The NFL Draft is often referred to in gambling terms. Picks are a toss-up. Players are either a boom or bust. The entire thing is fraught with risk. This sort of language might be true on the surface, but it also leads to a greater feeling that the entire thing more about luck than anything else—that some teams simply find fortune while others do not. In the case of Rashad Fenton, that’s a great injustice to the player and his employer, the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs selected Fenton in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft to the applause of… no one. Not a single soul was overly excited by the pick at the time, mostly because Fenton’s pre-draft grades were nothing to write home about. In fact, Fenton was projected to go undrafted in all seven rounds by pretty much any online draft scout or analyst with a platform. (See Matt Miller of Bleacher Report or Lance Zierlein of the league’s official site or Dane Brugler of The Athletic or Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network.)
When the Chiefs wrote Fenton’s name on a draft card, even as late in the sixth round, it was immediately considered a bit of a reach and termed their worst pick overall by draft graders after the fact. Most of us, if we’re honest, were more enthused about undrafted free agent Mark Fields than we were with Fenton at the time. That’s just how overlooked Fenton was in a draft class anchored by the Mecole Hardman selection and Frank Clark trade.
The success of Rashad Fenton reflects well on every aspect of the Chiefs organization.
Coming into his rookie year, Fenton was brought in to compete for a rotational corner role behind Kendall Fuller, Charvarius Ward, and Bashaud Breeland. Keith Reaser was also on the roster to go with Fields and Fenton and Tremon Smith, although he was a returner more than anything. The best thing Fenton had going for him was a solid well-rounded game and a tremendous body of experience from averaging nearly 600 snaps/year during his career at South Carolina. The Gamecocks made sure their defensive backs were versatile and the Chiefs felt he was pro-ready because of it.
Fenton cleared his first major hurdle that September when he made the team’s active roster out of training camp. He went on to appear in 12 games that season and played nearly 20 percent of all defensive snaps. In 2020, Fenton made a significant leap in playing time to 49 percent of defensive snaps while showing up in all 16 games. He had 35 total tackles, 7 passes deflected, and 1 interception for the Chiefs in ’20.
This year, Fenton has truly turned the corner in a way that no one saw coming. While it’s a bit smaller sample size than the league’s well-known corners, Fenton has still played in 60 percent of games this season and is shutting down opposing receivers inside for a Chiefs defense that is coming alive.
For a player described on scouting reports as “grabby” or “stiff” or “labored” or “mistake-prone”, Fenton sure is looking nice these days. It turns out that his tackling concerns have been alleviated and that his hips are a bit more fluid than what some people believed. His lack of top speed (4.52 second time in the 40-yard dash) isn’t an issue with the way the Chiefs utilize him and he’s quick and long enough to be a strong asset in Steve Spagnuoo’s defense.
Given his success, Fenton is the ideal sort of pick that gives tremendous credit to all aspects of the Chiefs organization.
The Front Office
For the front office, Fenton is exactly the sort of player that you’re supposed to gloss over. There were players, even late in the sixth, with higher upside. There were prospects with more intriguing measurables or a curious skill set with a few exemplary traits that should have drawn Brett Veach’s interest instead. Fenton was a known quantity, a player with a discernible floor and ceiling with loads of game tape against SEC competition. In short, there was no reason to believe Fenton could do more than he already had because he’d had plenty of chances to show it at college football’s highest level.
Instead of even waiting for him in free agency after the draft or waiting for the sixth, there was some “tell” in the Chiefs front office that made someone believe Fenton could be something that no one else saw that offseason. No one was beating the drum for Fenton, yet the Chiefs scouts heard a beat anyway.
That late in the draft, the Chiefs needed a corner and someone—some area scout most likely—went to bat for “his guy.” And given that the Chiefs front office is in sync, a room marked by shared trust, Veach was able to go with the gut feeling and reel in Fenton before anyone else would have. And they’ve enjoyed the spoils ever since.
The Coaching Staff
If Fenton was what scouting reports said he would be when he arrived in Kansas City then we also have to give some credit to the Chiefs coaching staff. Steve Spagnuolo remade the entire staff on that side of the ball after his arrival in 2019, which meant bringing in Sam Madison and Dave Merritt to head up the defensive backs.
Not only did the coaches try to get Fenton some rotational time in the majority of his games in 2019 but he’s looked ready for more opportunities with each passing year. This season, he’s come up with multiple big plays in a game that’s no longer too big for him. He’s earning starter’s minutes for a Super Bowl champion and is making believers of those paying attention week after week. Now the body of work is speaking for itself, which puts Fenton on the bigger map.
These coaches deserve credit for helping teach and challenge Fenton to this point.
More than anyone else, Fenton’s success is a testament to the kind of player he is. He’s obviously gifted with a terrific athleticism and skill set, but that’s true of anyone earning reps in the National Football League. From there, Fenton clearly refused to believe in the labels applied to him and went to work on earning the trust of his coaches and improving his craft as much as possible.
Most sixth round picks struggle to stay in the NFL, but now it looks as if Fenton could be the kind of corner who will need a long-term extension soon enough. He’s a starting-caliber pass defender with a penchant for making big plays, and he’s proving everyone wrong in the process.
The Chiefs should be thrilled with what they’re seeing from Fenton, but they should also know they are part of the story line there. Fenton has been a revelation in 2021 and that reflects very well on the entire organization.