Players Lost and Percentage of 2021 Defensive Snaps:
Tyrann Mathieu (89.19%)
Charvarius Ward (67.29%)
Daniel Sorensen (62.38%)
Mike Hughes (45.40%)
The Chiefs are losing almost 3,000 combined defensive snaps from last season in the secondary. While it’s easy to focus on replacing guys like Daniel Sorensen and Mike Hughes who frustrated fans on many occasions, the fact is that Mathieu and Ward have left huge holes to fill. The Chiefs signed Justin Reid to replace Mathieu and drafted Trent McDuffie to replace Ward. Through training camp and the preseason, it looks like those two will be solid and reliable starters, but we won’t know for sure until the games matter.
The Chiefs still have Juan Thornhill, L’Jarius Sneed, and Rashad Fenton to play significant secondary snaps. Fenton has been banged up, but Thornhill and Sneed should be reliable fixtures again this season. The Chiefs spent a late second-round pick on Bryan Cook to replace Daniel Sorensen as the third safety. Cook will be a more physical safety and a better tackler than Sorensen from day one. He has the athleticism and speed to be an upgrade in coverage too, but it will come down to if he’s mentally reliable as a rookie.
The Chiefs also drafted two developmental bigger outside corners in Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson. Early in camp, it was Williams that turned heads with his size while starting in place of a banged-up Rashad Fenton. However, as the preseason went by Jaylen Watson flashed more and more in coverage on the outside. As I’m writing this I would be shocked if the 7th-round pick didn’t make the final 53-man roster.
Comparing the secondary today to the secondary at this time last year is tough. On one hand, I feel significantly better about the future of the position. The Chiefs appear to have drafted four defensive backs in one draft class that all have a real reason to believe they will develop into good NFL players. However, if you are talking about winning a game right now today, would those young players be more reliable than guys like Tyrann Mathieu and Charvarius Ward? What about the fact that K.C. doesn’t have to run guys like Mike Hughes and Dan Sorensen out there for 500-700 defensive snaps each this season? That has to be an improvement, right?
If you asked me straight up, would you rather have this secondary or have the group from last year back, I would take this young secondary because of their long-term upside. I do still think it’s possible we see a dip in secondary production this season, especially early while these new guys learn to play with each other and adjust to the NFL in general. Could the speed/athleticism/physicality of this younger secondary eventually eclipse last year’s group as the season goes on? Sure. Could that even happen earlier in the year? Sure. Could it be next season before we can clearly say they are better? Sure.
This may be cheating, by my final verdict on the secondary is….
VERDICT: UNKNOWN BUT HOPEFUL
So if we combine the slightly improved defensive line thanks to George Karlaftis, the improved linebacker group thanks to more playing time for Nick Bolton and Willie Gay, and a hopeful question mark in the secondary, I feel better overall about the defense this season than I did one year ago.
So what do you think Chiefs fans? Do you agree with my assessments of these areas of the defense? Do you think there is anything I am overlooking? How would you compare the secondary to last year when it comes to winning games right now today? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.