KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Relaxed and easygoing as he might be on this day, Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey had to know the question was coming, particularly since West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's flight into town was already airborne.
In his first year on the job, Dorsey has the draft's first pick. His move will set the table for everyone else, and his job is to get the most value out of that commodity. The best way to do that, of course, is to generate a market for the pick by manufacturing the impression that the Chiefs, in fact, like everyone.
And as I floated that well-worn idea to Dorsey, his back straightened and he stopped me.
"It's not creating a belief, it's the truth," Dorsey sharply responded. "We've said all along it's a process, and that process will not be finalized, that board will not be set, until four days before the draft. That's the way that whole process works itself out. There are different phases that you go through. I mean, right now, I just walked downstairs and we're in a different phase right now. We're going back as a group and assessing all the different positions."
Still, there's very little question that the focus in Kansas City is squarely on the first pick -- the Chiefs' aren't scheduled to pick again until No. 63 overall -- and that focus is now narrowing.
It wouldn't make much sense for Dorsey and the Chiefs to tip their hand now on exactly who they're targeting, since, again, that might limit the value of the pick itself. But internally, there has been a process of elimination and an identification of "finalists" with the draft three weeks away.
"True contenders?" Dorsey quizzically uttered, before pausing and counting them in his head. "We've gotten it down to four."
There's a shell game to this final phase of it, too.
Yes, the Chiefs brought in Smith, but they already gave up two high picks, including the 34th overall selection in this draft, to acquire Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. That trade, plus the split opinion league-wide on Smith's ability, cast plenty of doubt on the possibility of Kansas City taking the plunge on the West Virginia star -- doubt that Dorsey does his best to dispel.
"There always can be a quarterback," he said. "We're gonna take the best player. I stand by that. And what I use as an example is that we were lucky enough to get Aaron Rodgers (in Green Bay). We were questioned about that, but we stood patiently for three years with him. We can stand patiently another three if we have to. At the end of the day, you want to do what's best for your organization, present and future. And if it happens to be the quarterback, we'll take the quarterback."
On the topic of Smith, Dorsey added: "Physically, he was very impressive at the combine, and we watched his pro day three times. When he threw, it was very impressive."
But if it's not the quarterback? That's where it gets interesting, because the guys who seem like better Chiefs fits aren't exactly being courted in the same manner Geno has been in K.C.
With left tackle Branden Albert's future uncertain, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher both would seem to be firmly in the mix. Neither is slated to visit. The Chiefs also spent considerable time kicking the tires on Oregon's Dion Jordan and Florida's Sharrif Floyd after the NFL Scouting Combine. Yet, those two aren't scheduled either, at least at this point, to go to Kansas City and meet the brass.
This could all be part of the club gaming the system, and other teams.
Internally, obviously, there are answers to all these questions. Every day, Dorsey sits down with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid at 6:30 in the morning, again at lunch and a final time at night to talk things over. In the final 10 days, the GM says, Reid will become more involved in draft meetings, as the scouts trickle in with their field work complete. The hope is, by then, Dorsey has been sold on one of the four.
"In a second, that could happen," Dorsey explained. "Sitting down and overwhelming somebody with their depth of knowledge of the offensive scheme and how quick they can put it up, and combine that with the on-the-field skills, and you go, 'Holy s---, he's got it.' It could be an interview at the combine, it could be his pro day at the school. There are different variables, and all of a sudden the light goes on and you're going, 'That's the guy!' It happens in a multitude of ways."
Whether that moment of clarity comes or not, Dorsey continued, there needs to "come a point after you sit here and listen to all the scouts, you sit and listen to the coaches, you sit and talk with the medical staff, and then you sit and talk with the head coach, and then you say, 'This is the guy, and here's why.' And everyone says, 'OK.' Then you know that's the guy."
And if your head isn't spinning quite enough yet, there's also a chance that the Chiefs a) aren't sold on any of the guys there or b) simply believe there's better value drafting eighth or 10th or 12th. In either case, they might test the trade waters.
For now, Dorsey is willing to admit he's open to entertaining the idea.
"Yeah," Dorsey said. "I'm open to what's best for this organization. I know I have the option to take the best player there. But if somebody calls me up and says, 'We're willing to move up, here's what we have to offer,' I see it, weigh it, listen to compensation and make a decision on what's best."
The new GM spent the last 22 seasons working his way up through the Packers' personnel department. The average draft slot for Green Bay during that span? No. 20. Not only has Dorsey not worked for a team picking first before, but he's only been a part of the process with four top-10 picks in his entire scouting career: CB Terrell Buckley (No. 5 overall in 1992), Jamal Reynolds (10, 2001), A.J. Hawk (5, 2006) and B.J. Raji (9, 2009).
That makes these waters a bit uncharted for him. He knows there are different dynamics with it. He mentioned Rodgers again as a model of a player who handled the kind of pressure the first pick will be under (though he wasn't the first pick, he was replacing a legend), and said, "I think any one of the four guys that we're targeting right now can handle that."
He's also aware that, as a first-time GM, his actions on this pick will loom large when his prowess as a decision-maker is assessed.
At least outwardly, though, he's trying to look at the top pick like any other selection.
"A personnel guy always wants to get his pick right," Dorsey said. "We live that every year. We want to make sure the pick is right. This one happens to be the first pick in the draft. We're gonna try to make it right. You guys can put the pressure on us -- 'Holy crap, it's the No. 1 pick!' It's the No. 1 pick. We're gonna do the best we can."
And as the process typically proves, getting the most out of a top pick often goes far beyond simply identifying a top player.