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2011 NFL Draft Grades: Chiefs Risky Draft Strategy Pays Off

After a 2010 draft that played it safe with surefire talent and high character leaders like Eric Berry, the Chiefs made a bold statement with their 2011 NFL Draft choices -- one that has reviews mixed on the overall draft haul. Yet a closer look at the overall high risk/high reward collection reveals a thing of beauty for the Chiefs future.

Even if every pick doesn't pan out in the right way, making such risky moves recognizes the Chiefs are ready to jump to that next level of perennial playoff presence. Scott Pioli is right in seizing the AFC West in this moment when the Chiefs are just coming into their own and every other team is scrambling for an identity or stability. The steps the Chiefs took this weekend are akin to the Patriots bringing in Randy Moss or the Jets trading for Santonio Holmes or the Vikings maneuvering for Brett Favre. In each instance, a strong team had the core foundation in place to handle such risks, and Pioli knows the brass ring awaits if he reaches high enough.

And reach he did. The character issues or questions measure almost as high as the sheer talent of some of the Chiefs draft picks -- from first round wide receiver Jon Baldwin to third round pass rusher Justin Houston. Not that these prospects were reaches in the typical sense -- that they didn't deserve their draft slot. Rather in the past, Pioli might have passed for more certain footing, whereas now he's willing to accept the inherent risk that comes with the choices made.

The Chiefs in the past couldn't have handled such possible losses. If Baldwin fails to make good on his incredible size and ability, the Chiefs are right back where they were last season when they took the division. If Allen Bailey is more bust than boom, there's still a decent rotation at defensive end. If Justin Houston fails to provide the counterpart to Tamba Hali everyone is hoping for, then it's back to last year's occasional help from Wallace Gilberry and Andy Studebaker.

But if these players hit, then the Chiefs make the jump. If Houston matches Hali, suddenly the Chiefs have one of the best pass rushing units in the NFL akin to the Ravens or Colts. If Baldwin becomes the over-the-top receiving threat, suddenly the entire offense playbook opens up. If Jerrell Powe finds the work ethic to capitalize on his God-given size and strength, suddenly the Chiefs will control the line of scrimmage.

While most of the Chiefs draft choices filled very specific needs that ranged from "that'd be nice" to "glaring," most also come with a high upside that might not just meet that need but surpass it in every way. That's the beauty of the Chiefs draft. Perhaps next year a couple of these holes still remain from a draft pick who failed to provide an answer. But if even a couple of these pan out at the levels of potential they're capable of, the Chiefs won't mind filling those holes a bit later in the draft order.