My last commentary focused on what I considered to be the 20 worst draft choices the Chiefs have made since 1967 (the first year of the common draft). This time around, I present my choices for the 20 best draft picks made by KC since 1967. Most readers will quickly pick up on the fact that there are only three first-rounders on my list even though there were several more that deserved serious consideration. That was by design; a first-round pick is expected to become a good player. The three that made my list became great players. The others on the list came from the lower rounds – minus the expectations and hype (or reasonably so) – and became great players. As before, I made no attempt to rank the players who made the list. That said; allow me to present the crčme de la crčme:
S Gary Barbaro (1976, 3rd round, 74th selection) – I know a lot of the older fans still have bad feelings about Barbaro because of his defection to the USFL, but you can’t argue about the impressive job he did at free safety in his seven seasons with KC. 39 interceptions for 771 yards and 3 touchdowns isn’t exactly chicken feed.
WR Carlos Carson (1980, 5th, 114th) – He wasn’t very big (5-10, 175), but Carson had very good speed and great hands. In 10 seasons, Carson caught 352 passes for 6,360 yards and 33 touchdowns. He had three 1,000-yard seasons and 18 games over 100 yards. His 80 catches for 1,351 yards in 1983 made him the single season team record holder in both categories until the 2000 season. He also found time to return 57 kickoffs for 1,246 yards.
G Tom Condon (1974, 10th, 250th) – Another name that will make some people cringe because Condon is much more famous (or infamous) as an Agent. Say what you will about Condon and his current activities, this was one tough SOB on the field as a player and the fact that he survived 11 seasons (mostly as a starter) playing at 240 pounds is proof of that.
LB Donnie Edwards (1996, 4th, 98th) – Edwards’ worth to the Chiefs was proven when he was allowed to leave as a free agent; the defense tanked. Now that he’s back, there will be a noticeable improvement in the defense.
TE Tony Gonzalez (1997, 1st, 13th) – What more can you say about this future Hall-of-Famer than what’s already been said? By the time he hangs up his cleats, Tony will hold every NFL record for a Tight End.
C Tim Grunhard (1990, 2nd, 40th) – Martyball was successful for two reasons and Grunhard was one of them. There was nothing graceful here; just an absolute mauler who opened holes and kept his QB alive & upright anyway he could.
KR Dante Hall (2000, 5th, 153rd) - Dante wasn’t nearly as effective his last two seasons in KC as he had been his first five, but the “Human Joystick” will be long-remembered for his electrifying returns. He returned 188 punts for 1,882 yards and 5 tds, 358 kickoffs for 8,619 yards and 6 tds, caught 145 passes for 1,615 yards and 3 tds, and had 48 carries for 207 yards. That’s a lot of production from anyone, let alone a 5-8, 188 pound player.
RB Larry Johnson (2003, 1st, 27th) – A lot of people thought Dick Vermeil and Carl Peterson were crazy to draft Johnson since KC already had Priest Holmes. For his first two seasons in KC, Johnson didn’t do much but sit on the bench and complain. But the wisdom of drafting him became evident when Priest went down in the seventh game of the 2005 season. Johnson responded with nine straight games of over 100 yards (two over 200 yards) and 16 tds. He struck again last season with an NFL-record 416 carries for 1,789 yards and 17 tds. His 3,539 yards over the past two years is the best mark in the NFL.
LB Willie Lanier (1967, 2nd, 50th) – When the greatest middle linebackers in NFL history are discussed, Lanier is always one of the first names mentioned. On those great Chiefs’ defenses of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, Willie was the lynchpin. As ferocious as he was against the run, Lanier was also a tremendous pass defender as his 27 interceptions for 420 yards and 2 touchdowns demonstrate.
CB Albert Lewis (1983, 3rd, 61st) – He intercepted passes (38 for 328 yards), created fumbles, blocked kicks, and covered receivers like a glove. One of the best cover corners to ever play the game. The only dumb thing Lewis ever did was to go on to play for the Raiders.
LB Jim Lynch (1967, 2nd, 47th) – Lanier and Bobby Bell got all the publicity but Lynch was as solid as they come. He excelled at covering running backs coming out of the backfield on pass routes and intercepted 17 passes while doing it.
WR Henry Marshall (1976, 3rd, 79th) – Until Tony Gonzalez shattered every team receiving record, Marshall was the all-time leader in career receptions (416). His catches went for 6,545 yards and 33 touchdowns. Not bad, considering how bad the Chiefs were during Marshall’s 11 seasons in KC.
RB Christian Okoye (1987, 2nd, 35th) – Hailing from tiny Asuza Pacific, the Nigerian Nightmare’s career took off when Marty Schottenheimer took over the coaching reigns. At 6-1, 255, and able to run a 40 in 4.42 seconds, Okoye was nearly impossible to stop. It’s hard to believe that he had never played football before going to college.
RB Ed Podolak (1969, 2nd, 48th) – Podolak was a lot like Tom Matte; he didn’t excel at anything but he was very good at everything. He rushed for 4,451 yards, caught 288 passes for 2,456 yards, gained 1,436 yards in kick returns, and scored 40 touchdowns. His performance in the 1971 Christmas Day Wild Card game against the Dolphins (350 all-purpose yards) was one of the greatest in NFL history.
CB Kevin Ross (1984, 7th, 173rd) – At 5-9, Ross was drafted with the hope that he could fill in when KC was running its nickel and dime packages. Instead, Ross became the starter opposite Albert Lewis and kept the job for ten seasons. Despite the height disadvantage, Ross covered receivers very effectively and intercepted 30 passes for 551 yards and 2 tds.
C Jack Rudnay (1969, 4th, 101st) – Rudnay was in the unenviable position of having to replace EJ Holub at center. He did just that for 13 seasons, despite his 6-3 240 frame, and went to the Pro Bowl several times. Even with veterans Jim Tyrer, Ed Budde, Dave Hill, and Mo Moorman already in place, Rudnay quickly became the glue that held the whole line together.
G Will Shields (1993, 3rd, 74th) – Shields is another certain future Hall-of-Famer who has already had so many accolades that it’s tough to say anything new. He was one of the most consistent players I’ve ever seen. A lot of others must have felt the same way as he was selected to the Pro Bowl 13 times in his 14 year career.
LB Gary Spaini (1978, 2nd, 58th) – When Lanier retired after the 1977 season, most observers figured the Chiefs would never be able to adequately replace him. Spaini wasn’t Lanier, but he was an excellent linebacker in his own right for the nine seasons he played.
G Dave Szott (1990, 7th, 180th) – At 289 pounds, Szott was too small to play in the NFL. Yeah, right. He was the second reason Martyball was successful. Like Grunhard, Szott wasn’t a graceful player but he sure was effective.
LB Derrick Thomas (1989, 1st, 4th) – If you were looking for a “complete” linebacker, Thomas wasn’t going to fit the bill. He only intercepted one pass in his 11 season career. What Thomas did exceedingly well – perhaps better than anyone else in NFL history – was to create havoc. Thomas was the heart & soul of the Chiefs defense and the other players fed off his energy. He created fumbles, nailed quarterbacks (126 -1/2 sacks and countless pressures), and made offensive linemen and coaching staffs lose sleep. The Chiefs defense hasn’t been the same since his tragic death.