Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
In Pioli’s short tenure here in Kansas City he has seemed to be pretty consistent with his drafting strategy. As the draft is one big crap shoot, not all of his picks have worked out, but the majority of the time I’ve come away at least understanding why each pick was made. This more than any other draft seems to be one that was designed with high upside in mind and to build up depth, rather than concerned with immediate production.
As a practice, reactionary draft grades are essentially pointless. There’s no legitimate way to grade players on an NFL scale when they haven’t taken a single snap in the league. What can be done is evaluate picks on how well they performed in college, how it will translate to the NFL and the Chiefs system, and if the pick addresses (or doesn’t address) team needs.
We will start with pick #11, Dontari Poe, the NT from Memphis. Poe is, at the very least, an intriguing pick. “Intriguing” is not usually the word you want coming to mind with your first pick. Usually you’re looking for the superlatives “slam dunk,” “home run,” or at a minimum “safe.” With the expectations placed on a player and the amount of money they require, first round picks should be players that come in and contribute immediately.
Poe raises some flags as a pick for the Chiefs. The biggest flag, in my estimation, would be the question of his effort. While it wasn’t a major concern put forth by most teams, it was something that was often brought up with talking about Poe. At 6-4, 345 pounds, and possessing freakish athletic ability for his size, many felt Poe should have dominated lesser competition at Memphis in Conference USA. 33 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 1 sack in C-USA as a senior is a bit underwhelming from a first round pick you expect to anchor your defense.
However, according to his coach at Memphis, Mike Dubose (former head coach at Alabama); some of Poe’s lack in production is his (Dubose’s) fault. Dubose admitted that they probably didn’t give Poe the training or technique adjustments needed to be as effective as his athleticism would allow. Therefore, it would stand to reason that Poe might find greater success at the NFL level now that he will be able to focus his training and be placed in a position to use his athleticism properly.
Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of the pick. Nose tackle was probably the biggest need on the team, but with the other needs this team had there were better picks available. David DeCastro from Stanford was my ideal pick here as he would have solidified this offensive line a great deal. While the upside for DeCastro might not have been quite as high, plugging him into this offensive line for the next 5-10 years would have given the Chiefs one of the best young lines in the league. This is especially relevant when the nose tackle many considered the second best in the draft Alameda Ta’amu from Washington was available in the fourth round. That said, it will be very interesting to see how Romeo Crennell can mold Poe into a quality nose tackle.
The second round pick was equally interesting for the Chiefs. I think many thought they would go inside linebacker with this pick. Instead, they decided to go with the teams other big need of offensive line. Jeff Allen offensive tackle from Illinois is a very solid pick in the second round. Looking at the success of Jon Asmoah there is some pedigree there.
Allen does a couple things for the Chiefs. First, as a solid but non-dominant offensive tackle, he projected more as a guard in the NFL. Moving him to guard allows him to study up behind Ryan Lilja and then take over next year, similar to the path of Asmoah. If nothing else he will provide solid depth at guard and somebody who can fill in at tackle if need be.
The third round pick was slightly more perplexing than the first two. The Chiefs selected Donald Stephenson, offensive tackle from Oklahoma. It’s clear the Chiefs at this point were looking to this draft to solidify depth at many positions. Picking another tackle, they give themselves some much needed depth on the offensive line. However, there is still the issue of other needs that could have been filled here.
The next pick was possibly the most questionable. In the fourth round they selected Devon Wylie, wide receiver from Fresno St. Wylie is a burner who ran a 4.39 40 yard dash at the combine, but doesn’t possess ideal size as he’s only 5’9”. This pick sounded awfully familiar. Just two years ago the Chiefs selected Dexter McCluster to fill this role. While McCluster hasn’t blown up by any means he had over 800 total yards last year and possesses a very similar skill set. While Wylie is a true receiver and McCluster isn’t, this pick still makes you do a double take as it didn’t seem like a need that had to be filled here.
