With the splash portion of free agency over, many draft analysts and Kansas City Chiefs fans have identified the cornerback position as one of if not the biggest positional need on the team due to the departure of Sean Smith.
While I do agree with this and am intrigued by some projected first-round corners like Mackensie Alexander, William Jackson III, and Eli Apple, I still do not believe that the Chiefs should invest a first round pick on a corner. Let’s take a look into why.
Something that all Chiefs fans and analysts need to understand is how spoiled we were by the play of Marcus Peters. The fact that Peters was a Pro Bowler, Second-Team All-Pro and recipient of several awards all as a rookie cornerback was extremely rare and uncommon. We know that John Dorsey and company did enough homework on Peters to feel confident enough to select him in the first round, but there was still a huge risk involved in the selection and I’m not even talking about the character issues.
The transition of a cornerback from college to the NFL is a very, very hard and daunting task. Not only does the speed of the game ratchet up, but the whole learning process of the schemes, techniques, and rules is not easy or quick whatsoever. So yes, while the Chiefs struck gold in Peters last year, we have to keep in mind several other first round corners from recent drafts that did not have the same immediate success as Peters. Trae Waynes, Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Dee Milliner, D.J. Hayden, Morris Claiborne, and Dre Kirkpatrick are all players who either struggled to find their footing right away or are still struggling with the position.
If you make the argument that those players didn’t have the same coaching as Peters, then you have to remember that 2014 third round pick Phillip Gaines didn’t start getting significant playing time until later in his rookie season and last year’s third pick Steven Nelson never got any significant playing time even with injuries in the defensive backfield and Sean Smith’s suspension. Every rookie’s learning curve is different, and this is one aspect of draft prospects that is nearly impossible to predict especially for corners.
Another thing to worry about with a rookie cornerback is who they’re looking up to and being lead by. Everyone is talking about who’s going to replace Sean Smith’s on field production, but I’m personally more worried about the loss of his leadership and guidance amongst the corners. Who knows how good Peters would have been last year if he didn’t have Smith by his side giving him lessons and confidence.
If the Chiefs select a corner in the first round, their top four corners would be; 2016 first-round pick, 2015 first-round pick, 2015 third-round pick, and 2014 third-round pick. While the talent in the group would be intriguing, that’s a lot of youth and inexperience. I know there’s guys like Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, Justin Houston, and Tamba Hali on the defense that are true leaders but it’s still important to have someone within each positional group that can act as the leader.
So, now that you know why I don’t believe the Chiefs should draft a corner with their first round pick, you’re probably wondering how they’re going to upgrade the position and build depth. Well, for starters, they could bring in one of the remaining free agent corners still on the market. While most of the quality guys are already signed, there’s still some guys like Brandon Boykin and Patrick Robinson who would be a solid, veteran addition.
They could get a corner in the later rounds like Xavien Howard, Artie Burns, Harlan Miller, or Rashard Robinson who wouldn’t be expected to start right away. Most importantly, however, the Chiefs are going to have to trust their coaching and development. If Marcus Peters takes the next step to be an elite corner, Phillip Gaines stays healthy and consistently plays up to the potential he showed when on the field, and Steven Nelson shows on the field what he learned during his season of learning, this group could be pretty good.
Heck, Marcus Cooper may even have a resurgence and play like he did in the first half of his rookie season and last preseason. I understand these are a lot of question marks and what ifs, but John Dorsey has already invested a good amount of draft picks in this position, and it’s time to see what they can do.
The 2016 offseason for the Chiefs has had a clear message that the time to win and make a real Super Bowl push is now. Core players like Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, and Jamaal Charles only have so many good years left in them. The Chiefs have a window of two, maybe three years to get their second championship in team history. This has been evident in their free agency moves and will continue to be evident with their draft selections of players who can come in and contribute right away.