Former Louisiana Tech and current Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed wasn't the headling name in the Chiefs' 2020 NFL Draft class when the event concluded on April 25, 2020, but it wasn't long before he was.
There wasn't much expected of the 16th cornerback selected but as the year progressed, the 138th overall pick has shown he was the steal of the draft.
After the Chiefs won their second-straight AFC Championship, general manager Brett Veach spoke to the media about the season. He was asked about his fourth-round selection and said he quickly knew he was going to be a key cog in the defense.
“Well I guess really it was early on, in the first few starts," Veach said. "I’ll tell you what, we got fortunate. I think had they had one of these draft do-overs you can make a case with L’Jarius being selected in the first round, so I guess we were maybe lucky, more lucky than smart with that one because in retrospect he shouldn’t have been there in the fourth round."
Sneed's numbers this season have been impressive. In nine games, the rookie has been able to record 41 tackles, seven passes defended, three interceptions, three quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and two sacks. With that, Sneed's 8.9 missed tackle percentage ranks sixth-lowest on the team with a minimum of 400 snaps.
On 52 targets, the 6-foot, 192-pound corner has allowed only 31 completions for 250 yards and a touchdown while his passer rating allowed is a measly 54.2, well below the league average.
In his first two postseason games, Sneed has notched 11 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and two quarterback hits. Against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship game, Sneed did not record a missed tackle.
But it's not just Sneed's traditional stats the leap off the page. His Pro Football Focus grade of 79.3 was the highest of all rookie cornerbacks and 22nd out of 121 qualified corners.
When it came to finding Sneed, Veach gave most of the credit to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his eye for talent.
"But again, Steve [Spagnuolo] and his staff I mean, Steve has a great feel – I mean Dave Merritt and Sam Madison are phenomenal as well," Veach said. "Steve has a really good eye and I remember talking to Steve during the draft process and going back and watching L’Jarius a couple years ago when he played corner as opposed to safety his final year at LA Tech."
Beyond the numbers, the 24-year-old corner has had quite the positional journey. In his first games in the league, the Lousiana Tech Bulldog was asked to play outside corner, filling in for a suspended Bashaud Breeland, after finishing his collegiate career at safety.
The only problem for Sneed at that spot was when he broke his collarbone in Week 3. He seemingly didn't miss a step though when he returned in Week 11 despite playing another position. Sneed continued to thrive on the field but this time in the slot.
Veach said having the coaching staff he does in place gives him confidence in bringing in guys with raw talent, knowing coaches will bring out the best in him.
"The talent is there and that’s the cool thing about being general manager," Veach said. "You know if the talent is there, the coaches will get after it whether it be Coach [Andy] Reid and his staff or Coach [Eric] Bieniemy and his staff and we just got great coaches that find a way to put these players in positions to make plays and they certainly have done that with LJ and he’s been phenomenal all year.”