Between needs, value and options, the Chefs likely have no choice but to address the offensive tackle position in the first round or two in the upcoming draft.
it doesn't make for the sexiest pick. It never does. When the Miami Dolphins made Jake Long the first overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, every Dolphins fan knew it was likely the right choice -- a good move that would continue to pay dividends for the next decade if things went right. But much more attention went to the Atlanta Falcons who chose Matt Ryan at No. 3 or even Chris Long, the second overall pick of the St. Louis Rams, who entered the league to fanfare of being the son of Howie Long. In short, Jake Long was a safe, solid pick that no one paid much attention to.
The offensive line doesn't make for the sexiest choice in the first round. Tackles are chosen early and often every season and they are invaluable to the team that finds a great one, but that doesn't mean they're popular. Yet the Kansas City Chiefs really don't have much of a choice despite what you might hear about inside linebackers (Luke Kuechly), quarterbacks (Ryan Tannehill), running backs (Trent Richardson) or defensive tackles (Dontari Poe). The Chiefs must take a tackle within the first 50 picks in the draft and it's likely to come in the first round.
It's not just about biggest need, although that plays a very significant part. Barry Richardson has been called one of the worst tackles in all of football this last year and this comes after a year where he was already the weak link on the Chiefs o-line in 2010. For both the passing and running games to work, the weakest link on the entire offensive unit simply has to be upgraded and Scott Pioli simply must realize the gravity of the situation.
At this point, every Chiefs fan knows the team will have a new right tackle next season somehow. But does it have to be the draft? The answer there is yes, simply because there are no other options out there. Unless the Chiefs can pull a trade for a tackle already under contract, there's simply no options in free agency that would upgrade the team to a respectable level.
While there are many interior linemen who impress this year (Ben Grubbs, Carl Nicks), the tackle class is abysmal. Jared Gaither is likely the top candidate, but that's an obvious mess if the Chiefs had to go back and apologize for dumping him just a few games ago. The Bills have Demetrius Bell, but their own line has been a mess and he has major knee concerns. Same with Max Starks of the Steelers. Others like Jeff Backus and Kareem McKenzie are simply too old and past their primes to upgrade the position at all. There are literally zero impressive options unless Gaither was open to coming back.
This means the draft is the only place the Chiefs will find their man, but here's where the team is painted into a corner. Can the Chiefs really wait until the third or fourth round to grab a guy and call him an upgrade over Richardson? Even Richardson's worst critics would admit that you can't throw a project of a rookie on the right side and expect him to succeed from the outset. While it could happen, it's not a good bet.
Instead, this year's tackle class gets fuzzy really fast. While the guard position (once again) is deep in the draft, the tackles are thin. Top tackles like Matt Kalil, Jonathan Martin and Riley Reiff will go early in the draft. Mike Adams' stock is rising. The tackles who are available later, like Zebrie Sanders of Florida State who was criticized for his poor showing at the Senior Bowl, displays the talent gap between the top tier and next level.
Wes Bunting says only two tackles in this draft could be expected to start right away -- Adams and Kalil. Others obviously can try and even succeed, but that quick observation shows that the Chiefs will not have a plethora of prospects to consider. They must grab their guy early or be ready to suffer through another mediocre season on the right side at best.
The tackle position is already thin on the team when even late in the season, Steve Maneri was the primary back-up. When the tackle is weak, the offense must often place a blocking tight end alongside a player like Richardson (someone like Leonard Pope or Anthony Becht) which removes a receiving option for the quarterback. A player who must block and protect is a player who is not in play to move the chains. Simply put, the presence of a subpar right tackle seriously inhibits an offense.
The Chiefs are going to select either at No. 11 or 12. In that space, they will have a starting caliber tackle fall to them; there's no way around it. With teams needing quarterbacks, cornerbacks and pass rushers, someone from the class of Reiff, Adams and Martin will be available and perhaps even all three if the Chiefs are lucky. Despite how much more interesting it might be to think about grabbing another player at a position with more flair, the reality is that the Chiefs only have one choice: selecting the right tackle of the future.