The Kansas City Chiefs made six selections in the 2020 NFL Draft this past week, and there were some picks that I liked, some that I loved and one in particular that, as someone in the analytics community who just wrote an article about why the Chiefs shouldn’t draft a running back at any point in this draft, I did not enjoy. Let’s take a look through all the picks.
Pick 32: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Here is something I have had to say all too much this week, but I have to clarify this once again: Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a great football player. He is a great runner, a great receiver, one of the most elusive players in college football last season, reliable with the football when it relates to fumbles and he has some pass-blocking potential (though his pass-blocking has been overrated, considering that he allowed two sacks in 2019 while just one active Chiefs running back, Darrel Williams, has allowed a sack in the past two seasons).
With all that being said, this pick just doesn’t bring the value that many other picks would have offered. There are numerous studies on the topic that have substantial proof of this, and many things I detailed in my previous article that show this is not a good pick. Edwards-Helaire is not likely to bring as much added value over Damien Williams compared to if the Chiefs selected a cornerback like Kristian Fulton, Trevon Diggs or Jaylon Johnson — all of whom would be by far the most talented cornerback on the roster — or an edge defender like A.J. Epenesa and Yetur Gross-Matos — both of whom would also be immediate starters off the edge opposite of Frank Clark — or a versatile defensive back who can interchange playing in the box and in the slot with Tyrann Mathieu like Grant Delpit, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Xavier McKinney — Mathieu played more slot cornerback snaps in 2019 than any other position.
Above graphics via Pro Football Focus.
Edwards-Helaire will put up big volume numbers. That is a certainty. The question that should really be asked is “Would this production not be attainable for Damien Williams?” Since joining the Chiefs, Williams has had 5.3 yards per touch and a crazy 7.3% TD rate, which blows away many elite running backs. That’s not to say Williams is an amazing player, but the Chiefs scheme has proven that it can take undrafted, low-cost running backs and make them highly productive. It’s done it with third-round backs (Kareem Hunt and Jamaal Charles), a sixth-round back (Spencer Ware) and an undrafted back (Williams), so of course it will succeed again with a first-round back. Great player, poor value.
Graphic via FiveThirtyEight.
Pick 63: LB Willie Gay Jr.
Gay should be the best linebacker on the Chiefs the moment he steps foot in St. Joseph. He and Isaiah Simmons, if you count Simmons as a linebacker, are the two most athletic linebackers in the 2020 draft class. Gay was in the 97th percentile or better in the 40-yard-dash, vertical jump and broad jump. This, in part, gave Gay an elite 9.71 in Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS). Additionally, Gay has shown elite coverage instincts, leading to a career PFF coverage grade of 93.9 at Mississippi State, along with elite range that lets him make plays that few other linebackers can make.
Gay was named one of the four favorite picks by PFF Senior Analysts Seth Galina and Austin Gayle. While linebackers aren’t traditionally as valuable as defensive backs, a linebacker who is elite in coverage can be highly valuable and Gay showed that in his college career, despite playing limited snaps. There are off-field concerns (punching his quarterback before a bowl game and academic fraud) that come with Gay that caused him to be suspended, but with all of the details, it sounds like it shouldn’t be too much of an issue for his time in Kansas City.
My biggest concern with Gay would be his lack of playing time at Mississippi State. Gay played a season’s worth of snaps (846 total snaps) in three seasons with the Bulldogs, with most of that being a result of both his off-field issues and injuries. If the Chiefs can keep Gay on the field, he could be the best defensive rookie in the AFC West. His potential is off the charts.
Pick 96: OT Lucas Niang
Niang is an interesting move by GM Brett Veach. He isn’t a need for 2020, but it gives the Chiefs an added option for future seasons and greatly improves their offensive line depth. If the Chiefs want to let go of Eric Fisher after the 2020 season or anticipate Mitchell Schwartz regressing or retiring within the next couple of years, Niang would give them a productive option to come in and start.
