Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach took his turn at the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Thursday, speaking to the press at length on a variety of subjects. Here are some takeaways:
Unsurprisingly, reporters asked Veach many questions about the secondary, and in answering them, he covered as much ground as a safety on third-and-long
As you might expect, it started with a question about Chiefs safety Eric Berry, and Veach’s response was remarkably non-committal.
“Going back to last year, no one was more frustrated than Eric with how that whole thing went,” Veach said. “But listen, we are comfortable with where we are with our players. We have a plan in place for these guys and no one is more excited to get back at this thing than Eric.”
Asked whether cornerback Charvarius Ward would be a starter in 2019, Veach said the team would be “aggressive in that area” during free agency and the draft, but left the door open for Ward.
“I think the tape he was able to put on late in the season was certainly encouraging,” he said. “Now look... there wasn’t a large body of work. These offensive coordinators are very talented, and they find ways to expose people and they find tendencies and weaknesses. You can certainly say there wasn’t a lot of tape yet for him to be exposed. But I think he has a unique skill set. He is big, he is long, he is fast, he is athletic, he is tough.
“It was really encouraging to see him come in early on and contribute on special teams,” Veach continued. “That is a very good indicator with these young guys that maybe don’t start right away; their ability to come in right away and make a presence on special teams is typically a good indicator. I think we are excited about the possibility with him. And I know it has been early on [in] this process with our new defensive staff, but he was one of the first guys they mentioned, so that was certainly encouraging. We are excited for him.”
A reporter wanted to know if Veach would be looking at acquiring college cornerbacks in order to convert them to safeties.
“Yeah, I think you’re starting to see a trend of corners and projecting them as safeties,” he replied. “We’ve had a lot of discussions with a handful of players in this class about their skill set at corner, and, ‘Can you transition to safety?’ It’s a passing league and everyone is trying to create mismatches in the secondary. You can’t have enough cover guys, and just when you think you have enough corners you have to start moving them to safety. But I certainly think you are starting to see that trend of guys projecting corners to safeties and getting as many cover guys on the field as possible.”
The media also asked Veach about the difficulty of making a decision when adding a piece to the secondary, as pass rushers are at such a premium in the NFL.
“I would say that I don’t think you ever want to pigeonhole yourself,” Veach replied. “Listen, if you have a pass-rusher that you feel overall is a higher-graded player than a corner or safety, you stick to the integrity of the board and you go in that direction. You certainly can have some wiggle room if guys are graded very similarly — you can say maybe go corner here, go safety here if you have similar grades.
“But I don’t think you ever want to jeopardize the integrity of your board and take, say a third- or fourth-round corner over a first- or second-round pass rusher. I think if you just kind of stick to that consistently, you’ll have success.”
Veach also spoke about consistency in the process — coupled with a certain amount of flexibility — when he was asked about balancing tape against measurables from combine appearances.
“My philosophy is I think that in your primary rounds you have to just to maintain consistency, and I think when you get into the later rounds of the draft I think sometimes you just let the tape speak for itself,” he said. “If a guy can play he can play. Not to say that you won’t break those trends earlier on, but I think just in general you want to maintain the standards you have set: certain height, weight, speed — all those kinds of things early on. Every year is different. There is always a unique player that will kind of break that philosophy.”
Veach spoke more generally about defense in the draft — both last year and this year.
Veach said the team was happy with the contributions of the rookies from last season’s all-defense draft.
“We are really excited about those guys and I think all those guys were really able to come in right away and contribute. Breeland Speaks played a lot of snaps, Derrick Nnadi was a starter for us. Even when you factor in guys like Charvarius Ward — whom we added at the waiver wire cut down day before the season started. He played. Dorian O’Daniel saw a lot of snaps. Armani Watts was coming on. Tremon Smith did a lot in special teams. So really, all those guys got a chance to contribute [and] get their feet wet. We are looking forward to those guys taking the next step.”
Veach said he sees a lot of defensive depth in the 2019 draft.
“It’s a really intriguing class,” Veach remarked. “I think it’s been mentioned multiple times throughout the first few days: the defensive line this year is really deep. There are a lot of players — pass-rushers, interior pass-rushers, run players, there’s a lot of depth at that position. I certainly think there will be a lot of names from those defensive players called early on.