The Chiefs pick in round 5 was hailed as a solid pick nearly universally and I would happen to agree. De’Quan Menzie, cornerback from Alabama was selected to compete with another Alabama product Javier Arenas, for the #3 cornerback spot. There was talk of moving Menzie to safety, but most say he will be fine at cornerback. With the departure of Brandon Carr, depth at CB needed to increase. This should be a solid signing for the Chiefs that could give immediate results this year.
Grading the Chiefs on my aforementioned criteria I would give them a C+ for this draft. They filled some needs, but the players they selected weren’t necessarily the most dominant in college. No selection jumps off the page as an excellent pick that is immediately going to help this team. That said, all these players should be able to contribute, however small, and step in with the inevitable injury that will happen. The Chiefs have gotten to the position where they can focus on depth from the draft and that’s a credit to Pioli for building this roster. Looking towards the future, some of these players could factor in with large roles on this team.
With the Royals in the midst of a 10 game losing streak, Kansas City sports fans are granted a reprieve this Thursday with the NFL draft. The Chiefs currently have the 11th pick in the draft and there are a lot of possibilities open to this team at that spot. I’m going to give everyone a few things to look out for this Thursday in regards to how the Chiefs will handle their spot.
First of all, we will have to deal with this business concerning Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Wherever the Tannehill hype machine started, I’m not buying it. As a QB, Tannehill was only an average to slightly above passer in college. There are those that bring up the fact that he didn’t have the solid receivers around him, and that is a valid point. However, receivers don’t generally cause bad decisions and Tannehill has made some crucial ones in his time.
With Tannehill it’s also important to remember that he doesn’t fit the mold of a QB that Pioli likes to draft. As one of Pioli’s biggest influences, Bill Parcells devised a method for drafting QBs in which they had to meet a set of criteria. For a QB to be drafted, they had to have graduated, had to have been a senior, must have been a 3-year starter, and had to have started 23 wins in his career. Tannehill only started 20 games in total in 1 ½ years as a starter. Further, he only won 13 of those games. He was even a wide receiver for his first two years at A&M.
It seems that the Tannhill business is most likely a smoke-screen. Pioli loves doing this and playing shadow games with the rest of the league. Being so secretive lends itself to unpredictability and people won’t be sure if Pioli is actually interested or not. This benefit is two-fold: (1) a team interested will trade above the Chiefs causing a player they actually want to slide down, (2) with Seattle being interested in Tannehill (reportedly) and drafting 12th, a team interested would have to trade with the Chiefs to get him if he fell that far. This means if Tannehill is there at 11, the Chiefs will have plenty of options. However, the consensus seems to be that he will be taken by Miami at the 8th spot so this is probably all a moot point anyway.
Which brings us to, if not Tannehill, then who? Number one target for the Chiefs should be David DeCastro (G, Stanford). An offensive lineman has never been a sexy pick, but has always been a necessary one. With this pick and the pro-bowl potential of DeCastro, the Chiefs would immediately have one of the best young lines in the league. If Rodney Hudson takes over for Casey Weigmann, then Lilja is the only player over 27 years old (and he’s only 30). This offensive line unit has the potential to be dominant like the one from the early 2000’s (though not quite as dominant) and stay together for the next 5-10 years.
Assuming DeCastro is either off the board or the Chiefs don’t feel the value is appropriate they have a couple of other options. A name that has risen up draft boards and a lot see the Chiefs having interest in is Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College). Boston College has had some success as of late with linebackers transitioning to the pros (Mathias Kiwanuka of the Giants is a prime example). Kuechly put up some pretty impressive numbers at BC including 532 total tackles in 3 years as a starter. He seems to fit the mold of a solid ILB in a 3-4 scheme so might fit perfectly next to pro-bowler Derrick Johnson.
The problem with Kuechly here is that coming from the ACC it’s necessarily a very strong football conference. Even with the success of players like Kiwanuka from BC, a recent example sticking out in people’s minds is Aaron Curry. Curry rocketed up draft boards in 2009 making himself the 4th overall pick after a strong showing at the combine, but has since been disappointing in the NFL. This could be a possibility for a player like Kuechly. If the Chiefs are going to go linebacker, I feel they should look elsewhere.
