The Kansas City Chiefs selected L’Jarius Sneed, a defensive back out of Louisiana Tech in the fourth round. What will he bring the Chiefs secondary?
The Kansas City Chiefs entered the 2020 offseason with only two cornerbacks left on the roster. With only Charvarius Ward and Rashad Fenton remaining, the cornerback position was once again a significant need. Kendall Fuller signed with the Washington Redskins early in free agency. Luckily, Kansas City was able to bring back Bashaud Breeland on another one-year deal just before the 2020 NFL Draft. The only other signing the Chiefs made was Antonio Hamilton.
Entering the draft, it was clear that adding to the cornerback room would be important. The hope was that the organization would draft a cornerback early instead of using one-year band-aids for another offseason. Since trading away Marcus Peters, that’s all Kansas City has done at the position. Unfortunately, the board didn’t allow for the Chiefs to give its fan base comfort as they once again waited until Day 3 of the draft to address it.
In the fourth round, the Chiefs selected Louisiana Tech cornerback/safety, L’Jarius Sneed. During his time at Louisiana Tech, Sneed played three years at cornerback before converting to free safety in 2019. A three-year starter for the Bulldogs, two at cornerback, one at safety, Sneed looks more comfortable playing as a corner. However, that kind of versatility to go along with his 4.37 40-yard dash sure makes him even more valuable. In 2019, Sneed was awarded Second Team All-CUSA and named as a team captain.
During Sneed’s first few seasons playing cornerback at Louisiana Tech, he played primarily press-man coverage almost exclusively on the right side of the defense. At the line of scrimmage, Sneed displays a good jam to knock receivers off of their release. In soft press-man coverage, he shows good patience forcing the receiver to make a move before opening up his hips. His footwork and speed allow him to stay with receivers when carrying vertically successfully.
The play above is a good example of his patience and jam at the line of scrimmage. Of course, Sneed will be facing a massive increase in talent across from him at the next level, but this is a good two-handed jam at the line to knock the receiver entirely off-balance.
In zone coverage, Sneed is quick to diagnose route concepts while keeping his eyes on the quarterback. He plays the ball as a receiver jumping in front of routes showing off his offensive background. If he can’t get to the catch point in time to make an interception, Sneed utilizes his length to get his arm around the receiver to break up the pass.
Most of his zone coverage responsibilities had him rolling down to take on plays in front of him. While he has the speed to play with range in the deeper portions of the field, he looked most comfortable when coming downhill on passes in front of him.
Against the run, Sneed looked more competitive when playing cornerback at the line of scrimmage. Utilizing his length, he does a good job against most receivers to keep his chest clean and shed blocks from receivers to make a play on the ball carrier.
Sneed looks to have some stiffness in his hips, which leads to him grabbing the receiver on route breaks or opening his hips too early. When asked to play in bail technique, it was very common for him to open his hips to the receiver’s initial release, giving him a disadvantage if the receiver broke the other way.
In the clip above, you can see that he opens his hips too early. He’s looking back to the quarterback and loses track of his receiver, who alters his route to Sneed’s blind spot. This allows for an easy touchdown.
Sneed had six penalties against him in 2019. Three of those penalties being pass interference, and two of them were holding penalties. Obviously, this is an area that will need to be cleaned up as he continues to develop the mental side of his game, allowing him to position himself better to handle route breaks.
Bigger receivers will give him trouble in the run game due to a lack of play strength. The clip above shows Sneed covering LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. who is listed at 6’4″ and 209 pounds. While he does a good job of quickly getting his hands into Marshall’s chest and standing him up, he’s clearly moved off of his spot. While he was quick to diagnose screens, Sneed could improve on his tackling when coming downhill, where he’s not hitting the receiver as he catches the ball. Too many times, he is diving at the feet of ball carriers or the victim of a stiff arm.
L’Jarius Sneed projects to be a developmental project for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. He will see little playing time in year one most likely on the defensive side of the ball but will be a contributor on special teams as either a returner or gunner. His versatility with experience as a cornerback and free safety will likely make him a type of replacement for Kendall Fuller. Playing different roles depending on the coverage, Sneed has a role in the defense once he’s able to process the pro game mentally and cleans up some grabbing on route breaks.
Given the amount of speed the AFC West added over the weekend, the Chiefs hope to counter some of that with a player like Sneed. His speed, length, ball skills, and positional versatility will bring him opportunities to develop into a starting player in year two or three.