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Pre-Camp Breakdown: Evaluating the Chiefs' Young Secondary

The Chiefs currently feature 18 defensive backs on the roster heading into training camp

The Kansas City Chiefs are set to kick off training camp in just a few days, and with the annual pilgrimage to St. Joseph nearly here, we're examining every position group on the roster heading into camp.

Here's a look at what we've covered so far: QB | RB | TE | WR | OT | LB

We'll continue with the secondary, where the Chiefs currently employ 18 players. Here's a closer look at every defensive back on the roster, sorted by cornerbacks and safeties. Many of these players have the versatility to play both spots, but for the purpose of this breakdown, each member of the secondary is categorized by his primary role last season (or in college).

Cornerbacks (beginning with last year's starters, then sorted alphabetically)

L'Jarius Sneed

Sneed led all Chiefs' corners with 1,107 defensive snaps last season, recording career-bests with 108 tackles, 18 pressures, 11 passes defensed, five tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. Additionally, Sneed's 729 snaps on passing plays last season ranked second among all NFL corners.

The 26-year-old Sneed remains one of the top slot cornerbacks in the league, as his eight coverage snaps-per-reception in the slot ranked fourth in the NFL last season (among corners with at least 200 slot coverage snaps). He has also proven himself to be a weapon as a blitzer from the slot, racking up the most pressures (18) of any cornerback in the league last season by a wide margin.

It's all to say that Sneed is simply one of the Chiefs' most dependable and versatile defenders heading into this upcoming season.

Trent McDuffie

A first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, McDuffie suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 of last year that sidelined the former University of Washington star through Week 7, but once he returned, McDuffie was tremendous.

He went on to tally 682 defensive snaps for the year, earning the top Pro Football Focus coverage grade among all Chiefs' cornerbacks while allowing less than 60 percent of his targets to result in receptions.

The 22-year-old McDuffie will aim to build on that strong rookie campaign in 2023.

Jaylen Watson

Watson grew from a seventh-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft into one of the Chiefs' most significant defenders over the course of his rookie season and into the playoffs, tallying 10 passes defensed and three interceptions in 19 total games (including the postseason) last year. In fact, his 557 defensive snaps as an outside cornerback led all Chiefs' defensive backs.

He recorded a 99-yard pick six against Los Angeles that helped secure a Chiefs' victory in Week 2 before tallying interceptions in both the Divisional and Conference Championship rounds of the playoffs, stepping up in the biggest of moments with game-changing plays on numerous occasions.

Joshua Williams

A fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Fayetteville State, Williams recorded seven passes defensed and an interception in 17 games of action last season as one of the Chiefs' primary cornerbacks. His 437 defensive snaps ranked fourth among all Chiefs' corners.

Williams showed considerable growth over the course of his rookie season and will look to build on that success in 2023.

Dicaprio Bootle

Bootle is back with the Chiefs as a "Reserve/Future" signee after appearing in four games for Kansas City in 2022, logging 11 snaps on defense and 31 snaps on special teams in those games.

The former Nebraska standout spent the rest of the campaign on the Chiefs' practice squad.

Ekow Boye-Doe

An undrafted free agent signee, Boye-Doe earned a contract from the Chiefs after a successful tryout during rookie minicamp.

Boye-Doe – an alum of Kansas State who grew up in Lawrence, Kansas – appeared in 42 games (35 starts) for the Wildcats over the last four seasons. He started 14 games for Kansas State in 2022, logging 26 tackles and five pass breakups.

The six-foot-tall, 177-pound cornerback is also a tremendous athlete. According to Dane Brugler's draft guide (which is published by The Athletic), Boye-Dow recorded a 4.38 40-yard dash and a 37-inch vertical jump at Kansas State's pro day.

Kahlef Hailassie

Hailassie, who the Chiefs signed as an undrafted free agent on May 6, played at nearby Independence Community College for two seasons (2019-20) before transferring to Western Kentucky for the 2021 campaign.

The six-foot-tall, 193-pound cornerback certainly made the most of the opportunity too, as he went on to start 25 games for Western Kentucky over the last two years. Hailassie tallied 107 tackles, 16 passes defensed, 11 tackles-for-loss, three interceptions, three sacks and two forced fumbles in that time.

