When the Kansas City Chiefs spent the 138th overall pick on safety L’Jarius Sneed from Louisiana Tech in 2020’s NFL Draft, not many expected him to blossom into one of the Chiefs’ starting cornerbacks by the middle of his rookie season.
Yes, Sneed was a free safety in his final season with the Bulldogs in 2019. He played mostly wide receiver in high school before switching to cornerback for his first three years in college. Then before his final college season, Sneed moved to safety. When Sneed was drafted, Brett Veach, Steve Spagnolo, and Co. obviously preferred his college tape before his senior year when he was a corner.
After a good rookie season, L’Jarius Sneed had a little bit of a sophomore slump in 2021. Can he take the next step and become a true #1 cornerback in 2022?
Sneed has played the high majority of his NFL snaps at cornerback with the high majority of those snaps coming in the slot. In 2020, Sneed allowed 36 receptions for 302 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions on 57 targets. This translated to a passer rating allowed of 66.6 and a Pro Football Focus coverage grade ($) of 71.2 (60.0 is considered “average”). In 2021, he took a bit of a step back when he allowed 90 catches for 935 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions on 120 targets. This translated to a passer rating allowed of 100.5 and a PFF coverage grade ($) of 61.7.
Obviously, the step back in play was not ideal for Sneed and the Chiefs but it was only year two. Also, since he exceeded expectations the year before, I believe it’s to pretend that his 2020 and 2021 seasons were flipped in terms of quality of play.
No matter how L’Jarius Sneed performed over his first two seasons, he will be relied upon as one of the veteran players in a cornerback room that has gone through a lot of change over the past four months. Charvarius Ward left for San Francisco and Mike Hughes left for Detroit. The former will be more difficult to replace but the Chiefs did bring in several rookies to help fill the void, like Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams, and Jaylen Watson. They also still have fourth-year cornerbacks Rashad Fenton and Deandre Baker, Lonnie Johnson, and of course, Sneed.
The Chiefs not only lost Ward but they also waved goodbye to veterans Tyrann Mathieu, Anthony Hitchens, Dan Sorensen, and Ben Niemann. They did add several pieces in the draft to the defense and they also signed safety Justin Reid to a three-year contract. This means that Sneed will be counted on to be one of the leaders in the secondary as he and Juan Thornhill are the most senior secondary players on the Chiefs (in terms of snaps played in Kansas City).
Since the Chiefs are so young in the secondary, and at cornerback specifically, Sneed will be one of the most important players on defense for the Chiefs. I project that he will move to the outside full-time, along with Rashad Fenton, which will allow first-round pick Trent McDuffie to play in the slot in his rookie season. I think those three are pretty safe bets to begin the season as the starters, barring any unexpected injury or a young player surging up the depth chart.
For Sneed specifically, he’s entering his third season in the NFL, and second season as an undisputed starter. Due to his size and speed, I firmly believe that he is capable of being a star in this league and I presume the Chiefs feel the same way. He’s also eligible for an extension after this season, so you know he’ll be playing for a significant raise as well.
Maybe Sneed doesn’t take the next step or maybe he does blossom into a bona fide No. 1 corner, but one thing is for certain, he has no shortage of young competition behind him on a depth chart that’s hungry for playing time.
What do you think of L’Jarius Sneed? Will he reach his potential this season? Feel free to let me know in the comment section or on Twitter (@StrozinskyLucas).