The three-day NFL draft extravaganza has concluded and culminated in many draftniks and experts furiously flipping through their draft guides while yelling “reach!” on draftees that went higher than expected. One of those “reaches” may have been new Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe, a plus sized yet ultra athletic prospect whose stock seemed to be in question at times.
Poe was taken No. 11 overall by the red and white, and it was immediately an intriguing selection due to several reasons that apply to the draft strategy and philosophy of Scott Pioli. The Chiefs GM has a history of working with the famous (or infamous, depending on the color of your glasses) Bill Belichick, who learned from the George Young school of drafting.
George Young and the Planet Theory Concept
George Young was a long-time New York Giants general manager who significantly influenced the majority of the personnel men in the NFL today. One of the concepts he introduced was “planet theory,” which stated that there were only so many men of great size and athletic ability walking planet earth, thus when presented with an opportunity acquire one, a GM should pounce.
This concept applies to Poe. Pioli said that “if you watch tape, you can see that this guy is a strong player, he’s a thick player, and he’s a tremendous athlete.” At the Combine, Poe came in at a massive 6’4 1/8″ and 346 pounds while also running a 4.98 in the 40-yard dash and putting up a jaw-dropping 44 reps of 225 pounds. On tape, he showed explosiveness to go along with impressive agility, which is uncommon for a player of his size.
But the planet theory concept is not the only thing that Pioli has applied to his draft strategy. There’s also the task of finding the right players to fit the scheme in use. This is a part of every general manager’s draft plans as explained by current New England Patriots pro personnel director Jason Licht, who spent time working with Pioli when the two were together with the Patriots.
Licht briefly stated that “it’s not always about finding the best talent, it’s about finding the right pieces,” when noting that the Patriots had 18 undrafted players on their roster.
When the Chiefs selected Poe, they identified him as the “right piece” for their 3-4 scheme, which is based out of an Okie front and also features a reduced front.
The 3-4 Okie front (pictured below) has been a staple of Romeo Crennel’s defense, and it features a 0 technique (head-up on center) nose tackle, which a technique that Poe has little experience playing.
Poe played a lot of 3 technique (outside shoulder of either guard) at Memphis, which requires of him to be a penetrating tackle and push the pocket from the inside. However, in the 0 technique alignment, Poe’s predecessor Kelly Gregg was often responsible for both A gaps (located between center and each guard), thus serving as a 2-gap nose tackle. Although he did it at times in college, he did not do it a lot and is already raw in his abilities.
In his press conference, Pioli further explained his draft selection.
“Now you’ve also got a player that will maybe line up on the same side as Tamba, who is creating a real threat and having to take up bodies,” he said.
The quote implies that there is a chance the Chiefs will move Poe around on the defensive line to ease his transition as well as eat up blocks to create favorable matchups for pass rusher Tamba Hali. What this could mean is that when the Chiefs go to their reduced front, Poe may not be a 0 (or 1) technique that simply eats up blocks, and instead he has a chance to be given the freedom to charge a single gap and attempt to apply pressure into the backfield from a 3 (or even 5) technique alignment — which he worked from a lot in college.
One thing that’s common from NFL defenses in today’s game is sub-packages such as 30 and 40 nickel and dime fronts, which means there are 3 (30) or 4 (40) down linemen and 5 (nickel) or 6 (dime) defensive backs.
The reason this is common is because offenses are spreading defenses out and forcing them to cover more ground, which not all linebackers can do, as well as spreading them out to run, which the Chiefs had trouble with last season.
Pioli also explained KC’s diffiulties defending on the ground.
“You have to force a player on your inside to play the run in sub-package sets, which was a problem for us last year.”
However, with a wider body that has the stamina to play more snaps, hold up against the run, and still apply pressure on passing downs, it becomes easier for the Chiefs to go to their sub-packages, which is why Poe some made sense for the Chiefs at 11.
Poe still has a lot to work to do in terms of developing hand use and playing with leverage, which may lead to a rough time for the Chiefs defense initially when he’s out there. But those skills can be coached, and the Chiefs have done a good job of developing their defensive linemen, meaning Poe will be eased into his role as he grows.
One thing’s for sure, though, he has the raw talent to develop into a dominant defensive linemen.