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2011 NFL Draft: Scott Pioli And The Genius Of Choosing Jonathan Baldwin

If any word summarizes the disappointing end of the Kansas City Chiefs 2010 season, I'd nominate "exposed" as the proper term. The reason was that after a promising first half against the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs, the Chiefs suddenly fell apart, every weakness was exploited and the Chiefs ended up on the losing half of a blowout. They were, in a word, exposed.

Enter this offseason and draft plan, where fans and sportswriters expected the Chiefs to address their needs -- just like every other team. If teams were able to stack the box against the Chiefs vaunted running game, double team Dwayne Bowe and expect Matt Cassel to do something else offensively, then the game was already decided. The Chiefs offensive line was seen as questionable against stronger competition. Needs at defensive tackle and linebacker also presented themselves, and a counterpart for Tamba Hali was sorely needed. Thus, several of the same names kept floating around the Chiefs pick at No. 21 in the draft.

When the Chiefs traded six slots in the draft (we're not even discussing the odd Ravens pass incident), it was assumed they'd still grab a right tackle (Gabe Carimi) or perhaps an outside linebacker (Akeem Ayers) and pick up an extra pick in the process. Thus when a wide receiver from Pittsburgh named Jonathan Baldwin got the call, everyone was consequently shocked, blindsided by not only the position but the name as well.

No one will deny the Chiefs needed wide receiver help, but after A.J. Green and Julio Jones went off the board, the wide receivers were all expected to wait until Friday to receive their beloved phone calls and hear their names taken. Even then, it was "supposed" to be names like Leonard Hankerson, Randall Cobb, Torrey Smith, et al. Baldwin had character concerns. Baldwin had legal troubles. Baldwin couldn't even be considered as part of the "right 53." Right?

Consider the Baltimore playoff game again. Do you really believe that Gabe Carimi would have made the difference there? Do you think the difference from Barry Richardson to a better tackle would have kept the Chiefs running successfully in that contest? Would the jump from a Casey Wiegmann to a younger, stronger center given the team a chance? Perhaps a blocking tight end thrown in for good measure? The answer, obviously, is no. The Chiefs were going to lose that game even with improvements along the offensive front.

The problem was that the Chiefs could not move the football. Down only three at the half, the Chiefs went scoreless in the second half and allowed another 20 points to the Ravens. Their defense was tired down the stretch and the Chiefs continued to make poor offensive decisions because there was simply no room to move. The defense was stacked. The offense was overmatched. The Baltimore secondary could crowd close and ignore any options over the top.

The good news is this: those days are no more. Instead of adding a cornerstone to try to win in trench warfare, the Chiefs knew the only way to win that war immediately was to spread the field. It takes years to put together an offensive line, and they should (and will) still address those needs, perhaps even tonight in the second and/or third rounds. But the Chiefs needed to gain respect away from the line of scrimmage. They needed an X-factor that could not be double-teamed. They needed to give Matt Cassel a legitimate second option at receiver.

If the Chiefs don't choose Baldwin here, every team on the 2011 schedule would simply copy and paste the game tape from the playoff loss from 2010 and make the Chiefs beat them in ways that they simply didn't have the personnel to. With a tougher schedule, the Chiefs ran the risk of losing their strength along with several games as teams stacked the line and forced them to pass to someone other than Bowe. Perhaps a later round receiver could provide the answer (a la Marques Colston). Perhaps Tony Moeaki makes the jump to elite status. But when you have a player with such impressive abilities and incredible size sitting there, why wait?

People can point to criminal charges that were dropped, a drop in statistical production or character concerns. But as much as fans have heard the Chiefs brass preach on character and leadership for two full seasons, do you really believe they haven't done their homework in full on this guy? It's akin to not eating at a restaurant that had some rumors of health code violations swirling around them years ago even though nothing ever happened -- and that's after it's been chosen by a premiere chef as an ideal place to eat!

In other words, the only thing to hold up to the light here has nothing to do with Baldwin's character concerns or legal issues. The Chiefs wouldn't have touched this pick if there was anything to them. Instead, the only thing to hold up is the new option the Chiefs have picked up at wide receiver. It's my belief that the Chiefs will be exposed no more.