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AFTER THE first two rounds of the draft had concluded last Saturday night, Chiefs coach Herm Edwards walked into his dimly lit office in Arrowhead Stadium, put away his suit jacket and loosened his tie. Then he lowered himself onto a soft leather chair and let out a deep sigh.
Kansas City had just turned good fortune, good scouting and firm conviction in its personnel evaluations into a three-pick bonanza: the consensus No. 1 defensive tackle in the draft pool (LSU's Glenn Dorsey), the draft's top-rated guard ( Virginia's Branden Albert) and a potential impact cornerback (Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers). It wasn't clear whether Edwards was more exhausted from the months he'd put into studying players or the time he'd spent kicking himself for having previously strayed from his core belief that the draft is the key to constructing a winner.
He learned that lesson while an assistant coach in Tampa Bay and adopted the philosophy in his first stint as a head coach, with the Jets. But the Chiefs team he took over in 2006 was loaded with veterans, and Edwards believed he could get to the playoffs without tinkering and wanted to see what the vets could do once there. Kansas City earned a berth in the wild-card round, losing to the Colts.
Instead of turning over the aging roster, Edwards tried to remake it gradually while remaining competitive, a process that had been customary under his predecessors in K.C. He realized he'd made a mistake after the Chiefs lost nine straight to close 2007. When Edwards met with club chairman Clark Hunt and general manager Carl Peterson two days after the end of the season, he reiterated what he had said while interviewing for the job two years earlier: Successful teams are built through the draft. They agreed.
"You can't be halfway committed to this," Edwards said amidst a draft in which the Chiefs made a dozen picks in seven rounds and came away with what they believe could be six or seven immediate starters. "For two years we had been kind of committed, not totally committed."
The club's reliance on veterans resulted in 13 winning seasons and nine playoff appearances in Peterson's first 18 years as G.M.—but there hasn't been a postseason win since 1993. The roster Edwards inherited and maintained was thin on good, young talent. Each April the Chiefs simply did not stay true to their draft board, often making reaches on players who didn't pan out and trading high picks for more veterans who didn't take them deep into the postseason.
Only four of Kansas City's 24 total picks from the 2003, '04 and '05 drafts remain on the roster, and one of them is punter Dustin Colquitt. By way of comparison, the AFC West rival Chargers, who have won three of the last four division titles, have 13 of their 26 picks from those drafts.
This year the Chiefs stayed true to their board. Though they had a major need at offensive tackle after allowing an AFC-high 55 sacks last year, they took Dorsey, their highest-rated player still available, when their turn came at No. 5. And when they saw Albert still available, K.C. made a deal with the Lions to move up two spots to No. 15.
"So far it has worked out," Edwards said. "Now we've got to get them on the field and they've got to go play."