What to Expect from the Chiefs' Rookies in 2021

From Nick Bolton and Creed Humphrey to Cornell Powell and Trey Smith, the Kansas City Chiefs' rookie class will have a variety of expectations and roles to meet in the 2021 NFL season.
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From Nick Bolton and Creed Humphrey to Cornell Powell and Trey Smith, the Kansas City Chiefs' rookie class will have a variety of expectations and roles to meet in the 2021 NFL season. But what's reasonable to expect from KC's newest names? Let's look into the crystal ball.

Round 2, Pick 58: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri

The Chiefs' first pick in this draft was a relatively widely predicted one leading up to draft day, as they selected Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton. This pick has gotten mixed reactions throughout Chiefs Kingdom, as some find it a poor pick due to the lesser positional value, concerns about his coverage ability and the belief that he will be unable to take enough snaps from Ben Niemann, Anthony Hitchens and Willie Gay Jr. in year one. Others find it to be a great pick with his high-level instincts, impressive range, his fit in a Steve Spagnuolo system and the relatively weak linebacker room currently in KC.

While there seems to be some legitimacy to the concern about Bolton's coverage ability, he certainly shows some great flashes there, as he allowed just 332 coverage yards in 621 coverage snaps according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). That is quite impressive. I think Bolton has a good role on this team, hopefully being one of the top three linebackers alongside Hitchens and Gay. I think Bolton will take on a good amount of early-down snaps to help stop opposing running offenses and I think he will do a good job improving the run defense with his instincts, football IQ and quality range.

Round 2, Pick 63: Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma

The other second-round pick for the Chiefs was, in my mind, one of the best offensive linemen in this class. Creed Humphrey was Oklahoma's starting center for the last three seasons and was one of the most beloved players of the Lincoln Riley era, from Riley and fans alike. He was looked at as the leader of the offense, being given the captaincy of the Sooner offense in 2020, and his production was remarkable, not allowing a single sack in nearly 1,300 pass-blocking snaps at OU according to PFF. Also per PFF, Humphrey had 343 "true pass sets," plays that have no play-action, no screen pass, no designed rollout, a time to throw between two and four seconds and at least three pass rushers, and in those plays, he also had zero quarterback hits allowed and only five pressures allowed. Those numbers are remarkable! On top of that, he's a great run blocker as well, posting a 70+ PFF run-block grade in all three seasons and an 84.7 grade in 2020. Humphrey is also an athletic freak, earning a perfect 10 Relative Athletic Score (RAS)

Humphrey clearly looks to be the most pro-ready player in this draft class. To me, Humphrey is more than worthy of becoming an immediate starter on this team and could quickly become the best center the Chiefs have had since Mitch Morse was on the team in 2018, despite my belief that Austin Reiter was quite solid and that Austin Blythe, the consensus starter prior to Humphrey's drafting, is no push-over. I want Humphrey starting in Week 1 and I think he will be able to pull this off with what he shows the team in training camp. I think Humphrey will do a wonderful job leading the offensive line, especially with Joe Thuney and Kyle Long or Laurent Duvernay-Tardif on each side of him, and I think he will be the third-best lineman on the team in 2021, behind Thuney and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.

Round 4, Pick 144: Joshua Kaindoh, EDGE, Florida State

Of all the players in the Chiefs' draft class, Joshua Kaindoh was the one I knew the least about before his name was called. I had an initial weariness and confusion about this pick, especially with the likes of Daelin Hayes and Tarron Jackson, edge defenders who I liked and knew much better, still on the board. However, as time passed, I warmed up to the pick more and more. Kaindoh becomes an interesting prospect when accounting for his collection of skills, potential growth and less-than-ideal collegiate situation with questionable coaching. Kaindoh also had a fantastic RAS, ending up with a 9.59 RAS due to elite speed and explosion.

Still, Kaindoh is the least pro-ready player of the Chiefs' draft class. In his final season at Florida State, Kaindoh failed to get a sack over 207 pass-rushing snaps and he didn't get a 70+ pass-rushing grade in any of his college seasons from PFF. The Chiefs know this and know he is a project rather than a plug-and-play player. I expect this year for Kaindoh to either be a redshirt year or a year where he is the fourth or fifth edge defender. If he does end up being the fourth edge defender, I expect some nice flashes, thanks to the work of Spagnuolo and crew, but not the consistency needed to get regular playing time. Hopefully, Kaindoh will be ready to go in 2022 and beyond.

