Kansas City, Mo. Nobody seemed to think that the Kansas City Chiefs were going to choose a defensive end with their first-round pick in the NFL draft Thursday night.
That included Dee Ford, the one they ultimately selected.
Despite glaring holes at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield, the Chiefs grabbed a potential replacement for Tamba Hali or Justin Houston by taking Ford, a pass-rushing specialist out of Auburn who they believe can make a smooth transition to outside linebacker.
“I’m definitely surprised it was Kansas City. I’m not surprised it was the first round,” Ford said. “I haven’t spoken to Kansas City as much. But in all honesty, all the vets I talked to in the NFL told me it would be a team I had not spoken to.”
That doesn’t mean Ford is unfamiliar with Kansas City. He said he’s a “big fan” of Hali, who turns 31 this season and is winding down his career, and that he hopes to learn from fellow pass rusher Houston, who is eligible for free agency after the season.
Reid declined to say the Chiefs were planning to replace one of their incumbents. Instead, he praised the flexibility that Ford gives the Chiefs, especially on passing downs.
“I think it’s more mixing him in with that group. You need as many of those guys as you can possibly get out there,” Reid said. “I can probably tell you if he wasn’t the quickest defensive lineman off the ball in this draft, he was the closest to it.”
Perhaps as fast as Jadeveon Clowney, who went first overall to Houston. In fact, Ford said at the scouting combine that he was a better prospect than the former South Carolina star.
The Chiefs nearly had a chance to land Texas A&M; quarterback Johnny Manziel, who went one pick earlier to the Cleveland Browns. Manziel could have given the Chiefs some leverage in their ongoing negotiations with Alex Smith, who also will become a free agent after next season.
The Chiefs and Smith’s representatives have been talking about a long-term contract, but the two sides still appear far apart. There is no heir apparent already on the roster.
“When you’re sitting at the 23rd pick you’re looking at everybody. Absolutely, we checked the quarterbacks out,” Reid said. “But by no means did it have anything to do with Alex’s play or contract or anything else. That had nothing to do with it.”
The Chiefs traded their second-round pick to San Francisco last year in the deal that landed Smith, which means Kansas City won’t pick again until the third round. And with the draft as deep as it’s been in years, the Chiefs were open to trading down to acquire more selections.
“I would tell you the phone was ringing, probably for the kid that went before us,” Reid said. “They don’t tell you exactly who they want, but the phones were ringing.”
Ford will be moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ defensive scheme, and he’ll be asked to drop into pass coverage for the first time. But it is the same kind of switch that Hali made when he was drafted by Kansas City, and one that Reid is confident Ford will be able to make given his athleticism and his performance during the scouting process.
And while Ford is known for his pass-rushing ability, he is also confident that he will be able to defend the run — a requirement if he is to emerge as an every-down player.
“Relentless football player,” Reid said. “He’s going to give you an honest snap every snap. Tremendous motor, great attitude, all those intangibles are a real positive there, and I’ve said this before, your offensive line, defensive line, make everybody around them better. If they’re playing at a high level, it works out pretty well for you.”
Ford led the SEC with 10½ sacks last season, despite a nagging knee injury. He also had back surgery earlier in this career, though Reid said the Chiefs gave him a clean bill of health.
“Extremely high motor on the football field. Very intelligent player. He’s a concert pianist on top of being a heck of a football player,” Reid said. “We look forward to bringing him into our defense. You can’t have enough good pass rushers and Dee falls into that category.”