The Kansas City Chiefs wrapped up their three-day rookie minicamp on Monday afternoon—capping off a stretch of time in which more than 60 players got their first taste of the NFL.
There was a lot of teaching, a lot of learning, and some flashes of the ability that gave all of these guys an opportunity to throw on a jersey that represents one of the teams competing in the highest level of football in the world.
This was the only opportunity many of these guys will ever have to see what it’s like to play professional football. It’s the culmination of a life’s work up to this point for these players and dozens of dreams realized at the same time.
When only looking at the weekend through that prism, the display was a lot of fun to watch. The weekend wasn’t necessarily about efficiency and mistake-free football as these guys were just barely into the playbooks and asked to play at 100 miles-per-hour.
Although there were players who stood out with their athleticism and skillset, the coaches and personnel evaluators were much more focused on whether or not the players could handle the language of an NFL system, and how quickly they could take what they were learning and have that translate to a live situation. They had a lot thrown at them and they wanted to know who it could stick with and who improved each and every day.
In this regard, the media members who were watching didn’t really get an idea of which players could handle that aspect of things, but it didn’t stop any of us who were watching from taking notes on the guys whose athleticism was hard to miss—the guys who were out there making plays.
With all that said, here are five takeaways from what we could see during Chiefs’ rookie minicamp:
1. Juan Thornhill is every bit as advertised
The play of safety Juan Thornhill—the rookie second-round pick of our Virginia—was one of the easiest things to notice throughout the weekend.
Thornhill, who was dubbed as a ballhawk with 13 career interceptions in college, had a diving interception in his first professional practice on Saturday, and was all over the place and looking like he was in complete control of what was going on with the defense throughout the weekend. He was communicating with the linebackers and cornerbacks pre-snap and showing no signs of being hesitant as a vocal voice that backed it up with his playmaking ability.
Based on these three practices, Thornhill is the player that fans should keep their eyes on as we head towards OTAs next week and then training camp in July.
“Every day he got his hands on the ball,” Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid noted of Thornhill. “Every day. He almost had one here in the red zone (on Monday). It looks like he’s got a pretty good feel for things. He’s got a little bit of a knack there. Good worker, smart, but again, you have to have that feel back there and he seems to have that.”
2. The members of the 2019 draft class all showed flashes of what they’re about
In addition to Thornhill, the other members of the Chiefs’ 2019 draft class showed flashes of what made them selections this year, including the team’s first pick, receiver Mecole Hardman out of Georgia.
Hardman had his best day on Monday, when he made a couple of fantastic touchdown catches inside the red zone, including one in which he high-pointed the ball in traffic on a little post for about 15 yards.
“Every day he got a little better,” Reid noted of Hardman. “These are all new. These routes are new to him. He did a nice job in the red zone which normally is the toughest place to work, but he did extremely well there. He had a good finish.”
Running back Darwin Thompson—the Chiefs’ sixth-round pick out of Utah State—showed his athleticism in the open field on multiple occasions with some fantastic jump-cuts to get past safeties coming downhill. He also showed some good hands as the quarterbacks threw a lot of check-down routes the first couple of days. It’s obvious Thompson is comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield.
Without there being any contact at practice, there’s only so much that can be said about the performances of center Nick Allegretti and defensive tackle Khalen Saunders.
One note on cornerback Rashad Fenton—the sixth-round pick out of South Carolina—is that he’s competitive. He was in position to make a few plays over the weekend and didn’t shy away from showing some emotion after it was over.
Fenton didn’t look overwhelmed and his functional athleticism—meaning his ability to mirror receivers and maneuver in a reactionary way to receivers in space—was on display. He looks like he fits.
3. It’s a strong group of undrafted free agent receivers
The Chiefs added four undrafted free agent receivers this year, and they weren’t difficult to find out on the field with three of the four standing at 6-feet-3 or taller.
“I like that group,” Reid said after Monday’s practice. “There were a lot of different types of bodies, but I thought it was a good group. Again, you want that so you can give the secondary some work. I thought that was a pretty good group. I think overall this was probably the best overall group at all positions we had where you go out and really compete and make it real.”
Toledo’s Cody Thompson probably had the most consistent weekend—making plays every day and catching everything in his vicinity. He’s the school’s all-time leader with 30 career touchdown receptions.
Syracuse’s Jamal Custis (6’5”, 213 lbs) had his best day on Monday, making multiple plays that showed how his size and speed can be a mismatch for most defensive backs, and Michigan State’s Felton Davis (6’3”, 211 lbs) may have had the best catch of the entire minicamp on Monday—hauling in a red zone fade route from Chase Litton in the back corner of the end zone, leaping up and over a defender before securing the catch as he landed square on his back.
The rookies of 2019 take place in the final Rookie Mini Camp practice.
4. The defensive coaching staff gets after it
This was the first observation that was made on Saturday because it was a noticeably new look than we’ve seen in the past, which makes sense because it’s an entirely new defensive coaching staff.
But these guys get after it during practices and there’s plenty of teaching going on after every single play—from defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who was often walking on the field between plays during group install to communicate with his players, to defensive line coach Brendan Daly, who is one of the most intense coaches we’ve seen in Andy Reid’s tenure in Kansas City.
He’s similar in that way to Eric Bieniemy (pre-offensive coordinator position, where he’s now calling in the offensive plays via a walkie talkie and headset, so he’s not yelling at the running backs as much anymore).
The coaching style of Daly has resonated thus far with rookie Khalen Saunders.
“We play a very attacking style of defense and I feel like I’m an aggressive type of defensive tackle,” Saunders explained Sunday morning. “There’s a lot of upfield things and a lot of just getting off the ball. I feel like that’s one of the strong suits that I can bring to the team as far as just getting off the ball and getting upfield and making plays.
“That’s the type of player Coach [Daly] wants me to be, so I feel like I’m playing to that role really well.”
5. Four tryout guys impressed enough to earn contracts
Every year there are a handful of players who attend the rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and they ultimately show the coaches and scouts enough to earn a spot on the team moving forward.
Of the 72 players at this year’s rookie minicamp, there were 40 guys there trying out. The rest were made up of the draft class (6), undrafted free agents already under contract (17), and current Chiefs’ players who were eligible to participate (9).
Last year, the Chiefs signed five “tryout” players to contracts following the three-day camp, and this year they signed four.
Joining the Chiefs for offseason workouts after impressing this weekend are receiver Rashard Davis (James Madison), safety Andrew Soroh (Florida Atlantic), cornerback Herb Miller (Florida Atlantic) and running back Marcus Marshall (James Madison).
The rookies of 2019 take place in the final Rookie Mini Camp practice.