I’ve had Rolando McClain headed to the Chiefs in my mock draft for a few weeks now. And I don’t plan on changing it until I hear some information that will lead me in a new direction. I’m aware that I’m in the minority in this prediction (although Mike Band is now on board) so I figured I would take the time to further explain the reasoning behind my prediction.
The first reason is that linebacker is an obvious need. Yes, I know the offensive line needs some work as well, but there’s no reason to believe the Chiefs are ready to throw in the towel with Branden Albert and Ryan O’Callaghan. Albert, a 2008 1st-round pick, is still young and it is far too early to call him a bust. O’Callaghan may never be an elite lineman, but he’s a favorite of Scott Pioli who brought him over from New England. Russell Okung would be an upgrade, but I don’t believe the Chiefs view the tackle position as a glaring need that must be addressed in the 1st round.
The linebacker position, however, is in a state of crisis in Kansas City. Corey Mays and Demorrio Williams were the primary starters at inside linebacker, backed up by former 1st-round pick Derrick Johnson.
Pioli and new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel want a linebacker to run the defense, much the way Tedy Bruschi did in New England. And the way McClain did for Nick Saban (a former defensive coordinator under Pioli’s tudor, Bill Belichick) at Alabama.
The second, and most important, reason for my prediction is that Scott Pioli has made his draft strategy very clear over the past few seasons. The top priority is ALWAYS to upgrade the front-seven, and only when that area is set will other positions be addressed. Additionally, he believes that offensive linemen essentially grow on trees, while quality defensive linemen and linebackers are harder to come by, thus making them a hot commodity early in the draft.
Pioli demonstrated this strategy last year by selecting defensive ends with each of his first two picks (Tyson Jackson, Alex Magee), and ignoring the need for an offensive lineman until the 5th round (Colin Brown).
But the trend goes back even further. Since becoming the Director of Player Personnel in New England in 2001, Pioli has been instrumental in the selection of four top-15 picks, all of which were spent on defensive ends and linebackers.
Pioli, who comes straight from the Bill Parcells/Bill Belichick player personnel school, has a long history of successful drafts to look back on. As NFL head coaches, Parcells and Belichick have made 16 top-15 selections. Only two of them have been offensive linemen. Belichick selected Steve Everitt with the 14th overall selection in 1993. Parcells selected Eric Moore 10th overall in 1988.
Seven of those 16 picks were, predictably, defensive linemen or linebackers.
Its only January. And there is certainly time for McClain’s stock to fall. But at this point in time, he looks like a legitimate top-10 pick and no matter what angle I look at it, he just seems like a slam dunk for the Chiefs.