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2020 NFL Draft Grades – Kansas City Chiefs

The most explosive offense in the NFL got that much more dangerous with dynamic dual-threat Clyde Edwards-Helaire but did the Chiefs do enough on the defensive side of the ball to defend their title?
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Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.

In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.

In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.

So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.

Therefore, in a 32-part series, will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.

Today’s team: Kansas City Chiefs

Head Coach: Andy Reid

General Manager: Brett Veach

Players selected in 2020:

Round 1, Pick 32 overall: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

Round 2, Pick 63 overall: LB Willie Gay, Jr., Mississippi State

Round 3, Pick 96 overall: OT Lucas Niang, TCU

Round 4, Pick 138 overall: DB La’Jarius Snead, Louisiana Tech

Round 5, Pick 177 overall: DE/OLB Michael Danna, Michigan

Round 7, Pick 237 overall: CB Thakarius Keyes, Tulane

Key Undrafted Free Agents:

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C Daryl Williams, Mississippi State

OL Yasir Durant, Missouri

CB Javaris Davis, Auburn

CB Lavert Hill, Michigan

WR Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt

WR Cody White, Michigan State

Overview of the Chiefs’ 2020 draft:

For far too many, 2020 will be remembered as the year COVID-19 disrupted our lives, but even a global pandemic cannot fully erase the joy felt in Kansas City with Andy Reid and his superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes bringing their passionate fans its first NFL championship of the Super Bowl era. Using the same aggression which helped Reid, Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs excel this past season, general manager Brett Veach started Kansas City’s defense of its crown by pulling a stunner at No. 32 overall, making the club’s offense even more dynamic with the selection of LSU’s bowling ball of a running back, Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs wound up using two of their first three selections on the offensive side of the ball, in fact, landing TCU offensive tackle Lucas Niang in the third round. As anticipated, most of the Chiefs’ focus in the 2020 draft was on the defensive side of the ball, however, starting with toolsy Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay, Jr. at the end of the second round. Gay comes with red-flags but flashed more than the paparazzi on tape and at the Combine, making him a stark contrast to sixth round selection Michael Danna, a high-effort grad-transfer from Central Michigan, who was not invited to the Combine at all. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Chiefs’ draft is how long Veach and Co. decided to wait on addressing a secondary which saw starter Kendall Fuller head back to Washington in free agency, leaving Kansas City with just a couple of cornerbacks on the roster (Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward) with more than two career starts in the NFL. While the Chiefs waited longer than expected, they sent plenty of arrows at the target, investing Day Three picks in La’Jarius Sneed and Thakarius Keyes and signing two of the better undrafted free agent corners available in Auburn’s Javaris Davis and Michigan’s Lavert Hill. The drafted defenders are bigger, fitting better in Steve Spagnuola’s scheme, but all four offer plenty of experience and play with the confidence necessary to compete with Mahomes and the Chiefs’ explosive offense each day in practice. Some will quibble with Kansas City’s strategy, suggesting that the pick of a running back – any running back – over defense in the first round was a luxury selection. Perhaps. It is hard to question the reigning champs, however, especially when their investments made the most dangerous offense in the NFL that much scarier.

