The Chiefs made a big mistake...
Written by Curt Popejoy on 04/27/2009
I think the buzz I am getting more the day after the draft and one of the picks generating the most noise is the decision of the Kansas Chiefs selecting Tyson Jackson DE LSU at #3, and passing on OLB Aaron Curry from Wake Forest. I went on record in a real time blog of the first round that I thought this was a horrible move, and with two nights of sleep under my belt to ponder it, my thoughts have not changed. My nephew Nick was sitting at a Kansas City Royals game, when they cut to the draft on the jumbo tron, and he texted me to tell me when the pick went down, the crowd went nuts. The boos were out of control. Good for you Chiefs fans. Don't settle just because your new GM comes with some cache'. I was just going to use this as a chance to vent a little about this, and pimp Aaron Curry but I decided to drop a little knowledge while I am at it.
The 3-4 defense is not a new phenomenon. It's been around for a long time, but only in the last decade has it really become a hot trend in the NFL. And the NFL being nothing more than a copycat league, has seen a huge influx of 3-4 base defenses in the past handful of years. This really helps me illustrated the thesis of my stance. You DON'T draft a 3-4 defensive end with the third overall pick.
First, the college perspective and the philosophy behind the defense. First, name all the college football teams that run a base 3-4 defense? I suspect most college football fans can name the University of Virginia and then the headscratching starts. I did a little digging, and the best I could find is Maryland runs a little, Nevada runs it, and Utah runs some. So what does all this mean? That finding 3-4 defensive linemen and linebackers that are coming from a 3-4 system are going to be hard to come by. So for an NFL team that means whomever you draft to play in your 3-4 scheme will in all likelihood never played in it before so there will have to be some transition to the scheme and in many cases, especially on the line and the outside linebackers a complete position change. Now, I don't know about you, but when you consider how much money is wrapped up in a top 3 pick, do you really want to draft a guy who's going to have to play a new position for the first time? But hey, that's just me. Back to the facts.
Now, as I scan the NFL.com stats section for last year's top defenses a couple of things appear. First, the 3-4 defense last year generated 4 of the top 10 defenses. Now when you consider how few teams run the base 3-4(9 last year) that number is really significant. So, let's analyze those 4 defenses shall we? I think we shall.
Starting at the bottom, New England and their 3-4 was No. 10 in yards allowed. Their starting defensive ends, Richard Seymour and Ty Warren are both first round picks. Now KC fans before you start doing the pee pee dance and saying, "see, see, see?" let's dig a little deeper. Ty Warren has averaged around 55 total tackles, and a smidge over 3 sacks a year during his time in the league. Nice numbers for a 3-4 DE(we'll see how nice or not later). Richard Seymour meanwhile has averaged about 45 total tackles a year, and almost 5 sacks. Once again, respectable numbers for a 3-4 defensive end. Ok on to the next team(more to come later on these guys)
Next up are the Dallas Cowboys. They ranked No. 8 in total defense last year out of a base 3-4 package. Their starting defensive ends are Marcus Spears a first round pick, and last year was Chris Canty(now with the Giants). Canty was a 4th round pick. This year, the Cowboys will still have Spears but on on the other side will be a rotation of Igor Olshansky(a 2nd round pick) and Jason Hatcher(a 3rd round pick). Spears has averaged 28 total tackles per year and 1 sack. Canty has averaged 37 total tackles a year and about a 1.5 sacks.
Ok, movin' on up we come next to the Baltimore Ravens. They were 2nd in total defense. Very impressive. Their starting defensive ends were Trevor Pryce(1st round pick) and Justin Bannan(5th round pick). Pryce and Bannan's stats are tough to compare because both started their careers in 4-3 defense so for comparison's sake, since moving to the Ravens, their stats are comparable to those mentioned above.
And now the final of our Big 4. The Pittsburgh Steelers. They were the no.1 defense in the league last year, and in some eyes on of the best defenses maybe of all time. Their starting defensive ends were Aaron Smith(4th round pick) and Brett Kiesel(7th round pick). Smith's stats have averaged around 47 total tackles and about 4.5 sacks a year. Kiesel has averaged around 42 total tackles and about 2.5 sacks a year.
So what does all this mean, Basil? The numbers themselves are irrelevant to me. They are simply a point of comparison. It shows that a great 3-4 defense doesn't need to have huge statistical numbers from their defensive ends. And the difference in production between defensive ends on the top 4 3-4 defenses in the league is really unrelated to the round in which they were drafted. The reason for this? Because the role of the 3-4 DE is a lot like that of an offensive guard. Their job is to take up space, absorb lineman, and allow the linebackers behind them to make plays. No one expects a 3-4 DE to get 80 tackles and double digit sacks. And in every case above except one(Canty) the player is transitioning to their 3-4 DE role from either a DT role, or a 4-3 DE role.
The best defense in the NFL last year had a 4th round pick and a 7th round pick at end, and were the immovable object of the league. Why was that? Because in spite of everything you hear about building defense starting at the line, the 3-4 is built by the linebackers. James Harrison(Defensive player of the year) Larry Foote, James Farrior, Lamarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons made up what might be the best group of linebackers the league has ever had. And they made that entire defense work. You replace them with the linebackers of the Ravens or Patriots or Cowboys, that team isn't the same. On the reverse of that. You swap lines and put those linebackers behind one of the others, and their rank moves up. That's what I believe. The front 3 of a 3-4, especially the ends are role players. Their expectations aren't what a DE in a 4-3 are. Sorry gang, that middle 4 is where a 3-4 defense is won and lost. And Chiefs fans your middle 4 is going to be Derrick Johnson(gross underachiever), Mike Vrabel(33 years old) Zach Thomas(35 years old) and Tamba Hali(converted DE) with Demarrio Williams and Monte Biesel as top reserves. Good luck with that. Tyson Jackson, Mike Tyson, and Michael Jackson can help that.
Ok, so before I go too far off on my tangent, let's get back to the Chiefs draft. They are now run by Scott Pioli who's a former Patriot front office guy. So I get his approach philosophically to take Jackson at 3. The Patriots have committed plenty of high picks to their line. But in comparison to other 3-4 teams who haven't, have they gotten better production? No, they haven't. The Chiefs had a chance to draft a player in Aaron Curry who can be a difference maker in every game he plays. Tyson Jackson no matter how talented is not a difference maker. he's a space eater. Just like Purdue DT Alex Magee who the Chiefs drafted two rounds later. Now, don't get me wrong, if the Chiefs had drafted Curry they aren't a playoff team next year, but for a franchise that has floundered for a long time, they deserve better than Jackson as the first pick of a new era. They deserve and need a player like Curry who can make plays force teams to gameplan him, and change what offenses want to do. Does anyone think that Mike Vrabel and Zack Thomas are going to force any gameplan changes? Don't kid yourself.
My plan is to keep everyone updated on both Curry and Jackson this season and in the future. Curry went to a great situation in Seattle, and may be part of the best 4-3 group of linebackers in the league, simply by his inclusion. In my opinion, with the nature of 3-4 defensive ends and where they come from and how their succcess translates to the team, Pioli made a grave error. And I also think that every week, Aaron Curry is going to show them the error of their ways, while Tyson Jackson eats up blockers for an old and average linebacking unit. Sorry Chiefs fans. Living here in the midwest I feel your pain. Don't believe the spin on this pick. You aren't that much better today on defense than you were on Friday.
Last Edited: 04/27/2009