Looking elsewhere would mean moving on down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama where Dont’a Hightower plays. Coming off a national championship squad and a recent history of solid linebackers, Hightower would make a lot of sense for the Chiefs. While only a one-year starter at Alabama, he had 85 tackles, 4 sacks, and 1 interception in 2011. While not huge numbers he was an integral part of the defense and showed himself to be a slightly more versatile linebacker than Kuechly.
If they Chiefs don’t decide to go linebacker, there are some defensive linemen that they could choose. Dontari Poe seems to be a big name at that spot, especially given the Chiefs need at nose tackle. At 6’5” and 350 pounds he has great size for a NT and could be a big space eater there. Even so, Poe comes from a weak football conference where he didn’t dominate as you might expect and often had problems staying on the field. The 11th pick might be too high to draft someone who only factors into being a part-time player.
The next defensive lineman is Michael Brockers (DT, LSU). At 6’6” 306 lbs, he’s not prototypical nose tackle size but could fit in at defensive end in the Chiefs 3-4 scheme. The biggest hurdle here would be the Chiefs getting over drafting yet another lineman from LSU who isn’t a perfect fit in this defense. While I don’t think Pioli factors those things into his decision a ton, it’s still out there.
Ultimately, I think the Chiefs will go defensive line or offensive line. I don’t see Pioli valuing linebacker high enough to take at 11. If I had my way the Chiefs would trade down and maybe get a couple of other picks, but I don’t see that happening. With Tannehill most likely gone at the 8th spot, there are not many teams who would look to trade up with the Chiefs. I wouldn’t be shocked to see one of the linebackers taken, but I would suspect either DeCastro or one of the defensive linemen to come off the board with the Chiefs pick. Whomever they pick, at the very least, the NFL draft will be a momentary distraction from the Royals’ all-too-common poor start.
Some Royals fans have already started to lose faith in this team at this point in the season. The Royals sit at 3-6 with the American League favorites coming in to town. However, as unimpressive as the Royals were this past weekend, nine games aren’t even close to 10% of the season. The results to this point mean very little in terms of how this team will end up. The list of teams who have started 3-6 or worse and won 90 games or made the playoffs is long, to be sure.
Fans are right to be frustrated after the poor performances we saw from the Royals this past weekend. The Royals pitching staff gave up 32 runs in only three games including 18 in the first three innings. It was a poor display by a much maligned pitching staff.
Even so, those three games alone aren’t enough to get fans in a tizzy. The real issue at play here is how these games were lost by this team. Even before the Indians series the Royals were poised to take two out of three from the Oakland A’s. The Royals took a one run lead in the top of the 12th inning and all they had to do was get 3 outs to close things down and come home with a 4-2 record.
Jonathan Broxton came to the mound after a scintillating performance just a couple days before in Anaheim where he got three strikeouts on 14 pitches to close out the game. He looked to have regained his 2009, pre-injury form for at least one outing. With this lead in the bottom of the 12th, Royals fans felt comfortable with Broxton coming in and possibly starting their home stand at 4-2.
Broxton started out rolling with a strikeout. Then a hitter reached first on an error by Alcides Escobar. Then it fell apart. Two consecutive walks by Broxton and the bases are loaded. Then Broxton hits the next batter to move in the tying run. The damage can still be controlled with a double play and a chance for the Royals to win it on offense. Then Broxton plunks the next batter and in comes the game winning walk off run with the A’s not even getting a hit in the final inning.
Couple this with a wasted solid performance by Bruce Chen in the season opener – in which the Royals give up five runs in the eighth inning to lose it - and the way the Indians series transpired leaves lots of fans upset. While the point of the season being young is valid, that doesn’t mean that fans can’t get upset. Losses happen in baseball more than any other sport.^ It only gets disconcerting when you look at the way the team loses.
^If you win 100 games that gives you a .617 winning percentage which puts that as one the best teams in baseball. In 2005 the Chiefs had a .625 winning percentage and missed the playoffs.
The Royals chose to embrace “Our Time” as the slogan for this team. This slogan was initially started up as simple marketing, but the team really started to believe. This group of players has won at every level of the minors and they want to continue that in the majors.
