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Chiefs' Pioli facing big expectations, excitement on draft day

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- This may be Kansas City's most anticipated draft since Lamar Hunt hitched his franchise to a moving van 46 years ago and conceded Dallas to the Cowboys.

Coming off their worst season ever, the Chiefs have gaping needs up and down a talent-starved roster, and own the third pick overall. That's their highest in decades.

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But what really has this town on edge, what everyone is most excited about, is a man named Scott Pioli.

For the first time since 1989, there's a new general manager in town, a new draft room guru, and he's the very one who teamed with Bill Belichick to construct the dynasty known as the New England Patriots.

Powered by the farsighted Belichick-Pioli duo, no organization in recent years drafted, developed and traded with more successful flair.

Uncanny player pickups were the norm in New England, and KC fans are aware of this. Most are expecting nothing short of greatness from their new leader.

The Chiefs, keen to stoke interest after totaling only six victories the past two years, are doing nothing to dampen anyone's ardor.

When a team employee introducing him at a recent event kept gushing, "He's the best executive in the NFL and we've got him," even Pioli seemed somewhat embarrassed.

"Wasn't that a bit over the top?" he said as he took the microphone with a wan smile.

Maybe it was. But maybe it wasn't.

The long-range picture will begin coming into focus Saturday as Pioli takes the first giant step in this new chapter of his career.

There's no denying the enormous success he had with Belichick by his side. Known for shrewd trades as well as uncanny draft triumphs such as getting Tom Brady in the sixth round, Pioli has been cited more than once as NFL executive of the year.

But now he's alone at the top -- or at the bottom, if you will. Those will be decisions he makes, not suggestions. There'll be no one to overrule anything he chooses to do.

Moreover, the rookie general manager is teamed with a rookie head coach. Shortly after firing Herm Edwards last January, Pioli hired Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley, an acquaintance from their days at the New York Jets when both worked in lower-rung positions for Bill Parcells, Pioli's father-in-law.

"Todd and I have talked about this an awful lot," Pioli said. "This is an exciting time for us."

Said Haley, "Now, here we are back together again. I've said to him this is going to be good."

In what could turn out to be one of the greatest trades in team history, Pioli has already addressed one of the Chiefs' most pressing needs and obtained quarterback Matt Cassel from the Patriots for his second-round pick. He also got linebacker Mike Vrabel in a deal.

But that still leaves almost every other position group to upgrade. Most urgently, the Chiefs need help for a defense that was 31st in yards allowed -- ahead of only winless Detroit -- and a 10-sack pass rush that made NFL history as the puniest ever.

Many mock drafts have them taking Aaron Curry, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Wake Forest linebacker who would fit well if Haley decides to go to a mostly 3-4 defense. Other possibilities for that third overall pick include offensive tackles Eugene Monroe of Virginia or Jason Smith of Baylor, and defensive end Tyson Jackson of LSU.

Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree is another strong possibility. And if tight end Tony Gonzalez and guard Brian Waters get the trades they've requested, the Chiefs will need replacements for their only two Pro Bowlers.

Someone else who may soon be shown the door is disgruntled and unreliable running back Larry Johnson. First he wanted out of KC. Then he changed his mind after losing an arbitration case that could cost him almost $4 million if the Chiefs discard him.

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Also needed are help at defensive line, center, safety and special teams. A position group where KC might actually be OK is cornerback.

Ah, so many needs, so many trade possibilities -- and the man pulling the trigger has always shown a bent for swinging shrewd deals and spotting nuggets of gold where others see only barren rock.

It's all part of what Pioli calls "the art of the draft."

"I get an adrenaline rush. This is what we do," he said.

He probably won't have to set the alarm clock Friday night.

"I'll probably wake up early like I do every year, and wander around the house aimlessly," he said. "A couple of years I've slept well. I don't know why. But there's a couple of years I've been up real early. I'm embarrassed to say how early. Once you wake up that morning it's like Christmas morning. You can't fall back to sleep because you know something is waiting for you. It's a really exciting time."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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