April 27, 2019, will mark the two-year anniversary of the day the Chiefs boldly moved up to take a long-awaited swing at a homegrown quarterback when they traded to the 10th overall pick in the draft to select future MVP Patrick Mahomes in 2017.
Current Chiefs GM Brett Veach is considered to be a critical piece of the evaluation and clamoring for the Texas Tech product. This past offseason, stories came out all over the media about Veach’s early assessment and willingness to wear Andy Reid out about the raw but uber-talented signal-caller. Mahomes is often positioned as a feather in the cap of the young GM who took the job at the head of the personnel table a few months after the Chiefs made that move nearly two years ago.
I don’t doubt Veach’s involvement in Mahomes and his arrival in Kansas City or his belief in the player. Before Mahomes stepped on the field as the franchise quarterback, Veach went out of his way to say he was one of the best players he had ever seen. That kind of boldness, regardless of if it’s just a press conference quote, reveals real conviction and ownership of Mahomes ultimately ending up at Arrowhead.
Veach has never been short on belief in his people, his process and his evaluations. He’s confident and aggressive. He and his team have made some savvy, smart moves in his tenure. This season, the depth of his roster was challenged and his signings rose to the occasions. Players like Charvarius Ward, Damien Williams and Andrew Wylie made a significant impact in big situations. Slowly but surely, the landscape of the team looks less and less like the roster of Veach’s predecessor John Dorsey.
You can turn to the small, subtle moves to build depth and find value as a checked off box when assessing Veach. It’s been one of his biggest strengths so far. The Sammy Watkins signing was mostly worth the investment to this point, as he shined in the AFC championship game and it was noticeable when he was unable to play. That injury caveat on Watkins and the signing of linebacker Anthony Hitchens to a contract valued at $9 million average per year have been things people cling on to critique Veach. And they’re fair. The same questions can be asked when the Chiefs will wait until the fifth round to draft any player on Mahomes’ anniversary because they surrendered their 2019 fourth-round pick for linebacker Reggie Ragland.
Veach’s first draft was short on capital but has mixed reviews through 25% of the contracts of the 2018 draft class. Early returns, and the process used to acquire the players has left a bad taste in the mouth of some Chiefs fans after one year.
The Chiefs aggressively moved up to 46 (from 54) and selected defensive lineman Breeland Speaks to play as a stand-up EDGE. The Chiefs burned through one year of a rookie deal to experiment with the 280-plus-pound lineman in a two-point stance, dropping into coverage. The next selection was yet again a trade up to select interior defensive lineman Derrick Nnadi, the gem of the class so far. Nnadi is a good player, but will likely be one who primarily works on early downs and will never have a high snap-count ceiling due to his lack of pass-rush upside. Their only other top-100 selection was a linebacker that profiled more like a 4-3 Will linebacker to play in sub-packages and special teams in Dorian O’Daniel.
All these players certainly have a chance to take a step this year, especially in Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense. The ceiling on this group is not particularly high, and you’re hoping the scheme change gives them a better chance to succeed. The Chiefs traded up twice and came away with these three players with limited upside. They all could be role players, but optimism beyond that is tempered by most.
Veach and Chiefs fans are now faced with a very similar situation to last year regarding their capital. The Chiefs acquired Seattle EDGE Frank Clark for the 29th pick, a 2020 second-round selection and a swap of their 92nd pick for Seattle’s 84th pick. The compensation they have in day two this year (61, 63 and 84) is very similar to what they had in 2018 (54, 78 and 86) per Rich Hill’s draft value chart.
Last year’s selections were aggressive for players with limited ceilings and somewhat confusing schematically. Some of those issues have been resolved, but the truth remains: this is a critical year for the perception of Brett Veach. He made (in hindsight) a smart decision to move on from Marcus Peters and now has an additional second-round pick this year to work with. He’s now positioned with three top-100 selections in this draft. What he does with them will tell us a lot more about what kind of talent evaluator and executive Veach is.
There are clear indicators of an ability to find value, but they didn’t reveal themselves during last year’s draft. Veach is in position to address the same kind of ordeal just one year later. I’m fascinated to see how he approaches it.
“There is a balance in everything,” Veach said at his pre-draft press conference last week. “You have to stay true to what you are. That is kind of what got you here. But at the same time, you learn, and you can be more tactical in certain areas. I’ve got a great staff around me and I don’t think any GM goes into the draft and starts pulling names off just by themselves. They surround themselves with smart people and I have smart people around me and I think it is a good balance.”
They have the security of knowing that they hit on their first-round pick with the addition of one of the best pass rushers in the league. Does Veach show more patience knowing that? Does he perhaps...trade...back to acquire an additional asset? We’re about to find out.
This is a critical draft for the Chiefs. The Chiefs need to hit on a few players at a cost-controlled rate to help counterbalance the looming big contracts to pair with Clark like Chris Jones and Mahomes. If Veach and co. can find value this weekend, it will go a long way in sustaining the window the Chiefs have with their signal caller.
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