More than just winning, it was supposed to signify a changing of the guard. The moribund organization of the past that loses 19 games in a row is gone. Even with suspect starting pitching, one of the best young bullpens in the game would give this team a shot. “Our Time” is supposed to be a new era for these Royals. It isn’t just supposed to be about 2012; it’s about beyond this season and looking towards the bright future for this organization.
The 2012 iteration of this team was supposed to be the start of the new era. They might not be one of the best teams in the league, but the Royals weren’t supposed to be a punch line like they were in the past.
After last season nobody would’ve expected Escobar to make that error in the 12th against Oakland. Nobody would have thought Greg Holland would give up two runs in an inning at all this year, let alone the eighth game of the season. These things happen in baseball and perhaps it’s all just unfortunate timing being in the beginning of the season.
I’m not going to sit here and claim that the sky is falling in regards to “Mission 2012.” I’m also not going to sit here and make excuses for a team that has made mistakes they shouldn’t be making. Closer’s blow saves and that happens, but it usually doesn’t occur by hitting two batters in a row. Errors happen but our future gold glove shortstop is supposed to make the big plays when the team needs them.
There will be many people that will cry out “same ole Royals.” This isn’t the same Royals. They are a different team. This team has more talent than any in the last 10 years. Truth be told, we don’t quite know what the team is or will be. That’s what this season is about. It’s also about change. It’s about a new time for this organization and these fans. When we see the same mistakes that have plagued this organization for the last 15 years, we fans have every right to be upset.
Baseball, more than any other sport, requires patience. This fan base has been patient, waiting 25+ years for playoff baseball to return. We’ve waited 5+ years for Moore to build this organization into a winner. New and exciting times are coming for this team but as fans we have earned the right to be upset with the display on the field. These Royals may not be able to compete with the Tigers or the Yankees, but they most certainly should be able to compete with the Indians and A’s.
Despite the poor start, all is not lost. Being upset with this team isn’t the same as giving up on them. If anything, being this upset this early is good. It shows that the expectations are raised by the team and the fans. The Royals have more than enough time to correct things and I have every faith that they will.
Remaining patient with this team isn’t the same as Moore telling us to “trust the process” in 2006 with nothing coming. This is a different time with a different team. Nearly 95% of this season remains and there is a lot that can happen. If fans are upset it should only be because they know this team is capable of much more than we’ve seen through nine games.
Well, I’m going to get it out of the way and say that after opening weekend, we don’t know much more about the Royals than we did 3 days ago. That said, there was much encouragement to be had after opening weekend giving us much to look forward to the rest of the way.
Bruce Chen, after a slow spring, looks to have picked up right where he left off last year. This looked to be the type of roster ready to light up a pitcher like Chen. A lefty with an 87 MPH fastball pitching against stud right handed power hitters like Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo didn’t appear to be a great matchup. No matter, Chen had one of his best starts as a Royal. He only lasted six innings but it was a fantastic six. Chen didn’t look afraid or overmatched against some of the best hitters in the league. It’s only the first start, but definitely an encouraging sign.
After Chen’s great start, both Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez followed suit. Hochever went 6.1 innings and Sanchez went five both only giving up two runs. Neither looked “great” but both showed flashes and Hochevar continued doing what made his second half of the season last year successful (mainly pitching inside and using his slider effectively). After three games, we know that if the starting pitching keeps up, the Royals can compete with just about anybody.
While the first three starts from the rotations were good, the real star of the show was the offense. The Royals weren’t able to muster a run in game one, but that was against Jared Weaver who is a legitimate Cy Young candidate. After that the bats woke up and put some good numbers on a couple of pitchers who weren’t all that bad themselves in Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
The first stat that jumps off the page is Eric Hosmer already having two homeruns in only three games. I don’t know how many other ways it can be said but Hosmer is one special player. Everyone is talking about whether the Royals can sign him long-term, when he’s going to leave, etc. What everyone needs to be doing instead is sitting back and enjoying the great player we will be able to watch here in Kansas City for the next 5 years.
