Is Brett Veach evolving?
When looking at the Kansas City Chiefs and general manager Brett Veach's process that went into the 2021 draft season, it is hard not to think he is learning from his experiences on the job.
Veach's work began before the draft with the Orlando Brown Jr. trade. The Brown trade has clear parallels to Veach's other blockbuster trade acquisition, when the Chiefs landed defensive end Frank Clark. But they also have some clear differences.
In the trade for Brown, Veach was more calculating in the draft capital he gave up.
In the Frank Clark trade, the Chiefs gave up a 2019 first-round pick, a 2020 second-round pick, and swapped third-round picks in 2019 with the Seahawks. That is a substantial amount of draft capital to give up for a player the Chiefs immediately played over $100 million.
The Brown trade was different. The Chiefs gave up a first, third, and fourth-round pick in 2021 along with a 2022 fifth-round pick and got back a 2021 second-round pick along with a 2022 sixth-round pick.
The differences in draft capital may not be immediately apparent, but they are immediately important.
A big win for the Brown trade was keeping almost all of the traded picks from the 2021 draft. It is much easier to appraise and evaluate what draft capital is expendable for a draft class that has already been scouted.
Another win came with the overall capital given up, as the Chiefs sacrificed less for a comparable player. Both Brown and Clark were ascending players, played important positions and were requesting to be traded from their original teams. Yet the Chiefs gave up less for Brown according to all the draft pick value charts out there. For example, according to the Rich Hill trade chart, the Chiefs gave up around 250 points of draft capital for Clark and only around 165 points of capital for Brown.
The key reason the Brown trade was a net win for the Chiefs was the return of Baltimore's second-round pick. That pick itself was the difference between the value of the Brown trade and the Clark trade. Veach himself said that the sweet spot of the 2021 NFL draft was the second-to-early-third round and him adding another pick in that range showed how he has evolved in trade negotiations since the Clark deal.
Veach also showed evolution during the draft.
Consensus big boards and their ranking of prospects are not something to rely on fully, as teams will always have boards that diverge strongly from the consensus big boards, however, by most big boards out in the draft media, the Chiefs were able to find value in the draft all over. Whether it was Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey or Tennesee guard Trey Smith, this seemed like the first Chiefs draft where Veach did not have a pick that made everyone question the decision.
Take one of Veach's biggest swings of the draft, Florida State EDGE Joshua Kaindoh. The 6’6” 265-pound defensive end is more of an athlete than a polished pass rusher. However, he has shown the tools and technique in college which shows he understands what it takes at the position. Betting on his traits at the end of the fourth round is a very fair value proposition.
Contrast that with the pick of Ole Miss defensive lineman Breeland Speaks back in the 2018 draft. Veach traded up for Speaks in the second round of the 2018 draft and it was a bit of a shocking pick at the time. Speaks was not an exceptional athlete and did not carry a prototypical size for a defensive end. He was an undersized tackle who was too big to play end.
Speaks was the 222nd-ranked player on the Pro Football Focus big board, was not ranked on Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 big board, was ranked 69th on Mike Mayock’s big board, and was the 17th-highest ranked defensive lineman on Matt Miller’s big board. Even taking into account the highest ranking from the draft media at the time, Speaks was overdrafted with the 46th overall pick.
The evolution of the process from Speaks to Kaindoh really shows how Veach has evolved as a general manager. Taking smarter swings with this mindset will raise the floor and ceiling of the roster as it is constructed going forward.
One more aspect that Veach showed positive development in was his intra-draft trades.
Veach has never traded back in the draft. After the 2021 draft, he has still not traded back. However, Veach did pull off an interesting maneuver during the draft that shows how he has evolved as a general manager; the trade to acquire tight end Noah Gray.
After the Brown trade, the Chiefs only had six draft picks in the 2021 draft. It seemed very unlikely the Chiefs could orchestrate a trade-up over the course of the draft with that little draft capital. Veach still found a way to move up.
In the fifth round of the draft, the Chiefs were locked in on Gray and wanted to trade up for the unique pass-catcher. With just six draft picks, it would be tough to lose one dart throw at a player in the draft. In the past, Veach seemed to have little regard for losing draft picks, but in his post-draft discussion of the trade, he showed a small change in mindset about draft picks and what value they bring.
"We didn’t want to surrender a pick," Veach said. "We could’ve moved up even higher by just surrendering a flat pick, but we wanted to work in volume and we identified a few teams that were willing to swap picks and we were OK with shifting down later and allowing a team to come up higher later if we could move up a little in that fifth."
The draft pick that the Chiefs were able to keep turned into Trey Smith, a great high-risk/high-reward pick that could not have been selected if the Chiefs surrendered a pick to trade up for Gray. Veach’s patience worked out in this scenario and showed how far he has come over four years.
When Veach was hired back in 2017, he was the youngest general manager in the NFL. The weakest aspect during his time as general manager has probably been the draft. Whether it be poor value trades or overdrafting, Veach did not find value in the draft his first three years as the Chiefs general manager. In the 2021 draft, he seemed to find his form and wielded the draft capital the Chiefs had in a very effective way. If Veach is learning how to weaponize the NFL draft, teams around the league may be in trouble.