There have been three drafts in the Veach era. What can we learn from them ahead of this year’s edition?
Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has headed three drafts since taking lead of the front office. He has made 18 draft selections in total —six in each of the three years. Only one first-round selection — running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire — and four second-round picks.
He’s had his hits — fourth-round selection L’Jarius Sneed played like a first-round pick in 2020 — and his misses: trading up in the second-round to select edge rusher Breeland Speaks, who was cut before his third NFL season.
The success of his selections has been talked about and analyzed, but I want to dive a little deeper into how he’s attacked these drafts. I determined what that can tell us about the 2021 draft:
If the Chiefs trade on draft weekend, they’ll be trading up
Veach has performed five draft-day trades as Chiefs GM. In every instance, he was moving up in the draft order to select a prospect.
In 2018, their first scheduled selection was originally the 54th overall pick. However, Veach decided to trade that pick and the 78th overall selection for pick No. 46 and a third-round slot: the 100th overall pick. They used pick No. 46 to select the aforementioned Speaks.
Later in that draft, Veach traded pick No. 86 and No. 122 to move up to the 75th overall selection and take defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi. Then, he sent away two seventh-round picks to make an additional selection in the sixth-round: offensive guard Khalil McKenzie.
To make their first selection in 2019, they traded pick No. 61 and a fifth-round selection to move up five spots in the second-round and take wide receiver Mecole Hardman.
In 2020, they traded a future sixth-round pick to add a seventh-round pick after initially using all of their 2020 selections. They drafted cornerback BoPete Keyes with that pick. Besides that, NBC Sports’ Peter King publicized a Chiefs trade rumor in the days leading up to the draft: the possibility of Kansas City wanting to trade up for wide receiver Henry Ruggs III if he fell into the 20s.
All that to say this: The Chiefs will be active in the draft-day trade market. Veach aggressively goes after players or prospects he wants, and he has yet to trade back in his draft career. If he trades, he’ll be going up in the draft order.
The Chiefs may draft a player to play a different position than their college position
Veach’s aggressiveness doesn’t just extend to his willingness to trade up. There are multiple instances of a draft selection transitioning to a different position than the one they played in college. Some were more immediate than others — but nonetheless, Veach has trusted his evaluation enough at times to project a player at another position:
- 2018 second-round pick Breeland Speaks primarily played as a down lineman at Ole Miss, although he was placed in an off-ball spot situationally. During his rookie season — the only year he played with the team — he was mainly used as a 3-4 Outside Linebacker.
- 2018 sixth-round pick Tremon Smith was a cornerback and returner at Central Arkansas. While his return skills were utilized during his rookie season, he failed to impress as a cornerback — leading to a transition to running back in the 2019 training camp. He initially made the 53-man roster at that position but was cut leading up to Week 2.
- 2018 sixth-round pick Kahlil McKenzie was a defensive tackle at Tennessee. The Chiefs turned in their draft card with him labeled as an offensive lineman.
- 2020 fourth-round pick L’Jarius Sneed was a safety in his final season at Louisiana Tech, although he did play cornerback in prior seasons. While he was labeled a safety by most pre-draft rankings, the Chiefs considered him a cornerback immediately.
Additionally, head coach Andy Reid has hinted at 2020 third-round selection Lucas Niang possibly playing left tackle when he takes the field for the Chiefs; he played right tackle at TCU.
All that to say this: The Chiefs have shown confidence in their evaluation of a prospect’s traits and how they can utilize them. Don’t rule out the Chiefs using a drafted player in a different role than they had in college.
A cornerback will not be drafted in the first three rounds
The Chiefs have drafted defensive backs with six of their 18 selections over the last three drafts. Two safeties — 2019 second-round pick Juan Thornhill and 2018 fourth-round pick Armani Watts — and four cornerbacks. Yet, no cornerback has been drafted on the first two days of draft weekend.
The position has been one of the Chiefs’ single-biggest needs over Veach’s short tenure, but he has yet to address it before the fourth-round. Even in that case, Sneed was the only cornerback selected before the sixth-round.
That said, Veach has picked a cornerback in each draft, including two last year. After striking out on Tremon Smith, the selection of Rashad Fenton and L’Jarius Sneed have seemingly worked out relative to their draft selection value. The jury is still out on BoPete Keyes, but he showed intriguing glimpses in Week 17 of 2020.
All that to say this: Veach likely doesn’t believe he needs to invest top-dollar at the cornerback position. The defense’s success over the last two seasons backs up his theory, and hitting on Sneed in the fourth-round could prove him right even further. On top of the all the other needs this team has, don’t expect the Chiefs to draft a cornerback early.