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Why I picked Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson for Chiefs

Trying to nail the identity of the Kansas City Chiefs' first-round pick is tricky. I attempted to do so anyway in Monday's ESPN NFL Nation mock draft. Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson is my pick.

When it comes to predicting what the Chiefs will do, remember this is a team that in its first draft run by general manager drafted a tackle (Eric Fisher) when it already had one of the best in the game (Branden Albert) and the next year selected an edge pass-rusher (Dee Ford) when it already had two of the best in the game (Justin Houston and Tamba Hali).

The Chiefs have also done a nice job in free agency of covering the most pressing immediate needs they had heading into the offseason (wide receiver, interior offensive line, safety). That’s not to say the Chiefs don’t have some thin areas on their roster. Despite signing Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs still need a No. 2 wide receiver. They have to varying degrees unknowns at center and right offensive tackle.

Those aren’t positions that couldn’t conceivably be covered by a later-round draft pick or even a veteran free agent for a year or two.

One thing we can throw out when it comes to figuring what the Chiefs will do in the first round of the draft is immediate need. That’s obviously not how they operate. They take a much longer view.

It is also instructive that the Chiefs’ two first-round draft picks under general manager Dorsey played so-called premium positions, left tackle and outside linebacker. Those happened to be position where the Chiefs thought they might face a shortage a year down the road.

Albert was in the final season of his contract when the Chiefs drafted Fisher and sure enough, Albert left the next year as a free agent for the Miami Dolphins. In the year after the Chiefs drafted Ford, Hali was scheduled to have a monster contract (it was recently reduced) and Houston was destined to become this year’s franchise player, which he now is. Houston remains unsigned.

If we take cues from history, the Chiefs will draft in the first round a player who plays a so-called premium position where the Chiefs also may be headed for some contractual trouble.

The only position fitting that description is cornerback. Sean Smith had a strong season for the Chiefs at corner in 2014, but he’s their only established player there. He is heading into the final season of his contract.

The Chiefs could use a corner for the long term. One to play next season would also be helpful. In addition to Smith, who faces a possible NFL suspension for his recent guilty plea to a DUI charge, the Chiefs have promising younger corners in Jamell Fleming and Phillip Gaines, but really no one else they can count on. They started six different players at corner last season and they’re nowhere near that number now.

So cornerback in a lot of ways makes the most sense for the Chiefs. That’s why I picked Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson in ESPN’s NFL Nation mock draft.

I have some questions regarding Johnson and whether he is a fit for what the Chiefs like in their corners. For their starters, the Chiefs like big players with long arms. Johnson measured about 6-foot and 188 pounds with 31-inch arms at the scouting combine in February.

That could be enough to disqualify him in the judgment of the Chiefs.

But Johnson is otherwise a solid player. I’ll go back to something Dorsey said recently, that he believed there are only 10 or 12 impact players in the draft.

I took that to mean the Chiefs, picking 18th, will get a player who in their view is somehow flawed. If Johnson’s biggest flaws are that he’s a couple of hairs short and doesn’t have the world’s longest arms, I’ll sign on for that pick without any hesitation.