The primary task for each NFL franchise during an offseason is to gain an accurate understanding of the level of talent on their roster. Specifically, a front office and coaching staff will work together early after a season has ended to go over each position on the roster in order to figure out where a team might have serious concerns. Consequently, it’s also important to recognize where hidden potential might be ready to surface.
For the K.C. Chiefs, the cornerback position is a perplexing one—at least to those of us on the outside. To some, it looks like the Chiefs have an impressive young core of players who should be able to blossom once the 2021 season begins. To others, however, cornerback remains one of the greatest areas of need headed into the NFL Draft.
At this point, what are we supposed to think of the Chiefs cornerback need? It likely depends on what you think of Deandre Baker.
Think of the group that the Chiefs already have coming back in 2021, beginning with the assumed return of Charvarius Ward. At this point, the Chiefs have placed a second-round tender on him, which means any team who is interested in signing him away as a restricted free agent must compensate the Chiefs with a second-round pick in the ’21 draft alongside paying Ward whatever he will cost. That’s a stiff penalty for someone like Ward at this point.
Deandre Baker could be the answer needed at cornerback for the Chiefs.
Alongside Ward’s likely return is L’Jarius Sneed who looked like an impact boundary corner last rear. Given the Chiefs’ interest in free agent slot corner K’Waun Williams, it seems the Chiefs want Sneed to be a full-time boundary corner. That’s two outside starters there. The Chiefs also have Rashad Fenton returning in his third year in ’21, a nice depth play who can provide quality reps inside or out if needed. BoPete Keyes is also present to likely take over the special teams role and depth corner option vacated by Antonio Hamilton.
Given the FA visit by Williams, who ended up re-signing with the San Francisco 49ers, it feels safe to intuit that the Chiefs are looking around in free agency for a potential corner addition. That would make things already a little bit crowded, but given the rigors of the regular season and the overall youth at the position, it makes sense for a veteran to help stabilize things. Maybe that means Bashaud Breeland returns, or perhaps the Chiefs look at another slot option. Around all of this is Baker, a player we haven’t even discussed, yet one who could easily be a long-term starter outside for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs signed Baker last November, two months after he was released by the New York Giants. Baker’s name had been cleared from a previous arrest on armed robbery and assault, after it was found out that his accusers had been working together to extort money from him and Quinton Dunbar. At the time, it was an exciting signing given Baker’s pedigree as the top cornerback selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. Then the Chiefs held him on their practice squad until the very end of the season.
Baker started a single game for the Chiefs at season’e end and suffered a broken femur in the process, an incredibly unfortunate turn for a player who could have helped the team in the postseason. Instead, he became an another offseason injury question for a team with several of them. Yet his potential hasn’t changed all the same.
With Baker, the Chiefs have a former first-round cornerback with a strong body of work at LSU who also started 15 games during his rookie season for the Giants. Despite the loss of a full season last year due to the arrest, drama, release, and injury, Baker is still a high-ceiling prospect at a position in which the Chiefs haven’t made a considerable investment since taking Marcus Peters back in the first round of the 2017 draft.
Going forward, there’s every reason to believe that Baker can be the player he was drafted to be—or at least a solid contributor. Even if he’s not a Week 1 starter outside, the Chiefs have experienced options for that in Sneed and Ward. Baker’s presence gives them three potential starters to go with Fenton and Keyes along with any further imports via the draft or free agency. That feels like a full room.
Yet that hasn’t stopped places like The Ringer or others from pointing at the Chiefs cornerbacks and calling them a weakness going forward. Is Baker the answer? Is he being overlooked? Has he lost more than that single season to date? These are all interesting questions from the outside looking in.