The Kansas City Chiefs are a better football team than they were a week ago at this same time—adding six new players to the roster during the three-day NFL Draft last weekend.
From speed and playmaking to ball skills and some nasty added to the trenches, here’s a look the Top 10 takeaways from this group of six players and how they can add to this championship-caliber roster already constructed.
A look inside the draft room on draft night.
1. The Frank Clark trade should be mentioned
The Chiefs didn’t have a first-round pick this year because they sent it to Seattle, along with a future second-round pick and a swap of three’s this year, for standout defensive end Frank Clark.
While Clark isn’t technically a “draft pick,” the talent acquired via their draft resources netted the Chiefs one of the leagues’ best defensive front-seven players, so the move has to be mentioned along with the players drafted who are joining the team as rookies.
“Trades in the NFL happen all the time, but a trade of this magnitude is not done unless it’s for an elite player,” Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach explained after the move was announced. “Certainly, Frank is an elite player. Over the last four years he’s proven to be one of the four best pass rushers in the NFL, a great run defender and overall just a disruptive defender.”
If the Chiefs had decided to hold on to their pick at No. 29 overall and not make the move, they would have had the opportunity to add the seventh-best edge rusher in the draft as there were six edge players drafted before the Chiefs’ initial selection.
Instead, the Chiefs walked away with an elite player who can help the team now and brings leadership characteristics with him that should help continue the change the culture on that side of the ball.
Here’s a must-watch interview with Clark from last weekend:
2. This is a group of fantastic athletes
If there’s one trait that was shared from the several of the Chiefs’ selections this year it’s that they are fantastic athletes, and not just because they’re now professional players, these guys are the best of the best in terms of speed, quickness and strength.
The Chiefs’ first pick, Mecole Hardman, ran a laser-timed 4.27 40-yard dash during the pre-draft process, which instantly makes him one of the 10 fastest players in the NFL.
Safety Juan Thornhill, who was the second player selected, was one of the best all-around athletes at the safety position in this draft.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Thornhill had the best vertical jump (44.0), broad jump (121.0) and the second-most reps of 225 pounds on the bench press (21), among all defensive backs.
The Chiefs’ third selection, defensive tackle Khalen Saunders out of Western Illinois, became a viral sensation when a video of him doing a backflip hit social media and the world got to see something most 324-pound men can’t do, and that same athleticism shows up on tape as well.
And finally, the Chiefs selected running back Darwin Thompson out of Utah State on Day 3, and he has been described as a dude who is plenty “rocked-up” by three different people already. He’s a 5-foot-8, 198-pound tank that shows some ridiculous burst on film. He averaged more than six yards-per-carry and 15 yards-per-reception in college.
3. Some high school quarterback experience benefits two of the draftees
Both receiver Mecole Hardman and safety Juan Thornhill were quarterbacks in high school, and both players expressed how the knowledge acquired during that time has helped them in their current positions.
Hardman understands how quarterbacks have to think and react when plays break down and how they read defenses, while Thornhill’s job at safety is to try and read what a quarterback is doing in the passing game, and seeing it from the other side gives him that perspective.
4. The competition at returner in the special teams’ room is very real
Hardman was First-Team All-American (ESPN) returner last year for Georgia, averaging 25.2 yards per kick return and 20.1 yards per punt return.
“The place you really see his grit is in the return game,” Veach explained. “He is strong, he breaks tackles, and then you get an idea of his speed also.”
Fenton also did some returning in college—averaging 24.8 yards per kick return with a touchdown in his first three seasons for South Carolina.
“We always discuss (playing special teams) because that’s vital for someone like me in the sixth round to make sure I make the team,” he said. “That was always brought up.”
And while Thompson didn’t do any returning at Utah State, Trey Koziol—the Chiefs’ West Coast area scout who watched Thompson, didn’t rule out the possibility.
“I think given his body type and the strength—I think all running backs have the ability to
be kick returners,” Koziol explained. “He wasn’t really featured there that much this year being a first-year guy, but I think that is something (that’s possible). Coach Toub always does a great job with those guys, even if they weren’t guys that did it in college.
“Knile Davis wasn’t a guy that had a lot of kick returns at Arkansas, but the way that Coach [Toub] and Rod [Wilson] get those guys ready to go, the way that he runs with his vision and his quickness, certainly is something they could try in the preseason just to see how it goes.”
5. These guys don’t lack energy
Whether it was during any of the interviews we did with the first three picks on Friday from their draft parties, or the conference calls with the guys on Saturday, there’s no doubting that the Chiefs’ 2019 draft class has some energy to bring to the table.
