Speed, strength and high-caliber athletic ability were not the only qualities Kansas City went looking for in the 2010 draft.
With leadership also at a premium, six of the first seven players Scott Pioli wound up selecting in his second draft as the team’s general manager also happened to be college team captains.
Coincidence? Not exactly.
“I think we have improved our football team on the field, in the locker room, from a leadership standpoint, and an eventual leadership standpoint,” Pioli said.
Tennessee safety Eric Berry, taken with the overall No. 5 selection to fill what was perhaps Kansas City’s greatest need, was voted a captain shortly after becoming a starter for the Volunteers.
“This guy has been captain as a sophomore, captain as a junior, his father was a captain at Tennessee,” Pioli said. “In terms of his makeup and who he is, it’s very easy to get comfortable with him quickly.”
It’s not that character has been a main problem on a franchise that was 4-12 last year and has only 10 wins the past three seasons. But Pioli said the day he was introduced as the Chiefs’ new boss in January 2009 that he was interested in rebuilding around smart, fast, well-disciplined players who love football.
“The type of player that we’re looking for just so happens to generally be the type of person who could or would be a captain on the football team,” Pioli said. “We don’t say, ‘Oh, this guy’s a captain. We’re going to give him a plus on this chart.’ We went after good football players who had the right makeup. Those type of people have a greater likelihood that they’ll be a captain.”
With two picks in the fifth round on Saturday, the Chiefs took defensive back Kendrick Lewis of Ole Miss and linebacker Cameron Sheffield of Troy.
“I don’t think you can ever have enough leaders,” said head coach Todd Haley. “I really feel good about the way this weekend went and that we were able to find quality players who also have some other characteristics that we’re really excited about.”
Berry, just the sixth safety taken in the top five since 1970, fills the biggest single need of a team that finished 31st last year in total defense. As impressive as anything about the 6-foot, 211-pounder is the number of penalties he drew as a three-year starter. There was one, for pass interference, when he was a freshman.
“It tells you that in watching him on tape, he’s willing to let loose, but he’s also smart,” Pioli said. “He doesn’t make dumb mistakes ... You go back to what we’re looking for — big, strong, fast, smart, tough, disciplined football players. Smart comes up on the radar when you see something like that.”
On Friday, the Chiefs also went after needs with Dexter McCluster, a wide receiver from Ole Miss, Javier Arenas, a defensive back from Alabama, Illinois guard Jon Asamoah and Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki.
Arenas caught K.C.’s eye with seven punt returns for touchdowns, the second-most in NCAA history. His selection takes aim at a something Haley termed “a must,” and not just a need. The Chiefs had one of the poorest return games in the league.
“I’m really excited we’ve got some potential returners on this team,” said Haley. “Our special teams coach is as excited as I’ve seen him. He’s already diagramming returns on the board.”
Besides leadership and character, the Chiefs also pumped much-needed team speed into the franchise.
A team that’s lost almost three of every four games the past three years probably has too many needs to address in just one draft. For the Chiefs, this meant linebacker, noseguard and offensive tackle.
“The draft has ended and we’ve got how many months before the season opens?” Pioli asked. “There’s still time. Any opportunity we get to continue to improve the talent on the team, we’re going to continue that process.”