Here's a bit more on Hailassie from The Athletic's Dane Brugler:

"He has outstanding length to crowd the catch point but must do a better job locating to pick off passes. As a tackler, he stays balanced as a finisher when working from high to low. He plays fearless with a brash attitude. Overall, Hailassie needs to play with more disciplined eyes, but he is long, fluid and controlled in his movements to cover from press or off coverage."

Lamar Jackson

A veteran free agent signee in early May, Jackson joined the Chiefs after appearing in eight games last season, splitting time between the Chicago Bears (5 games) and Denver Broncos (3 games). The 25-year-old defensive back has taken the field for 22 games in his career since 2020, tallying 14 appearances for the New York Jets in addition to his time in Denver and Chicago.

Nic Jones

The Chiefs selected Jones in the seventh-round of the 2023 NFL Draft after the six-foot-tall, 189-pound cornerback tallied 14 passes defensed as a senior at Ball State last year.

Jones flashed potential during his first three years at Ball State, tallying eight passes defensed and an interception in 26 games (6 starts), but he really turned it on during his senior campaign. In fact, his 14 passes defensed led the team and ranked 23rd among qualified cornerbacks. Jones saw a significant uptick in coverage snaps (390) and targets (68) last season, but among cornerbacks with 65+ targets in 2022, he surrendered the fifth-lowest completion percentage (44.1%) in the FBS.

Here's more on Jones from The Athletic's Dane Brugler:

"Jones puts his long arms to good use in press-man and looks to disrupt route timing from the get-go. He plays quick, long and controlled with a natural feel for crowding receivers early and late. He projects as a draft-and-develop press-corner."

Lance Zierlein from wrote a similar assessment in his pre-draft analysis, too:

"Jones has a natural feel for making plays on the football. He's more confident and consistent at maintaining his feel for the route from press than from off-man."

It's worth mentioning that Jones was also a regular on Ball State's special teams' unit, recording 52 snaps on punt return coverage, 39 snaps defending field goals and 32 snaps on kick return coverage in 2022. If he is to earn a spot on the roster out of training camp as a seventh round pick this season, his experience on special teams will likely be a major reason why.

Reese Taylor

An undrafted free agent signee, Taylor stands at 5-foot-9 and 188 pounds with large hands (10 inches). He was a rotational player at Indiana for four seasons (2019-21) before transferring to Purdue for the 2022 campaign, where he saw the field for a career-most 594 defensive snaps.

Taylor was almost exclusively an outside cornerback for the Boilermakers, recording 566 of those total snaps at that spot. He recorded two pass-breakups and an interception in 2022.

Safeties (beginning with last year's starters, then sorted alphabetically)

Justin Reid

The 26-year-old Reid is entering his second season with Kansas City after tallying 83 tackles, seven passes defensed and a sack in 17 games last year. Reid's 1,113 total defensive snaps trailed only linebacker Nick Bolton (1,119 snaps) among all Chiefs' defenders, providing Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo with a reliable and versatile weapon in the secondary.

In fact, Reid logged significant snaps as a free safety (484), in the box (320) and as a slot corner (199) in 2022.

Bryan Cook

A second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Cook appeared in 16 games for the Chiefs last season as a contributor on both defense and special teams. The University of Cincinnati product recorded 341 defensive snaps – the bulk of which featured him lined up as a free safety – while also tallying the fifth-most special teams' snaps (272) on the squad.

With former safety Juan Thornhill no longer on the Chiefs, Cook will likely have every opportunity to earn a much larger role defensively this season.

Deon Bush

A core special teamer for the Chiefs in 2022, Bush logged the most special teams' snaps last year (317) of any returning player. Only cornerback Chris Lammons, who is no longer with the team, recorded more special teams' last season (322).

Bush also saw some action defensively in 2022, tallying 71 defensive snaps. His role on defense was often in nickel or dime formations that deployed three or four safeties on the field at a time, but he certainly made the most of his limited chances. One such example was at the end of the Chiefs' victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11, when Bush deflected a pass that was subsequently intercepted by linebacker Nick Bolton.