The players were outgoing, genuine and all seem to perfectly fit the “energy-giver” type that Andy Reid often mentions when discussing the kinds of players he likes to have around, and it looks like Veach and company delivered.
6. Training camp should be fun
It’s always fun when you add new players to the roster, but it’s particularly fun to know that they possess a skillset that’s easy for everyone to notice in an atmosphere like training camp.
Hardman and Thompson will be able to show off their impressive speed and quickness, while Thornhill and Fenton will be able to show off their ball skills—a trait that’s used to define them both.
7. The defensive backs have some ball skills
Both Thornhill and Fenton have been described as players with excellent “ball skills.”
Thornhill had 13 career interceptions, including six last year, while Fenton led South Carolina’s defense in interceptions with three last year.
The ability to take the ball away is paramount in today’s NFL, which doesn’t really see those same kinds of dominant defenses that we did 15-20 years ago. The need for players who can take it away and give it back to your offense is as important as it has ever been as a key characteristic or trait that defensive players must have to be out on the field.
From the looks of it, the Chiefs added two players with those traits in Thornhill and Fenton.
8. Nick Allegretti’s selection shouldn’t be overlooked
A few years ago, the Chiefs selected former Canadian offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif—a relative unknown—in the sixth round of the draft out of McGill University, which was described as about the level of junior college football.
It took Duvernay-Tardif a year of development but then he turned into one of the best guards in all of football, so it’s fair to say that late-round offensive lineman under Chiefs’ offensive line coach Andy Heck have developed nicely. We also saw it a few years ago with Zach Fulton, plus the recent quality play of a late pickup in Andrew Wylie, plus countless other guys who have improved and developed under Heck’s guidance.
Perhaps the Chiefs’ selection of Allegretti is the next one to add to this list, and Veach opened that door on Monday.
“[Allegretti] is a guy we think has a really good shot to not only make the team, but potentially fight for some playing time,” Veach explained on a conference call with the local media on Monday. “He was a guard at Illinois and then he had a chance to go to the East-West (All-Star) game and actually played both guard and center there. His center tape was really what kind of caught our eye.
“You guys know how we feel about guys who have versatility.”
9. Brett Veach tried to trade up for Darwin Thompson
On Monday, Veach explained that he actually tried to trade up for Thompson after they selected Fenton with the No. 201 pick.
The Chiefs picked Fenton at No. 201 and then had picks again at No. 214 and 216 overall.
“We had [Thompson] higher on that value board and when he fell there in the sixth round—actually, when we took Fenton, I was actually trying to make some moves to get back up there and get [Thompson] because I didn’t want to lose him three or five picks before we picked,” Veach explained. “I called every team right after we took Fenton to come right back up and get this Thompson kid. Couldn’t reach a deal...I was worried about the first few teams and they didn’t take him. Even though I was calling the teams after that, I couldn’t get a deal done.
“But I told the guys, I was looking at all these teams and all these teams had taken a running back earlier in the draft, so I was like, ‘These teams went running back earlier, I think we might be OK here.’
“We were kind of all like a little nervous there for those 10 or 11 picks because that was the guy our eyes immediately went to. I mean, I don’t know if you got the chance to watch his tape, but he’s not the biggest guy. He is 5’8” but he is rocked-up. He is 200 pounds and kind of looks like a body builder with his shirt off. He has great contact balance—yards after contact for a small guy, it is really remarkable to see him always keep that ball forward and he is always finishing runs moving forward. He is tough, he can do some things out of the backfield.
“I think Coach Reid and the offensive staff are going to have a lot of fun with him.”
10. Hardman might see action early
While all of these guys have to show up and earn their spots, Veach expressed optimism about Hardmans chances of contributing right away.
“I would say you have to see (in OTAs and camp) because at the end of the day those are coaches’ decisions, and they’ll decide,” Veach explained. “If you’re asking my opinion, I would anticipate him playing a bunch Week 1 because he’s extremely talented and he’s a smart kid, too. When we do all this pre-draft stuff and getting this information, this kid is smart, he’s intelligent, he’ll pick it up.
“Again, another guy that played at the top level, played in the SEC for four years. I would expect you’d see a bunch of him, and I think he’ll be ready to go Week 1 for sure. That’s my opinion. Again, I don’t tell Coach (Reid) who to play and who not to play. but if you’re asking me, I would expect to see him a lot early on.”