By Liam Lodge (@Liam66NFL)
To follow that I am now going all the way to the other end of the NFL spectrum and reviewing the draft class of the reigning champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
For franchises like the Bengals who need to improve on a poor season, the object of the draft has to be finding the players that can help rebuild and recharge the team and increase the amount of positive results on the field. In the case of the Chiefs, the short-term aim is different – work towards staying ahead of the chasing competition; repeat last season’s success and defend the Super Bowl title.
This is the group that Kansas City fans hope will assist the team in remaining at the top of the NFL.
– Round 1 (#32) –
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB), LSU
At the end of the first night the Chiefs made their opening selection with one of the best picks of the entire round.
There are actually very few offensive systems where it would feel as though Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s skill-set would not be valuable, but placing him in Kansas City’s high-powered offense is a wonderful fit and his large workload throughout the last college season should mean that he will be fine learning pro schemes.
He is the kind of back that is such a fun watch and uses his short and stocky build to full effect with a strong running style, possessing great balance and side-to-side movement – many of his best highlights show him slaloming away from defenders on the move so footwork and vision are both very good. Also has good top speed once he is in open space. Edwards-Helaire is the best receiving running back in the 2020 class and LSU used him on all sorts of routes.
It is this versatility that gives him the potential to flourish early out of the Chiefs backfield, especially on short-yardage downs.
– Round 2 (#63) –
Willie Gay Jr. (LB), Mississippi State
Gay Jr. flew up big boards everywhere by acing his NFL combine performance.
The ultra-athletic linebacker is capable of getting to the football from anywhere and his powerful tackling means he can finish plays very well.
He does look raw in some mental areas of play and needs to find more consistency, but defenders with his athleticism are often preferred by teams in today’s NFL, and the Chiefs took a chance on him in round two. They will hope Gay Jr. is a fast learner – if so, he could see some playing time along the linebacker formation during his rookie year as effort and toughness are certainly not an issue.
A big plus is that he has the traits required to play in the much-coveted hybrid LB role, with the speed to hold up in coverage even against medium and long passing situations.
– Round 3 (#96) –
Lucas Niang (OT), TCU
There is a bit of “boom or bust” about Niang as a prospect, with scouts and analysts rather split on his overall potential pre-draft.
Indeed, I was relatively low on him while evaluating those at the offensive tackle position, yet I would not have been surprised if a team made Niang a second-rounder. For that reason, there could be some good value here if he hits his ceiling in the NFL, it should also be noted that injury concerns would have attributed to his fall to the bottom of the third.
He looks best as a run blocker, showing good instincts, positioning and the ability to force space for his running back to work through. In the passing game, Niang gets set well and is solid enough to develop into a long-term protector for quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs coaching staff will surely have ideas about where they expect Niang to contribute and he will get opportunities to prove himself right across the offensive line as he has a technique suited to both tackle and guard.
– Round 4 (#138) –
L’Jarius Sneed (S), Louisiana Tech
I evaluated and graded Sneed as a safety because that’s where he spent most of his final college season, but many will also have him as a cornerback.
He has a long, rangy style and looks and plays a lot taller than he actually is, with enough speed to react and get to plays quickly that come into his zone – demonstrating the sort of instincts for the ball that you want to see from your safeties.
He is like fellow defensive rookie Gay Jr. in that he will add some aggression and energy to his position group; bringing an all-effort approach to the game that should have the Chiefs’ fanbase warming to him.
Sneed was moved around a lot in the secondary, similarly to the career of Chiefs all-pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, who will no doubt be a mentor to Sneed now that they will compete on the same defense.
– Round 5 (#177) –
Mike Danna (DE), Michigan
Recent years have shown that it is not a bad idea to draft edge rushers from the University of Michigan. Danna was in fact only at Michigan for one season following a transfer and was used sporadically along the D line during his time there.
For a player that looks undersized and whose technique has quite a bit of room for growth, selecting Danna in the fifth round does feel like somewhat of a reach by the Chiefs. He does have good power and a quick first step; as his senior year saw him as a rotational defender you really have to trust in Danna’s strengths.
Kansas City obviously see some things they want to work with here and as they are pretty well set at defensive end, there is no huge rush in terms of developing Danna. He will be a project for a few years and it will be interesting to see if he can progress into a starting role.
– Round 7 (#237) –
Thakarius Keyes (CB), Tulane
The Kansas City Chiefs certainly need to find more help at cornerback this off-season and at this point they traded back into the draft for one last go in round seven.
I think it was a surprise that they waited this far into the draft to select a CB, unless, as mentioned earlier, you are counting the Sneed pick as one at the position. The lack of depth remains an area to address, but taking Keyes here with their final pick is another good value move for the Chiefs.
He has plenty of upside and plays with good speed and physicality – looking comfortable at taking on receivers running a variety of routes on the outside, most effectively in close coverage. Keyes has some nice aggression to his playing style and will fight for a spot in the starting secondary from day one.
The Chiefs faithful should be optimistic about how the organisation went about this draft. In the immediate reviews and analysis, picking Edwards-Helaire became the favourite moment of the first round among many observers. He and Niang could certainly be making plays straight away on the offense as rookies.
The other selections, which all focus on the defensive side, are all developmental players with lots of potential, and Kansas City is the right team for all of them to realise that potential quickly. As these pre-season months for the Chiefs are all about ensuring they stay champions, this draft appears to have been a good way to begin that process.