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What if the Chiefs Go All-Defense in the First Round of the Draft?

Should the Chiefs prioritize their defense on Day One of the draft?

It’s rare to see a team that came a few plays shy of a Super Bowl appearance end up tying for the NFL-high in potential draft selections, but such is the case for the Kansas City Chiefs.

In a deadlock with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the most picks (12), general manager Brett Veach and the organization have provided themselves flexibility to trade with some of the leverage accumulated. Speaking of trading, it’s intriguing to think about some of the potential dominos that would need to fall for the Chiefs to entertain that idea of going all-in on the defensive side of the ball on Day One of the 2022 NFL Draft. 

Feb 28, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach speaks to the media during the 2019 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The most obvious of those comes is the idea of trading for Washington Commanders star receiver Terry McLaurin or some other already-established wideout. This is an idea that, though possibly unattainable, continues to gain traction with Washington failing to reach an agreement for him beyond his rookie contract.

It's crystal clear that the Chiefs need another jolt of energy at WR, and there will be ample opportunities to do so in this year's deep class. With or without said trade, one could’ve made the case that the Chiefs could at least consider going all-defense in the first round solely based on what they’ve done both in the past and in this very offseason. 

As Kent Swanson of Kansas City Sports Network noted in his 2022 Draft Guide, the Chiefs have yet to spend more than $3 million per year on any free agent cornerback or draft one higher than 138th. We are approaching late April, when most teams are pivoting their focus to the draft festivities. It’s going to be difficult to find value at the cornerback position at this point in time.

With Charvarius Ward leaving Kansas City for warmer winters in San Francisco on a three-year, $42M deal, it leaves the Chiefs with only a handful of viable cornerbacks. Playing devil’s advocate, he did showcase Kansas City’s ability to create something out of an unimaginative situation.

Ward — undrafted out of Middle Tennessee — joined as a fifth backup and flipped that into becoming the 13th highest-paid cornerback heading into 2022-23. It’s all smile-worthy until you remember that the Chiefs don’t even have a single player in the top 100 of said list.

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Cornerbacks occupy only 3% percent of the Chiefs' total cap. Veach has proven that his system works, and there’s even a case to be made that the Chiefs could be successful even if they wait until Day Two of the draft. The likes of Juan Thornhill, L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton, all non-first-round picks, have flashed plenty of potential.

But without knowing if the Chiefs’ offense will have the firepower needed to force teams to chase points, snagging a player like Kaiir Elam or Andrew Booth Jr. might be of benefit. 

Sep 18, 2021; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Florida Gators safety Kaiir Elam (5) against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Inevitably, that could then set the stage for Veach to follow his trend of finding his Day Two gold. The personal favorite here would be Tariq Woolen, a redshirt senior out of UTSA with a 6-foot-4 frame, a 4.26 40-yard dash time and a history as a converted wideout. Finding value at that position in today’s pass-heavy league is as important as ever, and NFL front offices know it. Nate Taylor perhaps said it best on The Athletic’s Times Ours podcast last week with Joshua Brisco and Seth Keysor:

I do agree with Brett Veach when he told me at the Combine. He’s like, ‘Any guy that you think’s a second-round grade at corner, put him in the first round because it’s that much of an important position. Any third-round-graded corner you have on your board, you might want to bump him up to a late second-round, because you can never have enough corners. It’s a passing league for a reason and corners are hard to find, and to Seth’s point, not everybody’s going to be Marcus Peters their rookie year.

In that same vein, it’s also interesting to think about the Chiefs pursuing a defensive end with one of those first-round picks. The case for it is simple: Kansas City has spent ambitiously among the defensive line — sometimes too ambitiously. Save for the trio of Chris Jones, Frank Clark and Mike Danna, though, and it’s hard to recall memorable defensive snaps from those under them from 2021-22.

Jan 23, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (55) reacts after a play against the Buffalo Bills during the second half of the AFC Divisional playoff football game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Remember all the way back on Feb. 1, when Veach took the podium, making note of how fortifying the defensive line would be his No. 1 priority this offseason? Well, JuJu Smith-Schuster got paid. Marquez Valdez-Scantling got paid. Orlando Brown Jr. got paid, and so did Ronald Jones. Those players combined for zero snaps along the defensive line last season. Playing process of elimination, if there were a time to put that into fruition, April’s NFL Draft would be it.

Remarkably, this will (or could) be just the Chiefs’ second time picking in round one since 2018. Analyzing recent history there is mostly fruitless. Chiefs mocks across the globe have thrown out some potential plugs from the EDGE class. Among the most notable: Minnesota edge rusher Boye Mafe, Georgia's Devonte Wyatt and Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie, among others.

The talent among that position makes it, to some, the deepest in the draft. The Chiefs are working with 12 picks for the first time since 2008, but what they do on Day One — and even prior to — could be imperative in deciding how great this team can be in the very near future. There’s certainly a case to be made that it starts with defense.