Looking for reasons to believe in John Dorsey
By Thomas Moore
Question: The Chiefs were 43-21 during Dorsey’s tenure as general manager. How much of that success do you think can be fairly credited to him?
Matt: Much of it. Let me get this out of the way: I am a John Dorsey apologist through and through. I’m firmly in the camp that he’s a brilliant general manager who certainly had his miscues, but that they are, far and away, overwhelmed by his positive traits. Even the Chiefs immediate success after owning the NFL’s worst record was built upon his ability to discern and acquire talent – and not just talent but the exact talent that would succeed for the coaching scheme Andy Reid wanted to implement.
I’m such a fan of Dorsey that I want to give you numerous examples, but let me at least provide a couple. The Chiefs had the No. 1 overall pick when Dorsey took power, but remember this was the ill-fated draft of 2013. It was laughably bad, even from the very top, and nearly every analyst would call it the worst draft in a very, very long time. So it was just poor timing overall for it to be the one time to own the top pick.
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In that draft, the Chiefs grabbed Eric Fisher at tackle, but also quickly discerned that there wasn’t a single quarterback worth taking. Remember this is the Geno Smith hype draft. E.J. Manuel was the only first-round quarterback. The Chiefs didn’t bother and sent a couple of second-round picks to the San Francisco 49ers for Alex Smith. Immediately the trade bounty and return was divisive, but five years later, Smith is still the starter, having his best season ever, and the Chiefs have averaged just under 11 wins per season since he arrived.
I will get to more of his draft acumen later, since I know you’ll ask about that specifically, but just as important was his ability to know when and where to strike in the free agent market. Sean Smith was the perfect press corner to anchor the secondary until they drafted Marcus Peters two years later. He was the best cornerback on the market in 2013 and the Chiefs got him on a three-year, team-friendly deal. Jeremy Maclin came the next year as the free agent prize. Mitchell Schwartz came the year after that as the tackle prize.
You might hear things about bad free agent contracts with Dorsey or some salary cap issues, but the reality is the Smith and Schwartz deals specifically were team-friendly and fair. And in five years, those are hardly the only examples. Waiver claims or free agent flyers like Husain Abdullah, Tyvon Branch, Ron Parker, Frank Zombo, Jaye Howard, Josh Mauga, etc. all filled holes for the Chiefs at a low cost.
Question: Dorsey is touted, quite heavily, by the old guard “football guys” for his ability to spot talent. But his drafts with the Chiefs have been characterized by some as not being overly special. How well were his drafts in reality?
Matt: This made me spit out my coffee: his drafts with the Chiefs not “being overly special.” I don’t want to write a thesis (although I really could) here but I would take Dorsey’s draft acumen over Ozzie Newsome, John Schneider, Bill Belichick or anyone else who is supposed to be among the NFL’s best.
His first draft was definitely his worst, which is always the case as the incoming GM doesn’t have his complete staff or yearlong evaluative plan in place just yet. As much of a head start as a GM might get, it’s almost always the worst class for a GM looking back. Yet even here he drafted the best tight end in the NFL not named Rob Gronkowski, grabbed an above-average left tackle in the world’s worst draft class and a few other role players who have stuck elsewhere.
The next year, he found two offensive line starters late in the game and bet big on Dee Ford. That’s a mixed bag, especially due to injury this year, but Ford led the Chiefs in sacks last year with 10 (which was also good for a top 15 finish in the NFL overall). He’s more of a situational rusher than anything, but he’s also not the bust he’s been made out to be. Injuries have killed his year and he’s on injured reserve with a bad back as we speak.
The more time Dorsey has with his process, the better the draft classes get, which bodes well for the Chiefs future but we’ll get there in a second. In his third draft, Dorsey grabbed the best young cornerback in football, an above average starting center (in the same offseason as when the Chiefs lost Rodney Hudson for a mega-deal in free agency to the Raiders), a solid receiver in Chris Conley, a nice slot corner in Steve Nelson, a Pro Bowl special teams ace in D.J. Alexander, a nice run stuffing option in Ramik Wilson and a rotational lineman in Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who has come up quite big this year for K.C. That’s several players who have contributed on an already loaded roster.
Last year was more of the same. Chris Jones made Pro Football Focus wet themselves as a rookie defensive lineman. Tyreek Hill is the NFL’s fastest player. Parker Ehinger was an instant starter at left guard. Demarcus Robinson is a promising wideout earning serious reps this year. Eric Murray just had the first sack of Philip Rivers on Saturday. In other words, several more contributors were found in this class, including impact talent where it should be found (at the top).
This latest class could be the best yet and that’s because Dorsey said it was all projects. Yet Kareem Hunt will win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award already. Patrick Mahomes is the quarterback of the future already on the roster and drawing raves after learning from Andy Reid and Alex Smith for a season. Tanoh Kpassagnon was a project pass rusher compared to Sean Jones and Jason Pierre-Paul, and he’s just now starting to round into form. The others are special teams fodder because, let’s face it, the Chiefs had very little space for any of these guys to play anyway. If not for Spencer Ware’s season-ending injury, we wouldn’t even be talking this much about Kareem Hunt. Yet opportunity rose and Dorsey’s eye for talent made the next man up even better than the starter.