Pioli was plucked away from the New England Patriots back in 2009, the year after Thomas Dimitroff left for Atlanta. Pioli had a longer history and high position with the Patriots and certainly seemed primed to outperform Dimitroff.
That didn't happen as Pioli had a short stay in Kansas City, getting booted after the 2012 season. There were problems. Todd Haley as head coach? Yup. Replacing Haley with Romeo Crennel? Not good. Trading for Matt Cassel and signing him to a $62.7 million contract? Oh yeah. Weird allegations of paranoia and recording devices? Sadly yes.
Based on his performance in Kansas City, Pioli wasn't ready to run it all. He made a name for himself scouting players and enticing free agents to come to New England. Lets look at how he did in that regard in Kansas City.
The good. I'm excited about Pioli because he has done a great job of building that elite defense in Kansas City. The team famously had six Pro Bowlers last year in a season with only two wins. Note that Pioli only drafted two of those but lets get to the players.
Pioli didn't draft, but retained, elite players like Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. Their contracts look pretty good to me, with Charles being highly team friendly. That is a good start. He also traded away Tony Gonzalez for a second round pick, which was good value but Tony was never really replaced on the team.
Next, he brought in and got nice value with draft picks like Eric Berry, Jon Asamoah, Allen Bailey, Justin Houston and Dontari Poe. I like some of these selections because you see things here you do not see in typical Dimitroff drafts.
Houston, as most Atlanta fans know, tested positive for marijuana before the draft. The test is usually considered an IQ test, as players know when they will be tested and a bad result will potentially lose them millions. Houston was one such player who failed this IQ test. However, Pioli realized that at a certain point a player like this is well worth the risk. Dimitroff has historically avoided these risks despite a big talent continually falling into his lap at a position of need (see, Greg Hardy).
Poe has quickly turned into a top defensive player in the league. In fact, a top ten defensive tackle based on PFF grading in only his second season. Poe was a guy with a mediocre college career that showed great athletic ability at the combine. The bust potential was high but Poe had a ridiculous ceiling that made him worth a top ten pick. Poe paid off and had a breakout sophomore season. This is another type of risk Dimitroff tends to shy away from. They don't always work out but if you do it right, these players can turn into the best players on your roster.
The bad. I wasn't sure where to put Tyson Jackson. He is a fine player but was severely over drafted third overall. Even at the time it was considered a reach. Looking back, the top of the 2008 draft was garbage and Pioli picked a good player over guys like Aaron Curry, Mark Sanchez, B.J. Raji, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Aaron Maybin. Gross.
There are a number of offensive linemen who have struggled but most of them are still pretty young. According to PFF, Jeff Allen, Donald Stephenson and Rodney Hudson struggled, which is disappointing because they were second and third round picks.
Dexter McCluster has never quite found a great role in their offense and was a risky pick based on his size and lack of elite speed. A lot of defensive backs failed to pan out as well, like Javiar Arenas, Donald Washington and Jalil Brown.
You should expect a certain number of failed picks. I think some drafts are considered a success if half the selections get a second contract with the team. Players failing can be due to any number of reasons, such as injuries, poor work ethic, inability to understand an NFL playbook or the failure to develop. These problems plague every team in the league and should be expected.
The ugly. Brady Quinn backing up Matt Cassel is ugly. Not as bad as wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, a foreseeably disastrous selection in the first round. Credit to Dimitroff who wanted a wide receiver in 2011, and after looking in to Jonathan Baldwin, Titus Young, Torrey Smith, Greg Little and Jerrel Jernigan, traded up for Julio Jones.
Baldwin has averaged about 200 yards and under one touchdown per season. Before the draft Baldwin had publicly called out his college coaching staff and was seen as a poor teammate. He was later punched by Thomas Jones. Oh, and he has bad hands and has Michael Jenkins speed: give him awhile and he will get moving but offers little functional speed.
What to expect from Pioli. This is the biggest question. I think he did a very good job bringing in talent at premium positions, and retaining talent, during his short four years in Kansas City. He should be a strong personality who will push for his players.
Dimitroff has taken risks on players with an injury history (Peria Jerry or Sam Baker) but doesn't really take players with small character concerns or the highly athletic players with limited college production. You don't have to be a team captain to be a great player, and if you have a strong locker room, you should be good to bring in a few guys who aren't boy scouts. In fact, the Patriots tend to try that every few years with varying levels of success.
There are these risky players who can end up becoming one of the top players on the roster, even the league, that Atlanta needs to take a chance on. Hopefully Pioli can bring his past experience to Atlanta and push for finding value at all levels of the draft.
Pioli should help be a better evaluator of our own players, hopefully leading to minimizing getting rid of guys like Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo, Curtis Lofton and John Abraham without having a real replacement on the roster. Pioli put together a great front seven in Kansas City and knows when and where to risk and value merge. His weaknesses seem to be evaluating positions we are set at, such as quarterback and cornerback. Oh, and offensive line, which is kind of a problem in Atlanta.
My expectation is Pioli comes to Atlanta for the best and adds another extremely talented evaluator to the team that has lost Les Snead and David Caldwell in back to back seasons.