Another option with Niang is to move him inside to guard. The Chiefs have already discussed this possibility, and Niang himself said he is willing to go through with it. The problem with this is that it would be completely new for him. In Niang’s 1,982 career snaps at TCU, he played zero snaps at guard. My personal preference is to let Niang sit as the #3 tackle and learn from the great players and coaches around him.
The knock on Niang is his footwork. He has an ugly looking false step that comes out often in his pass sets and it will need to be fixed for his NFL career. However, despite that false step, he has allowed just one sack in his career, coming as a freshman backup. As a starter in the last three seasons with the Horned Frogs, he has allowed zero sacks, facing elite talents such as Chase Young and Nick Bosa of Ohio State. For him to have footwork issues and still not allow a sack in over three years is spectacular. Niang should be a great player in the long-term.
Pick 138: CB L’Jarius Sneed
Sneed, like Gay, is a freak athlete. He had a 99th percentile 40-yard-dash (4.37), a 96th percentile vertical jump (41 inches) and a 96th percentile broad jump (10-11 feet). To call him explosive is putting it lightly. He joined Willie Gay Jr. in earning an elite RAS, getting a 9.44 RAS.
Sneed showed great ball skills at Louisiana Tech, intercepting three passes each in 2018 and 2019. The interesting thing is that Sneed played more cornerback in 2018 and before, but he played more safety in 2019. While moving him to cornerback may be the better move for his NFL career, his year at safety actually may have been his best with the Bulldogs. Sneed was one of the best safeties in college football for run defense and tackling, earning an 86+ PFF grade in both, and he hit his career-best overall PFF grade and coverage PFF grade.
Sneed is an exciting prospect who we should see in the rotation early, but not likely contending for starting at cornerback in 2020. However, the talent and athleticism are there for a great player to develop.
Pick 177: EDGE Mike Danna
This is the pick that has received the most question marks, but for selfish reasons, I love this pick. I knew about Danna long before many Chiefs fans did, seeing the barbaric numbers he was putting up in the MAC with Central Michigan. Danna had an out-of-this-world 105 pressures and 17 sacks in 605 pass-blocking snaps from 2017 to 2018. Danna transferred to Michigan for the 2019 season and, while he still played well, it was not the kind of production he had with the Chippewas. Danna’s snap count was nearly cut in half and his pressure rate went from an elite 17.4% to just a respectable 11.6%.
Nevertheless, Danna brings a lot to the table. He was a good run defender and an elite pass-rusher at Central Michigan, and he was still good in both areas at Michigan. Danna has the tools to be a good all-around edge defender at the next level, he just needs to polish some things up. For the fifth round, Danna is a good lottery ticket to have.
Pick 237: CB Thakarius “BoPete” Keyes
I admittedly did not know much about Keyes before the Chiefs drafted him. I saw Keyes mentioned in a couple of draft guides, but outside of that, there wasn’t much. From what I can tell you, Keyes has length, athleticism and ball skills. Keyes had five pass breakups and one interception in each 2018 and 2019 and, outside of his missed tackle rate, he saw substantial improvement in most of his stats from 2018 to 2019.
While I don’t have an issue with the player, I have a small one with the process. The Chiefs traded a 2021 sixth-round pick to move back into the draft to select Keyes. In recent years, there has been a trend of solid veteran players getting traded for fifth and sixth-round picks, and I think there is great value in going with that strategy. While I like Veach abiding by the idea of going for who he wants, I think the trade-up was a mistake, but not a major one.
Overall, Veach did a good job with this draft. He picked up some great value with his final five picks and he still brought in a dangerous offensive weapon with the only pick I am not happy with. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is going to put up big volume numbers (and hopefully big efficiency numbers too) in the Chiefs system in 2020.
For picks after the first round, Willie Gay Jr. shows the promise to be one of the three best linebackers in the AFC West this season, L’Jarius Sneed has the traits to be a talented cornerback, Lucas Niang should be a good NFL tackle for many years to come and Mike Danna, with some good coaching, can also become a solid NFL edge defender.
Overall Draft Grade: B+