If there's a lesson to be learned about Scott Pioli from last year's draft, his first as general manager of the Chiefs, it's that he's not going to gamble with Clark Hunt's money.
Top five draft picks will command in excess of $20 million in guarantees on their initial contracts, and Pioli isn't about to throw that kind of cash at someone with a reasonable chance of going bust.
No, Pioli is determined to get something for that chunk of Hunt's change. He may get someone who will never play in a Pro Bowl, like perhaps Tyson Jackson, but it's going to be someone with a low probability of complete failure.
"By nature, I'm not much of a risk-taker," Pioli said recently in providing rare insight into his draft strategy. "There have been people who have been very successful being risk-takers. That's not my makeup. I'm not crazy about the boom-or-bust concept. There have been times in the past where I've done that or been a part of it, but not generally in a place where you're going to expose your club or the entire organization to something that has the potential to be too much of a bust."
That's something to remember tonight when the Chiefs make their first draft pick, which is fifth overall. The Chiefs may pass on a player with greater potential for one they believe will be in their lineup for many years.
"You start looking at No. 5 and what might be sitting there and you're looking at, for instance, left tackle," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "(Oklahoma's) Trent Williams is a better athlete than (Iowa's) Bryan Bulaga. Trent Williams tests better than Bryan Bulaga. Trent Williams has much bigger upside than Bryan Bulaga. But I'm not sure who they would take because Bryan Bulaga is an Iowa kid that's been well-coached by Kirk Ferentz. At this point, Bulaga could play right tackle. He's going to be a solid pro, bottom line. Trent Williams could be an All-Pro, but he also because of questions about work ethic and consistency could fall short of that.
"It's an interesting problem for Pioli."
Pioli called offensive line the least risky of the position groups.
"I think it is more that there are certain individuals that are more risky than positions," he said. "I think, generally speaking, and there are always exceptions to the rule, offensive linemen are generally less risky. That being said, I think you have to go back to the individual. You can say, 'Oh, he is an offensive lineman, he is a tackle, a solid pick, conservative pick, good idea.' But let's talk about the individual then. How is that person from a makeup perspective?"
With that said, the Chiefs won't necessarily draft a tackle, at least not in the first round. They fortified the interior of their offensive line by signing two free agents, center Casey Wiegmann and guard Ryan Lilja.
Pioli last week issued his strongest defense of Branden Albert, the incumbent left tackle.
But expect Pioli's philosophy to carry the pick no matter the player's position. Might the Chiefs pass on Tennessee's Eric Berry, generally thought to be the top safety available in the draft, in favor of Texas' Earl Thomas, considered to be more of a true safety and more of a sure thing?
Or could they draft Alabama's Rolando McClain, even though most draft analysts consider the fifth pick too high for an inside linebacker and too high specifically for McClain?
The Chiefs and Pioli surprised the NFL last year by choosing Jackson, a defensive end from LSU, with the third pick. He was generally considered a prospect for later in the first round.
"He fit the bill of what they wanted in a 3-4 defensive end," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "You would have thought Tyson Jackson going into the draft process was maybe the 15th or 20th pick, and he was pushed all the way up to the third pick. For that scheme, it's hard to find players. To try to fill that void with a particular type of player is not easy. That's why Kansas City reached for Tyson Jackson last year.
"That's happened before, and it could happen again."
The Chiefs immediately downplayed any expectations for Jackson. They compared him in terms of potential to former Dallas defensive tackle Russell Maryland, a solid player throughout his NFL career but never a dominant one.
As a rookie, Jackson started 14 games but was credited with only 31 tackles. He had no sacks. The Chiefs are counting on much more from Jackson next season.
"Let's wait on Tyson Jackson," former Dallas personnel director Gil Brandt said. "I still think that was a good pick. Sometimes it takes a while for these defensive linemen to really feel their way."
As long as the Chiefs have a pick near the top of the draft, this appears to be how Pioli will operate.
"Because of the dollars in the top-10 picks and especially the top-five picks, there are certain GMs who I think are extremely risk-adverse and I think Scott Pioli is one of them," Mayock said. "That doesn't make it good or bad. That's the way he wants to build his team, through solid, conservative picks where he knows he's going to get X amount of snaps per game at 100-percent effort."
As the personnel director for nine seasons for the Patriots before he joined the Chiefs, Pioli had part in decisions that brought players considered risky to New England. Trades for Randy Moss and Corey Dillon didn't involve first-round draft picks or players with guaranteed contracts.
Neither failed to become a productive player for New England. If they had, the Patriots were out a couple of lower-round draft picks and little or no cash.
Such huge amounts of guaranteed money can and has ruined many a player, which is why the Chiefs evidently believed Jackson could handle that kind of money.
"There's a great deal of financial resources that are given to the player at that spot," Pioli said. "So the type of person you're picking at that spot is exceedingly important. There's a lot of money these players are going to get. Who you're giving that money to as a person is very important."