KCCD Staff Writer: Sam Mitchell
Former General Manager Scott Pioli’s time in Kansas City will be remembered mostly for its unpopular draft choices and unproductive free agent signings. While there were plenty of acquisitions that flopped, there were also some solid draft choices that we can learn from.
In my opinion the clear cut best draft pick of the Pioli era was Justin Houston, who was taken in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft. Its nice if a team can get productive eventual starters in the third round and on, but finding a play-making contributor like Houston, especially at a coveted pass rush position, is rare.
There are always things to be learned from successful acquisitions and this is no different. So what can we learn from the Justin Houston draft pick?
I didn’t see Houston as a first round pick coming out, but I saw many evaluations that had him ranked as a top 40 player and pass rushers often get over-drafted, so there was a solid chance Houston would be drafted in the first round before the scouting combine. At the combine however Houston made a big mistake testing positive for Marijuana. Testing positive at some point doesn’t automatically make a prospect a bad player or person, but testing positive at the combine when you know the test is coming raises major flags. This positive test is most likely why he was still available in the third round of the draft.
So what can we learn from this? First we can learn that one positive test doesn’t mean that the player is undrafted or a bad character guy who needs to be kept out of the locker room. As far as I know Houston has gotten into no off field trouble in his time in Kansas City and has seemed like a positive locker room influence.
Second, and more generally, we can learn that mistakes don’t define a player’s character on the field or off. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s cliché but true. Just because someone has gotten into trouble in the past doesn’t mean that they are a bad fit for a team or a destructive locker room influence. This is where the information gathering and interviewing process really comes into focus. If someone has tested positive before or has had other off the field issues a team can’t afford to just blow those concerns off and risk getting a player that will disrupt the locker room or get into legal trouble. But they should probably not totally remove the player from their draft board automatically either.
Each player and situation is different and there are definitely players that have tested positive that have turned out to be trouble makers off the field, but it is important to get to know each player personally before making that determination.
Draft picks are so critical to a team’s success that it is hard I’m sure for teams to take chances on players that they feel could fail or are risky prospects. But taking those risks can pay off big time. Whether the risk is character based, or has to do with injury or production, there are times and places where those picks can be appropriate.
Justin Houston was taken with the third round pick that was traded from the Browns to the Chiefs for Cleveland to move up to the 21st pick to land nose tackle Phil Taylor. After this trade the Chiefs had an extra third round pick that they had not begun the draft with.
These bonus picks, whether compensatory or through trade, seem to be good spots to take a chance on a player if there is the right player available. These picks may be a little more expendable because for all intents and purposes they are extras and can be seen as more expendable than the others. Instead of feeling that it needs to fill a need immediately with one of their base package picks, a team may be more willing to take a chance on a player that may take more time to develop or recover from injury, or may be a little more of an off field risk.
Risk taking is an important part of player acquisition in the NFL and it is important for teams to find the right times and places to take those risks. The Justin Houston pick shows us that it can be a good idea to take a chance on risky players with ‘bonus’ picks acquired through trade and compensation for lost free agents.
It is important to monitor acquisitions and see how they work out. There is more to take from a draft pick or free agent signing than surface level production, we can learn from mistakes and successful moves by analyzing what trends go into acquiring good players and what missteps are made in a busted draft pick or overpaid free agent. We can answer many questions about personnel acquisition by studying successful draft picks and acquisitions and learning what trends and traits are prevalent in good acquisitions.