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With Justin Houston out, it's time for Chiefs to be right about Dee Ford

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There is a method to the Kansas City Chiefs’ apparent madness when it comes to drafting in the first round under general manager John Dorsey. They’ve selected a player at a so-called premium position in each of the last three drafts, even if they didn’t have an immediate need for his skills.

The Chiefs are determined not to get caught short at an important position. It’s a strategy that makes a lot of sense, but only if they get the draft choices right.

We’re going to find out in the fall if the Chiefs were right about their 2014 first-round draft pick, outside linebacker Dee Ford. Ford became a prominent player for the Chiefs next season with the news that Justin Houston had surgery for an ACL injury. It’s unclear how much of the season Houston will miss, but the Chiefs would be wise not to count on getting anything from Houston until the 2017 season.

The Chiefs will need the Ford they thought they were getting when they drafted him, the player he was in a December victory over the San Diego Chargers last season. In that game, while filling in for the injured Houston, he had three sacks and broke up the potential winning pass in the end zone on the game’s final play.

Other than that, Ford has been mostly unfulfilled potential. He has a quick step that can lead to comparisons with the Chiefs’ all-time leading pass rusher, Pro Football Hall of Fame member Derrick Thomas.

But Ford hasn’t shown a great array of pass-rush moves, certainly not enough for him to be a consistent concern for opposing defensive coordinators. The rest of his game, against the run or in pass coverage, hasn’t been strong enough, either, his play in the end zone while covering Chargers running back Danny Woodhead notwithstanding.

“You can’t be a one-trick pony," Ford said after that game.

The Chiefs haven’t given up on Ford, perhaps by necessity. But they knew he was going to take some time to develop. Ford was a defensive end in college at Auburn, where he was rarely asked to drop into pass coverage.

“The one thing we came out of this past season with is that Dee Ford is a pretty good football player," coach Andy Reid said recently. “He's a first-round pick. Fifty percent of them end up playing and 50 percent of them don't and most of them take a year or two to get going. So you've seen the improvement every year. I'm expecting it to take another jump forward. The one thing we know is he has that potential."

The Chiefs can no longer wait for the payoff. Ford, to his credit, didn’t waste the past two seasons, as frustrating as they might have been, as he waited for his turn.

“Whatever your role is, you have to fill it out," he said. “Be man enough to humble yourself and learn from two of the greatest linebackers in this league."

It will soon be time for Ford to show the lessons he might have learned from Tamba Hali and Houston. Otherwise, the Chiefs might be shopping for another pass rusher in the first round of the 2017 draft.