Round 5, Pick 162: Noah Gray, TE, Duke

Noah Gray is the player in this class who most Chiefs fans have probably done the most catching up on since the draft as the Duke tight end brings an intriguing skillset out of a program most football fans don't see on a weekly basis.

Gray's receiving ability has not been fully utilized yet, but the highlights are tremendous and he'll provide sure hands when targeted by Patrick Mahomes. In four seasons at Duke, Gray was targeted 141 times and finished with 104 receptions, 944 yards and eight touchdowns. He also finished with just three drops, a remarkable achievement for that number of targets. 

From what I can tell, Gray is set to be the backup tight end to Travis Kelce in 2021. Gray, like Kelce, will be a receiving-focused tight end who will work primarily from the slot and show the ability to win routes against linebackers and defensive backs alike. I believe Gray will get about 400 yards and between three and five touchdowns in 2021 and he will quickly become a fan favorite on the field for his reliable hands and innate ability to make something happen with the ball. 

Round 5, Pick 181: Cornell Powell, WR, Clemson

Cornell Powell could very possibly end up being the most important and most-needed hit of this draft class, due to the positional value of the wide receiver position and the question marks about the position in KC with Tyreek Hill as the only reliable wide receiver option on the team. Thankfully, Powell looks like a capable partner for Hill and Kelce with his route-running ability. Powell also has some impressive numbers to show for himself from his 2020 season with Clemson. After having four seasons with 323 yards and three touchdowns over 56 targets, Powell finally got a big role with the Tigers and got 78 targets and made the most of it to the tune of 882 yards and seven touchdowns, including four 100+ yard games and a two-touchdown game in the College Football Playoff semifinal vs. Ohio State. Powell also decreased his drop rate from 6.3% in 2019 to 3.6% in 2020 and he increased his yards per route run from 1.28 in 2019 to 2.22 in 2020.

Powell will enter training camp with a real battle on his hands, but also with a real chance to win a starting job in a competition with Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle. Powell, in my mind, deserves to be the team's X-receiver, taking on the role that Sammy Watkins had while he was in Kansas City. However, I believe that he will be the fourth wide receiver as the season starts, behind Hill, Robinson and Hardman, and he will have to wait a bit to climb the depth chart. I think that Powell will finish this season with about 300 yards and two or three touchdowns. 

Round 6, Pick 226:Trey Smith, G, Tennessee

The last pick of the Chiefs' draft was also the biggest steal of the Chiefs' draft, adding Tennessee offensive guard Trey Smith in the sixth round. Smith was considered a likely Day 2 prospect for his on-the-field performance, but he saw a drop in his stock as a result of blood clots he had on two different occasions in 2018. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said the team was comfortable with Smith's health, and even with the medical concerns, there is no doubt that the risk is worth the pick.

On the field, Smith looks like a likely future starter. He demonstrates tremendous strength and he moves other large individuals with ease. Once he gets his hands on a defensive lineman, he's in trouble. Unfortunately, Smith has some troubles with the process of getting his hands on d-linemen consistently as his technique still needs some refining, but can be done with quality NFL coaching from offensive line coach Andy Heck. At Tennessee, Smith allowed one sack over 755 pass-blocking snaps as a dedicated guard over the last two seasons, quite an impressive feat.

I believe that Smith is going to be another "redshirt" draft pick and he will be the fourth or fifth guard on the team. Look for Smith to get a look in the future, maybe in 2022 or 2023, for the starting right guard spot. But for 2021, I think he is the least-likely pick to have a role due to his improvement needed and the players above him in the depth chart.

Takeaways and Grades for the Chiefs' 2021 Draft Class

This draft class has a good mix of players who could make a quick impact and players with a more long-term viewpoint in mind. Humphrey, Powell, Gray and Bolton are good quick-impact prospects, with Humphrey being the most likely to succeed quickly, and Kaindoh and Smith look like 2021 "redshirts" with high potential but a major need for improvement with technique. I like this draft a lot, even though the Chiefs addressed some positions later than I would have preferred. I give this draft a B+ grade and I look forward to seeing what is to come for these six players!

For more Kansas City Chiefs analytics and analysis, follow @SIChiefs and @WichitaChiefSam on Twitter.

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