It’s been a long time since the Royals had a player that could make the opposing team scared. Even in his heyday, Mike Sweeney wasn’t that hitter. Hosmer is that player. He is a hitter who can make the opposing pitcher pay, even when no mistake is made. His ceiling is one of the best hitters in the league and he may reach that sooner than originally thought.
With how Hosmer has developed this year, he may officially take the mantle of best pure hitter on the team away from Billy Butler. However, Butler showed this past weekend that if that does happen, he won’t go quietly. Not to be outdone by Hosmer’s first homerun, Butler hit one later that sealed the game for the Royals on Saturday.
This clued us all in to what may be the most fun thing to watch this season for the Royals: the hitting duel between these two. While Gordon had a phenomenal season last year, regression is to be expected. I don’t think he will regress as much as most do, but nonetheless, it will happen.
Hosmer coming into his first full year with more maturity and experience make him likely to take a big leap. Butler, with much more protection in the lineup and being on the verge for the majority of last season, make him likely to get back to the .300’s in hitting this year. Seeing one or both of these hitters get to .330 on the year would not surprise me.
For years we’ve been hearing that the doubles that Butler hits will turn into homeruns. Last year we didn’t see it until the second half of the season when he picked things up hitting 13 home runs in the final 79 games. While I don’t ever see Butler as a 30+ HR power guy, I think he takes a step up this year and puts a full year together. Twenty-five homeruns isn’t out of the question for Butler.
Hosmer is the young prodigy who has the athletic gift and all the natural tools. Butler might not be the most gifted athletically but has mastered the craft of hitting and turned himself into a technician at the plate. As good as Gordon was last year, Butler has been the most consistent player offensively over the last 5 years. Together they can provide a formidable 3-4 hitter combo, which can rank among the league’s best.
In a year where the Royals project to be very fun to watch this looks to be most fun battle. But there’s something more important as a byproduct. Nothing helps camaraderie on a team more than some fun side battles where teammates push each other. When Zack Greinke was here, he and Joakim Soria would go back and forth pushing each other to be better. The ultimate beneficiary was the teams as Greinke went on to win the Cy Young and both made All-Star trips.
It’s safe to say if Butler and Hosmer had a friendly competition the team would be more than a thankful beneficiary. This could all lead to something even more important looking towards the future. For those who watched the game on Saturday and saw both Hosmer and Butler homer, the post-game interview was an interesting sight. Joel Goldberg interviewed both of them at the same time and Hosmer stood there, confident and proud of what his team has accomplished (and yes, this is his team), with his arm draped around Butler.
Goldberg commented on how good of friends they have become. Whether chemistry can lead to more wins remains to be seen, but it most certainly can’t hurt. What chemistry can do is make people want to play for this organization. Hosmer has a bright future ahead of him and looks to be one of the better players in baseball once he reaches free agency. He will most likely have his pick of where he wants to play.
It will take a lot for Hosmer to pick the Royals as they will most likely not be able to pay as much as other teams can. What they may lack financially, they can possibly make up for in other areas. They can offer a team Hosmer is comfortable with, likes playing for, and hopefully wins a log of games. If that’s the case, then the chances of Hosmer being a Royal for longer than the requisite six years is a distinct possibility.
What we know from this weekend is that the future is bright for Hosmer and the Royals. There’s going to be a lot of fun things to watch from this team, even if there is the looming issue of Hosmer’s future with the organization. Fortunately for us, that’s five years away and this season, we can sit back and enjoy watching what should be a fun battle within a fun season of Royals baseball.
More than any team in recent memory this Kansas team “feels” like it’s destined for a great ending to this season. Many other more talented Jayhawk squads have dealt with and succumbed to that feeling of impending doom that comes with being a college basketball blue blood. This team has cast those aside and feels different than many of the powerhouse teams of Bill Self’s tenure.
By all accounts this team shouldn’t be here. They shouldn’t have beaten Purdue, North Carolina State, North Carolina, or Ohio State. Yet, here they are. As fans, players, and coaches, everyone knows that there’s no external force propelling this team to victory. Even so, similarities between this and championship teams of the past keep creeping in to everyone’s heads.