Best Player of the Chiefs’ 2020 Draft: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Ask 10 different NFL scouts the best way to gauge a running back and you might get 10 different answers. Some believe in the tried and true numbers provided by 40-yard dashes and shuttle drills, arguing that straight-line speed and change of direction are critical at the position. Others feel that intangibles no one can put a numerical score on – like anticipation or toughness – are most important. I believe the single most important trait for a running back is balance through contact. Some attempt to measure this by counting the number of broken tackles a player compiles but this information, of course, is subjective as well, due to all of the individual factors that play into it, such as level of competition and how generous the statistician might be feeling that day. I’ll let the analytics websites tell you many broken tackles Edwards-Helaire had for the LSU Tigers over his career. When watching him, one doesn’t need statistics. Built like a bowling ball at 5-07, 207 pounds, Edwards-Helaire is difficult for defenders to square up and he is hyper-aggressive, initiating the contact rather than looking to absorb it, himself. His pedestrian 40-yard dash time (4.60) belies Edwards-Helaire’s initial burst and lateral agility, suggesting that he is neither fast nor elusive when on the field, the opposite is clearly true. What is also obvious is Edwards-Helaire’s fit as a receiver in Kansas City’s offense. Edwards-Helaire’s quickness and soft, reliable hands were put to excellent use at LSU with the junior running back collecting 55 passes for 453 yards and a touchdown last season, alone. Edwards-Helaire’s dual-threat production had to remind Reid of some of his past star running backs, like the similarly-built and skilled Darren Sproles or even LeSean McCoy. Just how excited must Reid be with Edwards-Helaire? Consider that before taking him with a triumphant final pick of this year’s first round, McCoy (53 overall in 2009) was the earliest any running back has ever been taken by an NFL team employed by Reid, going all the way back to when he first joined the Green Bay Packers as offensive assistant in 1992.

Best Value of the Chiefs’ 2020 Draft: OT Lucas Niang

In yesterday’s review of the San Francisco 49ers’ draft, I argued that former University of Washington running back Salvon Ahmed (one of SF’s UDFAs this year) was one of the real losers of the COVID-19 pandemic fallout. Niang was another talented prospect who slipped further than he should in part due to circumstances out of his control. The 6-6, 315 pound right tackle was a popular pick in early first round mock drafts but saw his stock tumble when he was sidelined halfway through his senior season due to a torn labrum in his hip, which ultimately required surgery that kept him out of post-season all-star games and from working out. In a normal year, that may not have mattered much. With Pro Day workouts largely cancelled and medical information limited, however, Niang, the No. 50 overall prospect on my board, instead watched and waited as he came within 10 selections of slipping into Day Three. Regardless of where he was selected, Niang is a future NFL starter with the light feet, long arms and experience at both tackles spots to contribute immediately. Broad-shouldered and strong, Niang also possesses the width which could allow him to slide to guard, if needed. Reid cut his teeth in the NFL molding offensive linemen. He got a good one in Niang.

Best Project of the Chiefs’ 2020 Draft: LB Willie Gay, Jr.

The Chiefs sandwiched two plug and play options in Edwards-Helaire and Niang around one of this year’s biggest gambles in Gay, a freakish athlete who entered the NFL draft on the heels of an 8-game suspension – which is more games than the former four-star recruit started at Mississippi State. It doesn’t take long to locate Gay on tape. Between his chiseled 6-1, 243 pound frame and elite speed (4.46 at the Combine), Gay stood out even amongst SEC competition, showing the ability to chase down speedy backs (and even receivers) and delivering bone-rattling hits. Unfortunately, while his test numbers prove that Gay is one of the top all-around athletes in the 2020 class, he currently is one of the least instinctive, too often blindly rushing upfield or getting distracted fighting with blockers and proving vulnerable to misdirection, screens and delayed handoffs. Gay’s awareness on the field is further complicated by his unreliability off of it. Along with nine former teammates, Gay was suspended for academic fraud at MSU, allegedly allowing a tutor to do his assignments and take tests for a chemistry class. If that wasn’t enough of a concern, Gay reportedly got into a fight with freshman quarterback Garrett Shrader – the Bulldogs’ anticipated starter - prior to this year’s Music City Bowl, causing an injury to his former teammate’s “upper body” which kept him from playing. Gay did, leading the team with 11 tackles in a 38-28 loss to Louisville. Gay comes with obvious risks, but Reid’s reputation as a player-friendly coach and the quick ascent of Jones, another former Mississippi State star, suggests that the Chiefs may have the foundation in place to capitalize on their second round gamble.

Overall Grade for the Chiefs’ 2020 Draft: B

Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs