Darron Lee, Darwin Thompson and the changing worth of a late round pick

EAST LANSING, MI - AUGUST 31: Darwin Thompson #5 of the Utah State Aggies scores a fourth quarter touchdown while playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on August 31, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 38-31. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, MI - AUGUST 31: Darwin Thompson #5 of the Utah State Aggies scores a fourth quarter touchdown while playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on August 31, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 38-31. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

What exactly is the value of a late round pick in the NFL Draft? It’s an interesting notion that floats depending on what a fan’s favorite team is doing with it.

A sixth round pick doesn’t sound like much on the surface. Players taken in the sixth round of an NFL Draft, year to year, have been passed over by all 32 times on multiple occasions. Each of them face a significant uphill climb to even make the active roster, depending on the depth of the team already, and they’re likely not taken to fill any major role. Instead, they’re viewed as specialists or long-term projects that might or might not pan out.

The reality is that most sixth round picks are largely forgotten over the years. Some of the NFL’s better general managers have a knack for churning out hidden gems in late rounds, but even the best have spotty records. It’s just the nature of the draft, which itself is a crap shoot even in the first round.

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Let’s take a look at the some of the last few sixth round picks of the Kansas City Chiefs, since that’s our home turf here, going back to 2009 to get a full decade’s scope:

  • 2009: Quinten Lawrence, WR, McNeese State – Returned 16 total kicks
  • 2010: None
  • 2011: Jerrell Powe, DT, Mississippi – 8 tackles in 3 years
  • 2012: Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M – 99 career rushing yards
  • 2013: Eric Kush, OL, California (Pa.) – Backup center still earning work in year seven (currently with CLE)
  • 2013: Braden Wilson, FB, Kansas State – never made team
  • 2014: Zach Fulton, OL, Tennessee – Long-term starter for Chiefs, Texans
  • 2014: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OL, McGill – Chiefs starting right guard
  • 2015: Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DL, Southern Miss – Rotational defensive lineman for Chiefs, Bucs (currently with TB)
  • 2016: D.J. White, CB, Georgia Tech – Out of NFL after only 13 games
  • 2016: Dadi Nicoas, OLB, Virginia Tech – 11 games played on S/T back in 2016
  • 2017: Leon McQuay, DB, USC – In revolving door with Chiefs practice squad
  • 2018: Tremon Smith, CB, Central Arkansas – Chiefs current kick returner
  • 2018: Kahlil McKenzie, OL, Tennessee – DL slowly turning into OL via special potions and magic incantations

That’s 12 picks in 10 years with only two real finds, both in 2014. Zach Fulton and LDT have both made significant dollars as offensive linemen in the NFL. Others carved out some semblance of playing time but half of these players never made a blip of any kind in professional football. Every year there was reason to believe, reason to hope, and instead the names just end up forgotten. Our only response when hearing them again is, “Oh, yeah!”

Historically speaking, this is the right way to view a late round pick. They are flyers that hardly ever work out, so it makes sense to flip them for a sure thing, or at least a known commodity. For Brett Veach, he recently did just that by bringing in Darron Lee from the New York Jets in a trade for a sixth round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Lee might have some mystery surrounding him, but the ceiling is a first round pedigree and the floor is an emerging coverage linebacker. There are defined parameters here and it all exists at the NFL level.

Yet there’s a flip side to this. The Kansas City Chiefs selected three players late in the draft this year and all are earning positive marks to varying degrees, and some in particular have fans really jazzed. The first pick in the sixth for the Chiefs was South Carolina cornerback Rashad Fenton, their only draft pick at the neediest spot on the roster and he’s largely seen as a depth and developmental piece with potential.

From there, the hype grows considerably. The Chiefs final pick in the entire draft came atop the seventh with Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti. He’s an intelligent team leader who was a two-year captain and multi-year starter for the Fighting Illini who showed the ability to play multiple positions this year. He’s coming in expecting to start and the Chiefs will likely give him the chance to go at it with Austin Reiter and others in direct competition to suit up on Sundays.

The Chiefs second pick in the sixth round earned even more rave reviews. Darwin Thompson, a running back out of Utah State, has many fans thinking he’s bound for great things. He’s an elusive back who is disproportionally tough to bring down with a nose for the end zone (16 touchdowns last year). Pro Football Focus loved him and believes he can be better at the pro level than expected—especially considering he’s a sixth round pick.

Suddenly, with a new draft class ready for our projections, we’re excited about the potential of late round picks again. Nick Allegretti could be a starting center. Darwin Thompson could be the tackle-breaking running back to help us forget Kareem Hunt. Never mind that the stats tell us these players will end up more like Eric Kush and Cyrus Gray. We’re ready to believe!

Welcome to the sliding value of a sixth round pick. The worth of a late round pick is relative to whether or not it belongs to the team. If the Chiefs are trading it away, it’s a brilliant stroke by the GM who knew it wouldn’t pan out anyway, If we keep it and use it, it’s a late round steal likely to turn into something of note in the years ahead.

Next. Top 10 Chiefs draft busts ever. dark

Here’s hoping Brett Veach was right in the players he selected this year and in the newest linebacker he just traded for. Who knows? Maybe there’s value in both sides.