Five Kansas City Chiefs who could step up and help the weakest positions

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Anthony Hitchens #53 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after a play in the first half against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Anthony Hitchens #53 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after a play in the first half against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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Cornerbacks – Keith Reaser

The Chiefs cornerbacks are an oft-discussed group during both the 2018 season and this offseason. Of all position groups, there was probably not one maligned more in all of the NFL than our very own group of cornerbacks. Unfortunately, it was somewhat of a catastrophe.

The icing on the proverbial cake came when the defense couldn’t get off the field in several simultaneous third-and-long situations in the AFC Championship game last January, largely due to the inability of our corners to cover the New England Patriots receivers. It was the fear of all Chiefs’ fans since the beginning of the season, whether the defense could make a stop when the team desperately needed them to. Thanks largely to our cornerback group, those fears were realized.

What, if anything, has changed in the last few months? The Chiefs lost Stephen Nelson in free agency to the Pittsburgh Steelers. According to Pro Football Focus, Nelson was the Chiefs’ second highest rated corner barely coming in second to Kendall Fuller. In fact, in total defense Fuller ranked 30th overall and Nelson ranked 33rd overall. Whether you liked Stephen Nelson’s personality or not, he was a quality corner and a tough replacement for an already thin group.

Attrition is normal in the NFL, especially players like Nelson, who some teams would responsibly question his value versus his market price tag. What matters is how well your GM can replace the talent that your team has lost. In Brett Veach’s case, the most notable additions were five-year veteran Bashaud Breeland and NFL Draft pick Rashad Fenton. How does their production in prior years compare with what they lost in Nelson?

Unfortunately, not very well. Breeland, likely the most impactful of the two signings, did not have a great 2018 season. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked as the 100th cornerback in overall defense. He did not have a great season. To provide some context, he was coming off a significant injury the year prior, joined the Green Bay Packers mid-season which is tough for any player, and did not have his skil lset utilized correctly. It wasn’t the best of situations for Breeland, and he performed as such.

In Fenton’s case, most were left scratching their head at the pick. It wasn’t so much Fenton’s talent as much as the fact that the Chiefs didn’t target a corner before their sixth round pick.

This strategy was most likely followed for two reasons. They had previously traded their fourth round pick for current middle linebacker Reggie Ragland, a player who has since drawn the ire of Chiefs’ fans. The team was also suddenly potentially thin at wide receiver, with the Tyreek Hill audio becoming public the night of the draft. This was presumably, at least in part, why the Chiefs traded up five spots to grab Mecole Hardman with the 56th pick, costing them their only fifth round pick.  Finally, it’s likely the Chiefs believed the cornerbacks available to them in the second and third rounds wouldn’t provide the instant impact that players like Hardman, Juan Thornhill, and Khalen Saunders will provide.

So, they went with Fenton. Honestly though, he was a quality corner while at South Carolina. Last season, quarterbacks only completed 52.8% of their passes against him, he didn’t allow a single touchdown, he had four total interceptions and pass breakups, and allowed a 32.9 passer rating. That last stat was good for third best in the SEC. In a conference normally lauded for it’s cornerback talent, that’s saying something.

Still Fenton has a lot to prove and most people doubt he can be a great cornerback in the NFL mostly due to his athleticism. Even those who develop into consistently solid to great cornerbacks take a few years to get there. It’s hard to see Fenton making a major impact his rookie year, if ever.

Are there reasons to be optimistic? Absolutely. What isn’t getting talked about as much as it should is the fact that both Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill are both great athletes who have experience playing the slot corner spot. Now, don’t expect to see them play this position exclusively.

However, could the Chiefs play three safeties and two corners in nickel if they had to? Could they play three safeties and three corners in dime and be fine? They absolutely have the versatility in both Thornhill and Mathieu to do both, with two reasonably reliable backups in Jordan Lucas and Armani Watts, not to mention Dan Sorensen.

This doesn’t even take into account some potentially ascending players the Chiefs have in this position group. A particular player to watch is former Chiefs’ Player and AAF star Keith ReaserAccording to Pro Football Focus, Reaser was the highest graded corner in the AAF by a wide margin. It’s difficult to say exactly how that will translate given the level of competition, but the Chiefs signed him almost immediately when they were able. He definitely has potential to see snaps this season.

My personal prediction for this group is that they might struggle early, but by midseason they will hit their stride. I don’t expect them to be great, but I expect them to be decently improved from last year.

One other note, it’s possible the Chiefs bring in another player to add to this unit. If this happens, I think this unit could go from competent to good very quickly.