If the Chiefs wanted to play it safe, they wouldn’t have selected Memphis NT Dontari Poe with the 11th pick. They could have gone with the best interior offensive lineman in the draft, Stanford’s David DeCastro, or an outside pass rusher like South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram. They could have traded down, which they did in the first round last season, to acquire more picks for the later rounds.
Instead, they went with Poe, rolling the dice on a player with as much upside as any prospect in the draft, but also one who could end up as flat as a pancake. Expected to be an instant starter, his development will not only play a key role in the team’s play in both 2012 and for the long haul.
The risk could pay off big time if Poe lives up to his ability. Linemen who are 346 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in 4.91 seconds don’t come along too often, and the fact that Poe led all defensive tackles in the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine doesn’t hurt either. With two former top-five picks playing around him (DEs Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey), Poe has the chance to dominate, filling running lanes and creating pressure up the gut the team desperately lacked a year ago with aging veteran Kelly Gregg at nose tackle.
The risk could be a bad one, however, if Poe develops as slowly as both Jackson and Dorsey did. He didn’t dominate during his college days at Memphis, despite playing subpar competition in Conference USA. It was that reason why many draftniks had him sliding, and low football IQ has led some to wonder if he’ll ever be able to pick up the intricacies of Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 scheme. Missing on a prospect like this, at a pick so high in the first round, can set the franchise back.
GM Scott Pioli has to be admired for this gutsy pick, because if it turns out well, Poe has a top-five talent at No. 11. If they wanted to play it safe, Pioli would have gone in the other direction. But the GM is banking on the talent playing out, with the team’s short- and long-term futures hanging in the balance.
Follow Eli Kaberon on Twitter