“But there’s kind of tricky depth throughout the class here and we’re excited to have a first-round pick, two second-round picks and a third-round pick,” he added. “It’s the first time, I think, [that] we’ve had a one, two and a three for years — with the Alex Smith trade, the Jeremy Maclin deal and the Patrick Mahomes trade. We’re just excited to have a lot of picks to work with.”
Veach said he has a good idea of the kinds of players new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will want.
“Big and long and athletic, like all coordinators, right?” he asked. “I mean, guys with a high motor. Guys that are smart, passionate and love the game. It is consistent throughout the league. I certainly think that Steve will probably put more of an emphasis on size and length for sure.”
Then the media wanted to know about some of the premier offensive players available in this year’s draft
They mentioned Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield specifically.
“Yeah, he is a good player,” Veach said. ”He is a tough, physical runner, and I think he would fit in well with our running back crew. We certainly like bigger backs. I think you guys know in the Kansas City area that I kind of have a thing for 220-pound backs that can run and catch and block. He fits that bill, so he is certainly an intriguing player.”
Then a reporter asked about Alabama running back Josh Jacobs.
“Yeah, he is explosive,” Veach replied. “The one thing about Josh Jacobs is you don’t want to be a defender in the open field when he has the ball in his hands. Not the biggest guy, not the fastest guy, but I think his ability to generate yards after contact is really amazing. For a smaller guy, he has a really strong, compact build. You feel him on contact. He is an exciting player to watch. But the other running back they have — Damien Harris — he is really good, too. He has a little bit more speed. I think, again, ending up with either of those two players would be a plus for any team.”
Then Veach was asked about the Damien he already has on his roster — the one named Williams. Would he be able to continue to carry the load for the Chiefs rushing attack?
“Yeah, he certainly showed that at the end of last year,” said Veach. “He was a guy that we were able to acquire in the offseason last year. He came in in the preseason and showed flashes. He just needed an opportunity. And when the opportunity presented itself, he kind of took it and ran with it. That is why we extended him. He’s always been a talented player. He can run, catch and block. He can really do everything. He was great on special teams. I would certainly say going into this offseason — and going into the 2019 season — it’s Damien’s job to lose.”
Amazingly, nobody wanted Veach’s opinion on Kyler Murray’s height, weight or hand size — but how could they resist not asking about Missouri quarterback Drew Lock?
“I can kind of call him my neighbor because I live in Lee’s Summit,” Veach said. “But no, he is an extremely talented player. Great family. I know his dad, [and] I got to know the son a little bit. I think he has very intriguing arm talent. I think he has great ad-lib ability, which you certainly need in this league. Arm strength and ad-lib ability is a good place to start. He has both those qualities and I’m sure it won’t be long for him to hear his name to be called on draft night.”
Other notes from Veach’s Thursday appearance:
Are you monitoring the AAF? “I certainly do. The cool thing about the AAF is those guys have come through this whole process here. We have a database of those guys at the combine, original draft grades, pro grades, so there certainly are a handful of guys that we have liked and maybe for one reason or another, roster depth or not having enough space, we weren’t able to acquire those guys. There are a lot of players out there, and again there’s probably a handful of those guys that had they not been with an AAF team, might be on our 90-man roster already. I think it’s a cool opportunity for us to see those guys in a competitive environment and kind of see where they are and how they have developed. We’re able to get their film now in on a weekly basis and we’ll kind of attack that like we do the CFL and the smaller colleges. We’ll have guys dedicated to that and continue to look in every way possible to keep finding players and keep adding talent to our team.”
What did you see in offensive lineman Justin Senior? “Yeah, he’s had some nagging injuries, but he was a guy that we kind of liked coming out of Mississippi State. He’s an athletic player with good feet, [and] good hands. We’ll see. He has a long way to go because he’s been out; he’s had some time away here. There’s certainly a lot of skills to work with and we’ll see what we can get out of him.”
Are you a different GM after having your team be the AFC’s number one seed? “I think that I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great people around me — and I don’t think anything has ever been too big just because I’ve always been around great people, and they kind of make me look smart. When you have a Hall of Fame coach and a league MVP at quarterback you feel pretty good. It’s a good thing.”