The 1952, 1988, and 2008 championships were all won in leap years. This year is a leap year. Both 1988 and 2008 championship runs started in Nebraska. This year’s run started in Nebraska. The 2008 championship ended against a juggernaut Memphis team coached by Kansas coaching product John Calipari after beating Roy Williams and North Carolina. This year’s run ends (one way or another) against the juggernaut Kentucky squad coached by Kansas coaching product John Calipari after beating Roy Williams and North Carolina.
While these similarities are nothing more than coincidental they only strengthen the ‘team of destiny’ feeling this squad has. En route to this National Title game appearance they’ve put to bed many of the issues this Kansas program has faced in the tournament over the years.
Facing a 10 seed in the second round and trailing for the greater majority of the game is usually a recipe for disaster for Kansas.
Not this team.
A double digit seed in the second weekend has spelled doom in the past for KU. Not this team. Trailing with less than 4 minutes to go in the Final Four usually isn’t a good sign for the Jayhawks teams of past.
Not this team.
This Kansas unit has been able to shrug off all of the weight of past failures and won all those games. No matter what has happened, this group of young men has refused to quit and they have made themselves a part of something special. By overcoming the upset bug that has hit more talented teams of the past, this team has become what they fear the most: a team playing with nothing to lose.
There has been no external factor the team can point to other than the fact that nobody expected them to be here. More than anything, this team seems to love proving people wrong. Final Four teams that lead by 13 points in the second half don’t usually lose the game, but that’s exactly what KU forced Ohio State to do. The only mantra this team has been able to repeat is that they have had every opponent right where they want them, not expecting KU to fight back.
In the last 25 years, the two Kansas teams that have won a National Championship have had the word ‘miracle’ attached to it. ‘Danny and the Miracles’ and ‘Mario’s Miracle’ were both unexpected championship occurrences that made those teams and those runs memorable. A championship victory by this team would constitute another miracle and make them just as memorable as the previously mentioned squads.
In order to do that, they’re going to have to beat a Kentucky team that is as good of a team as we’ve seen in the last 25 years. Every starting position has an NBA-caliber player. Many of them were recruits Kansas went for and lost out on. Losing out on those recruits is one of the reasons many thought KU would be in a “rebuilding year” in 2011-2012. Despite all of that, this team has made their way to the pinnacle just as the supremely talented Kentucky team has.
A victory over this Kentucky iteration may just require a 3rd miracle in the last 25 years. We all know stranger things have happened in the NCAA tournament. It was going to take a miracle for NC State to beat Houston in 1983, and it happened. It was going to take a miracle for Villanova to beat Georgetown in 1985, and it happened. It was going to take a miracle for Kansas to beat Oklahoma in 1988, and it happened.
Now, here comes the dose of reality. The problem with those scenarios is that none of those losing squads were as talented as Kentucky. Occasionally there are teams that are above the superstitions and past failures. Just as this Kansas team has overcome the past issues of the university, this Kentucky team looks poised to overcome the upset jinx of past dominant squads as well.
Despite all the external factors that may point to a Kansas victory, Kentucky appears to have the advantage with all the internal factors. Even with Kansas’ “never say die” attitude, at some point it’s going to be too much. Jeff Withey might be able to corral Anthony Davis the same way he did Jared Sullinger (MIGHT being the key word here). Tyshawn Taylor might be able to handle Marquis Teague, but what about the rest?
This season has shown the greatness of Davis, but has also shown the less heralded Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as one of the most talented players in the country. KU has no answer for such a player. Same goes with Terrance Jones, and the rest of the talented Kentucky roster. While Elijah Johnson and Travis Releord have performed better in the tourney than anyone expected, if the game comes down to the those matchups it does not lean in Kansas’ favor.
Everyone wants to believe that it was meant to be for this Kansas squad. It would make for one of the most remarkable NCAA tournament runs if they do indeed pull off the upset. But sometimes, tradition, superstition, and everything else doesn’t matter. Kentucky has been on a collision course with the National Championship since day one of this season. They came here to win, they have the talent to do it and all indications point to that tonight.
After all, those other similarities with past Kansas championship teams are just coincidence, right?