A Chiefs draft lesson: Why GM Scott Pioli was better than you think

Scott Pioli, the former Chiefs general manager, was skewered for his moves while running the team, which went 23-41 during his four years. Among his biggest gaffes:
  • Hiring one head coach, Todd Haley, he could not get along with and another, Romeo Crennel, who struggled to control the team.
  • Signing Matt Cassel, who is better suited as a backup than a starter, to a franchise quarterback worthy deal of six years, $60 million, including $28 million guaranteed.
  • Trading future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez for a second-round pick that would be used on Javier Arenas, an average defensive back.
  • Drafting Tyson Jackson third overall — over players like Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews — in the 2009 NFL Draft.
As time has gone on, however, Pioli’s 2009-12 tenure looks much better. Three of his draft picks, in particular, have proven to be the backbone for a Chiefs defense that allowed the second fewest points in the league last year. It starts with the 2011 NFL Draft, where his third-round selections accounted for 27 sacks last season. With the 70th overall pick, Pioli selected outside linebacker Justin Houston, a move that was considered a gamble at the time. Houston starred at Georgia, but his character was questioned for, among other things, testing positive at the NFL Combine for marijuana. Houston, though, lost weight and has become a hard worker, providing Kansas City its best edge rusher since Derrick Thomas. Just 26, Houston already has made three Pro Bowls, including his exemplary 2014 season when he had 22 sacks — a half-sack behind Michael Strahan’s all-time single-season NFL record — and four forced fumbles. Sixteen picks after Houston, Pioli selected Allen Bailey out of Miami (Fla.) The 3-4 defensive end came into his own last year, starting 14 games and recording five sacks. “He’s continued to improve,” head coach Andy Reid said. “He was good before, but I think he’s really developed into a pretty fine football player.” Bailey’s speed, range and quickness made him effective on third down from the get-go, but the 6-3, 288 pounder has added weight and honed his technique to make him a more stout, well-rounded 3-4 end. As a result the Chiefs, who signed Bailey to a four-year, $25 million contract last season, expect the 26-year-old to anchor the edge of their defensive line for years to come. “The more he’s played, the better he’s got,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “The arrow’s really pointing up on him.” Bailey’s acquisition also offsets missing on Jackson, who was drafted to play the same position as Bailey, two years earlier. (Jackson now plays for the Falcons, where Pioli is the assistant GM.) Pioli’s best move may have been his final first-round pick as a Chiefs executive when he drafted nose tackle Dontari Poe with the 11th overall choice in the 2012 NFL Draft. Poe may be the best nose in the NFL. He’s that good. Poe crushed it at the 2012 Combine, running the 40 in 4.98 seconds despite being the fifth heaviest defensive lineman to weigh in at the Combine since 2000. He also bench pressed 44 reps of 225 pounds. Despite those eye-popping numbers, Poe was considered a workout wonder, and the pick was deemed a question mark. His play on the field at Memphis came nowhere close to reflecting those physical gifts. He had just five sacks over three years, including one as a senior, while playing against weak competition in Conference USA. Pundits thought that indicated a lack of motor and of real football talent. Pioli, however, rolled the dice and ended up with a player that not only has a motor, but it’s revved for nearly every play. Heading into Week 14 of the 2013 season, for example, Poe was in the lineup for 95 percent of Kansas City’s defensive plays, which amounted to 804 snaps and was 85 more than any other NFL defensive tackle. “It’s a great luxury because very seldom do you have a man as big as he that doesn’t come out,” Sutton said. “He’s a very talented guy.” Indeed Poe plays so many downs because of his versatility — not just because of his stamina. The mammoth space eater is stout against interior running plays but has chased down screen passes near the sideline. On obvious passing downs, the 346-pounder can collapse the pocket. The three-time Pro Bowler has 10.5 sacks the last two seasons. The acquisitions of Poe, Bailey and Houston show that while the Chiefs organization may be in better shape with Reid and John Dorsey running the show, some of Pioli’s moves helped mold the Chiefs defense into one of the league’s best. Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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