For the first time in franchise history, the Chiefs have the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. With a definite need at quarterback and playing in a copycat league where 12 of the last 15 first overall picks have been just that, the decision should be obvious. However, the newly installed leadership team of head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey face the perfect storm and need to converge in a year without a quarterback clearly worthy of the No. 1 pick.
In Reid’s first meeting with the media on January 7th, after being introduced as head coach, he was asked about the quarterback situation. His response was this:
“I’m going to study the heck out of the guys that are here and have a chance to meet those guys, then I’ll have a chance to evaluate that at that point. We have some guys to be in a solid position. It might not happen this year, you never know. The important thing is you do the right thing. We have been blessed with the No. 1 pick in the draft, and you want to make sure you do the right thing and pick the right guy, not necessarily a quarterback, it has to be the right thing. You don’t want to force anything. People that do that get themselves in trouble.”
While Reid is paying the customary courtesy to the incumbent quarterbacks as a new coach must, his quarterback is not yet on the Chiefs’ roster. He isn’t invested in the success of Matt Cassel as former general manager Scott Pioli was, and new regimes often bring in new quarterbacks.
When Reid took over the Eagles in 1999, he made Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb his first pick (second overall). The pair would make it to five NFC Conference Championships and a Super Bowl over the next decade. Reid relied on the draft again for McNabb’s successor when he took Kevin Kolb in the second round of the 2007 draft with his first pick. Before the 2009 season, however, Reid signed Michael Vick, who would eventually claim the starting role the following year. Because McNabb’s service under Reid dominated his tenure in Philadelphia, we don’t have much of a sample set showing Reid’s quarterback decisions. But we can see a coach who prefers to mold his own quarterback from the draft, unless a player of Michael Vick’s ability is available. The list of free-agent, trade-available, and cap-casualty quarterbacks includes just one player with Vick’s potential, and that is Vick himself. A potential cap casualty for the Eagles, Vick could be available. However, I believe that experiment is over. The top quarterback potentially available this offseason is San Francisco’s Alex Smith. ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, a friend and former teammate of Smith, has said Reid “really likes Alex” and looked in to acquiring him when he was a free agent after the 2011 season. While all this may be true, any scenario in which Smith comes to KC comes with the expectation of his being a placeholder and competition for a draft pick.
So if the assumption is that Reid would prefer to mold his own quarterback from scratch, the issue becomes who and where to draft him. Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is becoming the consensus top overall prospect, and even if the team brings back free agent left tackle Branden Albert, adding Joeckel would make sense. However, I believe Reid at this point doesn’t like the idea of surrendering the chance to have his pick of the quarterback litter. He is supremely confident he can mold talent to successfully execute his system, and until he is convinced that talent level doesn’t make remote sense this early in the draft, he will lean toward picking a quarterback.
There is no easy choice with the first selection, no lock like an Andrew Luck, no potential jumping off the page like there was with Cam Newton. At least that is how it seems today. Recall at this point two years ago, everyone was debating Nick Fairley and Da’Quan Bowers as the potential top overall pick. You might have also had Marcell Dareus, Von Miller, and Patrick Peterson in the discussion, but Cam Newton was embroiled in a recruiting controversy and low in the pecking order when pundits and experts where evaluating candidates for the top overall pick. This year we have West Virginia’s Geno Smith, with a wholly different set of circumstances but in a similar situation. After a 5-0 start, Smith was ascending draft boards and emerging as a Heisman favorite. The Mountaineers season was derailed shortly thereafter, however, and while Smith maintained good production, he fell out of favor. After declining to participate in the Senior Bowl, he allowed focus to move to other flavors of the month, such as Mike Glennon. Despite this, Smith remains the top quarterback prospect and should regain his status among the masses at the Combine. While his record-breaking numbers were inflated by head coach Dana Holgorsen’s high-flying offense, his accuracy, arm strength, and pocket presence are the best combination in this draft class.
The demand for quarterbacks frequently creates an inefficient market at the draft, and this year should be no different. Expect Geno Smith to regain momentum at the Combine and be the first name called in the 2013 draft.