If Brett Veach was correct about the talents he drafted in his first ever NFL Draft as general manager for the Chiefs, then this year’s rookies won’t shoulder much of a burden.
Brett Veach is excited about having three picks in the first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft—so much so that he’s mentioned it in every single interview clip leading up to the big event.
This draft class is a deep one, to be sure, and the Chiefs have been without key resources on draft night quite a bit over the years. The deals to get quarterbacks, both in 2013 and 2017, left them without key picks in the first and second rounds for Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith, respectively. The Chiefs were reprimanded for “tampering” with Jeremy Maclin before free agency, which robbed them of a third in 2016.
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Given the fact that the Chiefs will pick four of the top 100 incoming freshmen, at least as things are laid out now, is something to celebrate. Veach has good reason to be excited.
But just how much will the Chiefs be dependent on these rookies to make an instant impact? There might be saviors among the bunch at key positions. It might be a class for the ages. But it could also be a group of players allowed to slowly grow into their needed roles if Veach was right about the last crop of selected players—the first class in his career as the Chiefs general manager.
Last year, the Chiefs received middling results from their top rookies. Some of that was no one’s fault. Armani Watts was earning a nice amount of playing time at free safety before being lost for the year. Dorian O’Daniel was simply never given much of an opportunity to shine until down the stretch. Breeland Speaks was not only out of position but sat behind prominent pass rushers like Justin Houston and/or Dee Ford. Derrick Nnadi was, well, actually quite good as a green defensive tackle.
Fast forward one year, and everyone should be in a much better place. It certainly helps to have adjusted to the speed and demands of professional football at the highest level. From there, each player’s individual plan should also be quite different.
Speaks is no longer being asked to start away from the line, manning an outside linebacker spot in a 3-4 role. Instead, he is likely the second coming of Allen Bailey and could find himself starter’s reps on Steve Spagnuolo’s new defensive front. The effort, length and strength will always be there with Speaks, so further experience should help him become more efficient as a disruptor.
O’Daniel should flourish as a WILL in Spagnuolo’s second level, a linebacker who excelled in coverage for the Chiefs in the second half of last season. O’Daniel had only 10 defensive snaps through the first six games of the season, but averaged over 29 per game in the last 10 contests of the season. For a player like O’Daniel, getting acclimated to the NFL will allow his natural instincts to kick in, which will bring out the playmaker that made him so valuable at Clemson on a national title contender.
Watts had a completely different scenario than O’Daniel. The Texas A&M safety averaged 27 snaps per game through the season’s first five games, and the first three performances were quite brutal. Per PFF, Watts’ per-game scores were very bad through Week 3 against San Francisco. Yet it’s clear the Chiefs coaches knew they were baptizing him by fire and Watts rewarded them with very solid scores in the following two games. Then he was lost for the season.
If Watts is able to retain his athleticism and burst after injury, he could be an underrated option to move right back into a starting spot next to Tyrann Mathieu.
In Week 1 against the Chargers, Nnadi played 18 snaps. By the time the conference championship came around, Nnadi had climbed the depth chart to earn starter’s minutes with an impressive 63 snaps. He’s not just a run stopper to come in situationally. There’s real potential here for Nnadi to grow into something greater as a disruptive presence next to Chris Jones. That’s not to say the Chiefs shouldn’t grab a guy like Jerry Tillery if he’s there, but it means the Chiefs have more talent already along the line than what people might normally believe.
Right now, there’s a lot of pre-draft talk about significant needs along the defensive line—outside and in—as well as safety. Linebacker is also a concern, although not one that’s discussed as a first round option. Still, Veach’s first four selections as a GM could end up easing the burden on having to plug these roles early in the 2019 NFL Draft. Each has potential for much more with good reason to believe they can reach it.