Chiefs take intriguing LB in third round

KANSAS CITY (AP) — A gifted linebacker who plummeted from first-round projection to third-round reality and insists he doesn’t even follow the NFL could be Kansas City’s most intriguing draft pick of 2011.

Justin Houston, a pass-rushing dynamo at Georgia, is also one of the biggest gambles the normally conservative Scott Pioli ever took.

Many evaluators had pegged Houston as a late first-round pick until reports citing unnamed sources indicated there may have been a problem with a drug test during the NFL combine in February. But there he sat when the Chiefs picked 70th in the third round Friday night and they decided to roll the dice.

“I was honest with them, told them it was a mistake I made and I’m putting it behind me,” said the 6-2, 285-pound Houston. “I think they trusted me and they took a chance and I’m going to make them proud for taking that chance.”

The Statesboro, Ga., native who had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss last year acknowledged he was angry with himself.

“There’s two types of pain you live with,” he said. “The pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Right now, I’m living with the pain of regret for the decision I made. But I’ve got to put the past behind me and move forward.”

The entire episode, which probably cost him dearly in terms of first-contract money, has helped him grow as a person, Houston said.

“I think it did. It helped me open my eyes. I’m glad it happened and I’m glad I’ve got an opportunity to play football.”

If Houston plays with the talent and drive that once made him a top prospect, the Chiefs will have the complement to pass-rush specialist Tamba Hali they so desperately need — and wind up with first-round production for third-round money.

“There’s certainly risk here,” Pioli said. “He had a situation that is why he was available when he was available. Without that situation, he’s not available there.”

The Chiefs general manager said there was a thorough background check.

“We talked about it internally quite a bit. We talked with other people. ... We talked about it with the coaching staff, with ownership,” Pioli said. “There’s risk here and there’s a chance for great reward. And the reality is there’s also risk for failure.”

Houston said Chiefs coach Todd Haley reminded him of his promise when they spoke briefly Friday night.

“He asked me do I remember the talk we had when I came on the visit,” Houston said. “He said we’re going to talk later. He said, ’I trust you and hopefully you’re going to come in and do the right thing.”’

What could make him absolutely unique among all draftees is his overall interest in the NFL.

He said he hasn’t followed it at all.

“I just tried to keep my mind off of it and worry about something else instead of worrying about football all the time,” he said.

Earlier Friday with their second-round pick, the Chiefs took Rodney Hudson of Florida State, a highly decorated four-year starter who has played both center and left guard, two positions Kansas City is not far from needing replacements.

They spent their second pick in the third round on defensive lineman Allen Bailey of Miami, who is projected as a situational inside pass rusher.

Hudson could fill one of two needs. Left guard Brian Waters, a four-time Pro Bowler, is 34. Center Casey Wiegmann has been a rock of consistency while starting 159 consecutive games and taking 10,141 consecutive snaps since 2001, but turns 38 in July. Plus, he is not under contract with the Chiefs, and neither is last year’s backup, Rudy Niswanger.

The 6-2, 285-pound Hudson could provide relief at either spot.

“Whatever coach asks me to do, I’m going to put all my effort into it and do the best I can,” he said. “I played left guard at Florida State the most. I’ve been a four-year starter at left guard. But I like to play center also. I’m just going to come in and whatever they ask me to play.”

With a solid senior year, Hudson became the 11th repeat winner of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the ACC’s best offensive lineman. He was just the second lineman selected all-ACC four straight times. He started all 14 games his senior season at left guard and was a consensus All-American who drew only one penalty flag. And he maintains that it was a bad call.

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