Chamarri Conner

The Chiefs selected Conner in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech after a distinguished collegiate career. Conner appeared in 61 games (48 starts) for the Hokies from 2018-22, earning a starting role as a sophomore that he never relinquished. In total, Conner left campus with 314 tackles (the 10th-most in school history), 23 passes defensed, 21 tackles-for-loss, 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and four interceptions.

Versatility is also a major part of Conner's game. He recorded significant snaps as a slot corner, a deep safety and a box safety during his career at Virginia Tech, demonstrating an ability to play anywhere in the secondary. Specifically, Conner logged 279 snaps in the slot, 253 snaps as a deep safety and 121 snaps in the box this past season.

In addition to his contributions on defense, Conner was a standout on special teams throughout his time in Blacksburg. Here's more on that topic from The Athletic's Dane Brugler:

"Conner was a special teams ace in college, logging 802 snaps. His special teams background should stand out from Day 1 of training camp."

Anthony Cook

An undrafted free agent signee from the University of Texas, the six-foot-tall, 188-pound Cook has good size for the position and logged significant experience on special teams during his time with the Longhorns, which could prove beneficial as he aims to make the Chiefs' roster. He logged a career-most 678 defensive snaps in 2022, recording five passes defensed and a forced fumble. It's also worth mentioning that he was a cornerback for his first three seasons in Austin before moving to safety in 2021.

Mike Edwards

The Chiefs signed Edwards in late March following four seasons in Tampa Bay, where the 5-foot-10, 205-pound defensive back started a career-most 12 games last year. His 876 total snaps (including the playoffs) were also a single-season high. He made the most of those snaps, too, logging 82 tackles, two interceptions and one sack. The 27-year-old Edwards has developed a reputation for being a ballhawk during his career, snagging seven interceptions and three pick-sixes since 2020, the latter of which are the most of any player in the NFL.

Edwards recorded 476 of his total snaps last season as a free safety, which accounted for 54 percent of his time on the field. He's also capable of playing elsewhere, however, as Edwards tallied significant snaps in the box (237) and at slot corner (108).

Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is known for often utilizing three (or even four) safeties on the field at once, so Edwards' versatility should fit nicely within the Chiefs' scheme.

Nazeeh Johnson

A potential special teams' standout in the making, Johnson tallied 96 special teams' snaps in 11 games of action last year. That's a limited sample size, but regardless, his performance across those 96 snaps earned Johnson the Chiefs' top Pro Football Focus special teams' grade among players with at least 20 snaps.

Johnson spent time on the practice squad before earning a promotion to the active roster later in the year, demonstrating that players who don't initially make the team can still earn a role in the weeks that follow.

Isaiah Norman

An undrafted free agent signee out of Marshall, Norman is a six-foot-tall, 206-pound defensive back who was a versatile member of the Thundering Herd's defense in 2022. He logged significant snaps inside the box (134 snaps), at slot corner (118 snaps) and at free safety (116 snaps) last season while missing just one tackle on 26 attempts.

Prior to transferring to Marshall, Norman spent the first five seasons of his career at Austin Peay State University, where he racked up 137 tackles, 13 passes defensed and two interceptions in 42 career games.

The Bottom Line

The Chiefs have kept exactly 10 defensive backs on the roster heading into Week 1 in each of the last four years, demonstrating a very clear pattern. In terms of how those 10 players were split by position, Kansas City elected to keep six cornerbacks and four safeties in each of the last two seasons. Looking back at the 2020 campaign, the Chiefs chose to keep exactly five from each group.

Beginning with the cornerbacks, the quartet of Sneed, McDuffie, Watson and Williams seems like a relative lock to make the team barring an unforeseen development. That leaves one or two potential spots for the likes of Jones, Bootle and others. The safety group, meanwhile, also features plenty of competition beyond the likely starting duo of Reid and Cook, where Edwards, Bush, Conner, Johnson and others will compete for two to three spots.

Kansas City has invested significant draft capital into the secondary in recent years, resulting in one of the Chiefs' deepest and most talented secondaries in recent memory. The Chiefs will undoubtedly have some difficult decisions to make following the conclusion of camp, but once again, possessing an abundance of young talent – even if you can't keep everyone – is a good problem to have.