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Chiefs Go Defense with First Round Pick; Grab Memphis DT Dontari Poe

The Chiefs have filled one of their biggest needs with a massive gamble.

The Chiefs selected Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe with the No. 11 pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, taking a player whose raw athletic ability and impressive numbers from the scouting combine trumped his modest on-field production.

The 6-foot-4, 346-pound Poe pushed 44 reps with 225 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in an unofficial time of 4.98 seconds. But he was only second-team all-Conference USA after making 33 stops, eight tackles for loss and one sack, flying under the radar most of last season.

“My motivation is pretty much unlimited right now,” Poe said on a conference call. “I just want to get in and start proving that I’m ready to play at the next level.”

The selection was largely panned at a watch party for season ticket-holders at the Chiefs’ practice facility, where many fans booed the pick and others walked out in anger.

“I’m excited about the pick,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel told reporters. “You should be, too.”

The selection represents a departure from the norm for Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, who earned a reputation in New England and with Kansas City for being risk-averse.

Pioli wound up gambling on the considerable upside of Poe rather than take defensive tackles Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State or Michael Brockers of LSU, who put up more impressive numbers playing in the SEC and were still available when Kansas City went on the clock.

Pioli said leading up to the draft that he valued on-field performance over the bubble of the scouting combine, but Crennel said the combine weighed heavily in the decision.

“He was on the radar before the combine. Our scouts do a tremendous job, and all the reports they had on the guy talked about how good he was as a player,” Crennel said. “Now, when we went to the combine and saw what he did, that perked our ears up even more.”

Poe is expected to slide into the middle of Kansas City’s 3-4 defense and take the place of Kelly Gregg, although Crennel was quick to say that Poe wouldn’t be given the starting job.

“He played every down at 350 pounds, and he played every position along the line in every game,” Crennel said. “He has athletic talent and athletic ability for a big man. The fact that he’s big and can move like that, that made us more interested, definitely.”

The Chiefs were miserable on offense last season, but part of that was due to injuries to quarterback Matt Cassel, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki. All of them are expected to be back this season, along with an influx of free-agent talent.

That left the Chiefs in the envious position of selecting just about anybody they thought would be an upgrade, and most figured they would try to find somebody who could stop the run, the biggest area of weakness on a defense that emerged as one of the league’s best.

That’s precisely what Pioli chose to address.


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