There wasn't a better rookie cornerback in the NFL last season than L'Jarius Sneed, who put the league on notice almost right away with interceptions in each of his first two games before going on to allow the third-lowest completion percentage (46.5%) among all eligible defenders by year's end.
Sneed earned a spot on NFL.com’s “All-Under-25 Team” following the season and garnered so much praise that the folks at CBS Sports selected Sneed – who fell to the Chiefs in the fourth round – with the No. 7 overall selection in their re-draft of the 2020 class.
The guy was an absolute steal and has the makings of a budding playmaker in the Chiefs' secondary, and now with his second season as a professional just a few weeks away, he's eyeing even bigger things this time around following more of a relatively normal offseason program when compared to his rookie year.
"Last year, we didn't have minicamp and [things like that]…I couldn't be on the field and go through plays," Sneed said on Thursday. "I had to look at things through an iPad, but now, we're actually walking through things…Those things [have helped] me grow a lot this year in terms of where I'm at now, and I'm still growing. I'm still learning."
That continued growth is important, too, because it appears the Chiefs plan to deploy Sneed as both an outside defender and a slot corner in nickel situations. It may seem simple enough, but those are basically two entirely different positions that Sneed will be called upon to master throughout his sophomore campaign.
It's a task that says a lot about Sneed's talent, but even more so, it demonstrates what the coaching staff sees in the 24-year-old cornerback as an all-around player.
"I take a lot of pride in it," Sneed said. "I have to get myself ready mentally, but it tells me that [Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] believes in me, and I have to take advantage of it."
Sneed's attitude appears to reflect that of a player trying to prove himself rather than that of an individual who Pro Football Focus called "the most valuable rookie cornerback in the league by a country mile" last season, and if you ask All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, that mentality is key to finding continued success.
"I think a lot of guys come in this league with great upside and great potential, but it kind of fades away," Mathieu said. "I think the most important thing for young guys is to continue to take that next step, and every year you play in this league, it kind of requires that of you. I'm proud of him for the steps he's been taking – I saw him after practice getting some extra work – and he's understanding that he's one of our better corners."
Sneed has gone from a fourth-round pick with potential to an integral member of the Chiefs' secondary seemingly right away, and with his head in the right place and a full offseason training program at his disposal over the last several months, the best may be yet to come.
"I try not to focus on last year – that's in the past," Sneed said. "I did what I did – it was a blessing – but it's a whole new year, and I want more from myself. I'm motivated to get more."