Dee Ford, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs
After trading for a serviceable quarterback in Alex Smith, the Kansas City Chiefs surprised the NFL community on their way to an 11-5 record last year. They lost a number of players this offseason, however, which could make it pretty tough for them to match their great 2013 performance in the upcoming season. The team entered the draft with some pretty serious needs at wide receiver, safety, offensive tackle, and guard, but with the No. 23 pick, the Chiefs nabbed Auburn edge defender Dee Ford.
An undersized defensive end at school, Ford will transition to a more appropriate rush linebacker role at the next level, playing outside linebacker in the Chiefs' 3-4 base defense. Ford's motor consistently runs hot, and he has that contagious type of energy that can have a ripple effect through the rest of the defense. His best physical trait is his burst at the snap, and he anticipates the snap very well. Having notched 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 12 games last year, Ford is was one of the premier pass rushers in the almighty SEC.
Some of the negatives of Ford's game include his lack of strength and power, which leads to some questionable run defense and occasionally getting stuck on blocks. He also has a bit of an injury history, the most concerning ailment being 2011 back surgery that ended up causing him to sit out during the 2014 NFL Combine.
Due to his need for improvement against the run, Ford will likely be used initially as a strict sub-package pass rusher. This will allow Ford to stay fresh and focus on what he does best. With Tamba Hali and Justin Houston already manning the Chiefs' outside linebacker spots, there is no reason to give Ford too big of a role as a rookie, so the Chiefs can ease him in and make sure he is comfortable in his new role.
What this pick could very well signify is that Hali's time in Kansas City may be coming to a close. Hali reportedly showed up to voluntary offseason workouts 20 pounds over his "optimal playing weight," and the Chiefs could save $9 million against the cap by releasing the star pass rusher next offseason. That being said, Hali has made the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons, so we'll have to see if his on-field play slips before there is any cause for concern.
I think that landing Ford at No. 23 is a fine value, but I am going to dish out my worst grade so far and give the pick a D+. Yes, the Chiefs lack a threatening edge rusher behind Hali and Houston, and the Chiefs might consider cutting Hali next offseason, but you don't make a first-round pick based on sub-package players and a possible future need. The Chiefs have glaring needs right now.
Left tackle Eric Fisher is still a bit of a question mark after a rough rookie year, and Rodney Hudson is a solid center. The Chiefs' other three offensive line positions are major weaknesses, and they did not address the offensive line until the sixth round of this year's draft.
The team could also use an upgrade at wide receiver - running back Jamaal Charles led the Chiefs in receiving last year. The team needs a run-after-catch playmaker who better fits Alex Smith's skill set. Can fourth-round pick De'Anthony Thomas move from running back to receiver and fill that role? That's quite a gamble, and the Chiefs did not draft a single player listed at wide receiver this year.
Finally, we have their need at safety. If the Chiefs had better safety play in 2013, their season could have ended much differently. You can never blame a loss on one player, but Kendrick Lewis was virtually the entire reason that the Chiefs let Andrew Luck make a historic comeback against them in the playoffs last year. 2013 fifth-round pick, Sanders Commings, played three snaps last year (at cornerback, by the way) and is penciled in as the starting safety.
I can hardly believe that the Chiefs would bolster one of their biggest strengths while facing these needs. Safeties like Deone Bucannon and Jimmie Ward were drafted shortly after the Chiefs' pick. Kelvin Benjamin (WR), Xavier Su'a-Filo (OG), Joel Bitonio (OL), and Marqise Lee (WR) also look like better options to me. I think that the Chiefs' offense is going to have a tough time in 2014, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry is going to have a ton of weight on his shoulders playing alongside an overmatched Commings.
For those who want to argue that you make draft picks based on the future, the other options I just mentioned would be great picks for the future as well as immediate-impact additions. If Hali and Houston can keep up their strong play until they are 35 and 30 years old, respectively, Ford won't be truly needed over the course of his entire rookie contract.