The Kansas City Chiefs have a couple largely overlooked young players who should flourish in Steve Spagnuolo’s system in 2019.
A recent discussion among Kansas City Chiefs fans repeated the point this week. When speaking of this coming draft class, the point was made that, this time around, Brett Veach was going to need to select impact players instead of role players.
Role players. That’s been a term I’ve heard used to describe the Chiefs draft class of 2018 a few times now. Depth players. Role players. Sub package defenders. It’s as if the Chiefs already had enough top-tier talent and really just needed guys with grit and substance—a class full of the Frank Zombos of the world.
That’s not what was meant by “role players,” obviously, and the label works in some ways.
- Derrick Nnadi was drafted and identified largely as a run-stuffer, a two-down lineman to work with Xavier Williams as new imports to shore up the run defense after the Bennie Logan experiment.
- Dorian O’Daniel was pitched as a defensive specialist who could be given special assignments, to blanket a tight end or spy on tailbacks making a move into space.
- Breeland Speaks was a tweener praised for his high motor and introduced as a guy who would instantly enter the pass rushing rotation to help give Justin Houston and Dee Ford a rest.
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Despite being picked within the first 100 players of the draft (or exactly No. 100 in DOD’s case), the expectations were somehow lessened for Brett Veach’s first draft class. It was as if the salesmanship putting them in very specified roles combined with the lack of a first round choice forced Chiefs Kingdom to shrug at the overall potential and hope maybe Dave Toub could use ’em on special teams.
That’s a bit of an overstatement, but the sentiment was true—or at least it feels that way one year later. No one is talking about any of those three players in terms of high-ceiling impact or potential. The hope is that all three can improve with more experience and that Steve Spagnuolo’s incoming defense will free each up to be a better player overall. However, more attention is being given to potential pick-ups in this year’s draft than hoping for any second-year stars to emerge.
That might be a mistake.
We are, of course, all excited to see what Brett Veach brings in with 3 picks in the top 60 this year. At this time of year, we’re all developing our favorites, hoping for an impact player to shore up the secondary, for example, or add to the pass rush or defensive front. That’s all well and good, but there are also a handful of holdover players with a nice draft pedigree of their own who could have much greater impact than initially thought.
Let’s not forget this: Breeland Speaks was a second-round defensive lineman. So was Chris Jones. The Chiefs were sitting at No. 54 overall and realized Speaks wouldn’t fall to them in the second, so Brett Veach traded a third round pick just to move up 8 total spots to get his man.
Veach praised him immediately after the draft and said he expected Speaks to be an immediate contributor and someone who could play all three downs. Andy Reid compared him to Tamba Hali and said that Veach made him watch the tape because he was in love with the kid. (For another comparison, Josh Norris mentions Michael Bennett).
"“This was one that [Veach] and I sat together and watched every snap,” Reid said. “The thing that amazes me about him, is he was never on the ground. The way he used his hands—that combination of things, it was really something. Brett did all the studies on him and you get comparisons to people, so similar to Tamba and his measurements, testing, all these things.”"
Veach’s reputation for geeking out about a player has turned over some impressive finds, including a recent NFL MVP, and the Chiefs GM saw something he loved in the Ole Miss defensive lineman. More than anything, his versatility and “relentless” playing style should give Spagnuolo some real options moving forward and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he can slot right in for the departing Allen Bailey, who is an unrestricted free agent.
If Chiefs fans believe in any rookie from last year’s class, it would be Derrick Nnadi. The former Florida State seminole came in and proved he deserved snaps on obvious running downs from the beginning of the season, the sort of plug-and-play option described by Veach on draft day when he noted that Nnadi also walked onto FSU’s campus and started immediately.
No one really needs convincing at this point, or shouldn’t, of Nnadi’s overall talent and readiness at this point. Veach traded an extra fourth round pick to move up in the third and guarantee his selection for good reason. The Chiefs locked him into the defensive front from Week 1 and were rewarded accordingly.
Nnadi will be an ideal 1-technique in Spagnuolo’s front line, a man who commands double teams and frees up the guys behind him who is also capable of disruption in the backfield if the play is there for him to make.
Overall, the most important thing to note here is that instead of being the brightest of a set of “role players,” it’s likely that Nnadi is just one of three defensive starters taken in the first three picks in Veach’s first draft.
Brett Veach is partially to blame for the lowered expectations placed on Dorian O’Daniel. When the Chiefs selected him at No. 100 overall to end the third round last year, he told reporters that the former Clemson star was the top-rated special teams player on the draft board and that he would utilized in specialty situations. That’s all well and good for a rookie year.
Here’s what we have overlooked. Veach also said, “We think he can develop into a Will linebacker.” That’s exactly the role he will play in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.
Those same characteristics—his incredible motor, his penchant for always being around the ball, his incredible tackling—will all serve him well in what will now be a starting role for him.
Typically when a linebacker is taken in the third round, it means that he should be a starting caliber linebacker and that’s exactly what Veach got in O’Daniel. Last year was a learning year for O’Daniel who earned more playing time with each and every week. With one year at the professional level under his belt, he’ll undoubtedly be tasked with starting on the weakside as the starting Will that Veach envisioned.
In addition, it’s important to remember that third round picks are high-potential players. Kareem Hunt was a third round pick. Steven Nelson was a third round pick. Travis Kelce was a third round pick. These are valuable selections used to grab good to even great contributors—not just part-time role players to round out a roster.
While the incoming class is going to bring in another set of exciting young players, the reality is that Brett Veach’s first draft class has given us three likely long-term starters in Spagnuolo’s defense in Breeland Speaks, Derrick Nnadi and Dorian O’Daniel.
Perhaps some comps to other players could help our imaginations in this respect, rather than live with the early labels we applied to each player. If we said the 2018 draft class brought the Chiefs three guys like Bennett, Linval Joseph, and Telvin Smith or Lavonte David, we’d be thrilled with the results. Three defensive starters in three rounds for a defense that needed new contributors.
The defense is going to look much better in 2019 and a large part of that change will come from a group whose potential is often overlooked.