As the Kansas City Chiefs continue to add undrafted rookie free agents to help round out the 2020 roster, it’s time to look back at how everything came about in the NFL Draft.
After winning the Super Bowl, the team managed to return 20 of its 22 starters. The “Run it Back” motto was quickly adopted by everyone under contract, as well as those who re-upped for another season. Heading into the draft, General Manager Brett Veach had few holes to fill.
Cornerback, linebacker, running back and both offensive and defensive line help were atop the list of needs for the reigning Super Bowl champions. The Chiefs already had a Super Bowl-caliber roster before launching their quest for additional talent. Over a three-day span beginning on April 23 and concluding on April 25, Veach, Head Coach Andy Reid and the rest of the Chiefs’ draft personnel addressed every last need.
In the first round, the Chiefs took LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire. While the value of a running back is dwindling in today’s league, the mere presence of a do-it-all back enables both Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes to tap into even more potential on offense. With Damien Williams’ contract set to expire after this season, Kansas City will no longer have to search for a replacement. Edwards-Helaire is ready to play now, and he’ll only get better with time.
Reid has an extensive track record when it comes to players with character concerns or off-the-field issues. There’s a league-wide belief that if any head coach can get a currently or formerly-troubled player to remain on the straight and narrow, it’s him. When Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. fell to the 63rd overall pick, the Chiefs struck and got their guy. Athleticism at linebacker has been sorely missed since the days of Derrick Johnson, so it only made sense to draft someone who draws comparisons to him. Gay is uber-athletic and good in coverage, making him a year-one starter with plenty of room to grow.
Perhaps the smartest move of the weekend for the Chiefs came in the third round. The pick itself was good, but the potential flexibility it provides could be even better. TCU offensive lineman Lucas Niang had some medical concerns that caused his 2019 film and subsequent draft stock to fall a bit flat. Under ideal circumstances (2018 film and no injuries), he very well could have been a top-50 pick. The value at 96 was terrific. Niang can play either guard or tackle, which is something the Chiefs covet. The team can move on from longtime left tackle Eric Fisher next offseason and save over $11 million against the salary cap. A potential replacement is now already in-house.
Veach and company did their homework in regards to the franchise’s fourth-round pick, Louisiana Tech defensive back L’Jarius Sneed. Sneed played more as a safety this past season but had much better tape at cornerback the year before. His 4.37-second 40-yard dash and overwhelmingly positive combine performance, in general, made his elite athleticism quite obvious. He’s a physical, long corner that brings special teams value instantly, but could prove to be a diamond in the rough in a year or two.
No general manager is perfect, and Veach proved he’s a mere mortal as well when he selected Michigan’s Michael Danna in round five. Many projected Danna would go undrafted, largely due to him not thriving in any particular area. A graduate transfer from Central Michigan, Danna had just three sacks with the Wolverines in 2019. His ceiling figures to be nothing more than a situational pass rusher and considering he doesn’t fit the prototypical Steve Spagnuolo mold for size, his fit is a bit questionable. Danna was a bit of a head-scratcher at pick No. 177, although he could shuffle along the defensive line.
After the Chiefs' draft was believed to be over, Veach traded a 2021 sixth-rounder to move back into this year’s draft to select cornerback Thakarius “BoPete” Keyes in round seven. The Tulane product is still relatively new to the position but has a rare blend of long arms, a long frame and good athleticism. After not taking a cornerback for the first 137 picks, Veach struck late and secured two players with high ceilings and impressive profiles for the future.
The balancing act of choosing between NFL-ready and developmental talent was masterfully executed by Veach and the rest of his staff. Even the day-one starters like Edwards-Helaire and Gay have room to grow. Niang not only adds value as a future starter at a premium position, but he could also lead to quite a bit of cap relief in a year. Sneed and Keyes should both make the team and develop over the course of the season. Danna is versatile and there’s still a chance he carves out a role down the road.
Every pick had some sort of purpose behind it. After a ho-hum 2018 draft, the Chiefs seem to have figured things out in back-to-back seasons. Veach has proved he’s one of the best executives in all of football, and he has the hardware to prove it. His combination of salary cap management, drafting prowess and aggressive nature is hard to find. Now, with six new members of the Chiefs being welcomed and others on their way, he’s put the team in a good position to compete for additional championships.