Jackson first draft of K.C. masterpiece?
New Chiefs GM Pioli's top selection not flashy, but "right guy to play our scheme"
KANSAS CITY -- There was no mistaking what Scott Pioli wanted to do with his first pick as general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs.
He wasn't looking for a player who would be a sexy pick. He also claims he wasn't looking to enhance his reputation as a master trader on draft day. Instead, Pioli only cared about finding a player who fit the image he has for this team. On Saturday afternoon, Pioli tried convincing everybody that LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson was that guy.
Of course, time will tell whether Jackson was worthy of being the third overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft. His stock clearly rose over the past few weeks, as he went from a mid- to late-first-round prospect to one with top-five potential. Pioli and new head coach Todd Haley obviously saw him as the most established defensive end in this year's cop. And given the recent history of highly drafted defensive linemen who became busts in Kansas City, they had better be right with this guy.
Chiefs fans know all about disappointments like Ryan Sims, Junior Siavii and Eddie Freeman. They also are trying to be patient with defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who was taken fifth overall in the 2008 draft and produced a lackluster rookie campaign. Now they'll put their faith in Jackson, a former college teammate of both Dorsey and Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe at LSU.
"This was difficult only in the sense that there were a number of great players there [at the third pick]," Pioli said. "We spent the past several days evaluating all these guys, but after all that, we felt [Jackson] was the one player we wanted most."
Pioli said need really was the deciding factor in the Chiefs' decision to select Jackson instead of a player like Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, who many analysts called the safest pick in this draft. The Chiefs want to transition to a 3-4 defense this season after years of playing a 4-3 scheme. They've already started amassing linebackers through free agency. The next step was fortifying a defensive line that didn't have many prototypical 3-4 players in the fold when Pioli succeeded former general manager Carl Peterson.
The obvious benefit of the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Jackson is his versatility. He played defensive end in a 4-3 system at LSU, but the Chiefs think he'll be equally comfortable playing over an offensive tackle in their 3-4 look. They also like Jackson's ability to contribute on all three downs, especially since he can move to defensive tackle on passing downs.
"He's a big, long, strong player who plays sideline to sideline," Haley said. "Those guys don't grow on trees."
That comment ultimately sums up the key to the first draft pick of the Pioli era in Kansas City: The Chiefs selected a player who offers them rare opportunities on the field. The important thing at this stage is tempering the expectations that surely will be foisted upon Jackson once he hits town. After all, a player selected that high is supposed to make an immediate impact on the field. You're talking about a player who likely will receive $30 million in guaranteed money once he signs.
Jackson obviously is anticipating big things, primarily because he's being reunited with Dorsey.
"We won a national championship together and now our goal will be to win a Super Bowl together," he said. But the fact remains that defensive linemen also need some time to adjust to life in the NFL. Most can dominate in college because they're facing inferior athletes. Many learn that such advantages do not exist in the league.
In fact, Pioli pointed out that his former team, the New England Patriots, watched all three of their current star defensive linemen go through their own growing pains as rookies.
It happened to Pro Bowl end Richard Seymour. The same was true for fellow end Ty Warren and nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Those players didn't really blossom in New England's defense until their second and third years, and Pioli anticipates a similar career trajectory for Jackson.
Pioli also mentioned a recent conversation he had with former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, who traded up to select defensive tackle Russell Maryland first overall in the 1991 draft. Johnson explained how essential Maryland was to the Cowboys' defensive dominance during their dynasty years in the 1990s. Pioli obviously hopes Jackson can have the same effect on the Chiefs' defensive play in years to come.
"Getting the right guy to play our scheme is what we're after," Pioli said.
Still, the fact is that Jackson might never live up to the price tag that he'll carry into the NFL. People will see all that guaranteed money and expect plenty of bang for that buck. They'll want to see double-digit sack numbers, a bevy of tackles for losses. This is how the league works these days. What fans can see often matters far more than what players actually do.
At his best, Jackson will be a player who makes life easier for everybody around him. He'll occupy blockers, control his gaps and do all the little things that rarely get noticed by the average fans.
"He has some pass rush skills, too," Haley said. "He'll be able to take advantage of some mismatches."
So it should be interesting to see how Jackson develops in Kansas City. It also will be intriguing to learn how fans view this choice three years from now. At first glance, Pioli's first draft pick in Kansas City couldn't have inspired less buzz. What he has to hope now is that fans have the patience to see just where Jackson fits into the Chiefs' master plan.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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