As we enter December, NFL Draft talk is picking up.
From the Kansas City Chiefs’ perspective, needs have generally remained the same throughout the season — although order of priority may be changing.
The linebacker position could be sliding down as Anthony Hitchens continues to elevate his play this year. The Chiefs will still need development from Willie Gay Jr. and to find a replacement for Ben Niemann, but if they trust their top-64 pick from last season, there is no reason to look heavily at a linebacker in the first couple rounds to play a quarter of the snaps.
Another defensive position that may be dropping a bit in priority is the cornerback position. L’Jarius Sneed looks nothing but impressive every single week. looking like a home run of a pick and with the addition of first-round talent in Deandre Baker, the need at cornerback may be dwindling.
The Chiefs should still maintain control over Charvarius Ward next season and round out the cornerback room with Rashad Fenton and BoPete Keyes. Not to say the Chiefs can’t keep adding to the group, but the cornerback room looks more filled out than it has any other year under general manager Brett Veach.
So if linebacker and cornerback are potentially secondary needs, where do the Chiefs focus their attention?
That leaves the remaining top priority needs at defensive end, wide receiver, interior offensive line and offensive tackle. This week, let’s take a peek at a player from each of those positions
Prospects to watch
Devonta Smith | WR | Alabama
Alabama vs LSU, 7 p.m. Arrowhead time
At this point in time, those following college football and the draft know Devonta Smith.
The only question is how will NFL teams feel about his smaller size. His listing of 6 feet 1 and 175 pounds still seems generous — and he lacks timed speed that could be considered elite. Everything else Smith does? Utter excellence.
DeVonta Smith WR #6— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 23, 2020
++ Route runner
+ Manipulates DB with multiple releases
+ Three lvl threat
++ Ball tracking/body control
+ Hand usage clearing DBs
+ Route tree is full w/ vert, horizontal, hard breaks
- Very thin
- Very quick but ?? deep speed & expl
Senior Bowl Top 250 pic.twitter.com/TwcJmvVeTT
Smith has been an absolute stud at Alabama for the past few seasons and is going to go down as more productive than any wide receiver since Amari Cooper if he doesn’t surpass him in yards as well.
He is one of the best route runners in college football — with excellent releases off the line of scrimmage, fakes at the top of his route stem and his change of direction coming out of his breaks. There isn’t a whole lot to say about Smith’s strengths as a wide receiver besides simply saying, “He is really good at everything.”
He has excellent hands and an approach to the football in the air or grounded. He finds space against zone coverage and when running after the catch. He is the complete package from a play and production perspective.
The issues with Smith lie in his physical traits rather than on-field skills. A senior at a top-end strength and conditioning program at his size may be maxed out. Adding to that, most expect him to run around 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, making it an odd physical profile.
It doesn’t bother me at all. I rarely see any incidents where a thin frame results in him being muscled out of the catch point or off the line of scrimmage, and he consistently gets on top of college defensive backs, stacking them on vertical balls. Smith is one of the rare incidents in which historic physical profiles may not matter, but how will the NFL feel?
Drake Jackson | OC | Kentucky
Kentucky vs South Carolina, 6:30 p.m. Arrowhead time
Drake Jackson is going to be one of those, “best prospect you don’t know about” kind of players for the next month or so. He’s one of the top pure center prospects in the draft class and has stacked up multiple years of good play in the SEC.
Jackson is a stout built, powerhouse of an offensive center prospect that gets consistent movement along the line of scrimmage. Being listed at only 6 feet 2, it’s easy for him to play with great leverage, but he does a good job utilizing his height and driving up and under opponents.
He does a good job dropping his hips into contact and works his hands from low to high, driving his legs behind contact. Jackson has a strong base in pass protection and does a really good job keeping his head on a swivel to help along the line. He’s not challenged one on one in protection, but he shows a high-end knowledge of reading leverage and fitting his hands with great timing and power.
As mentioned above, the listed height of 6 feet 2 puts him as a rather short center, and a lack of length shows up plenty. Longer defensive linemen can get into his pads, and if he can’t redirect their hands early, he struggles to regain the best position. He can anchor through it thanks to savvy play and a powerful lower body, but at the next level, it’s going to be even more prominent when he faces head-up rushers.
Another area that likely holds Jackson back is a lack of great athleticism. He’s very functional and has a great first step when working combo blocks, but when asked to climb to the second level, he has to take rather passive angles and hope the linebackers work to meet him closer to the line of scrimmage.
Matchup to watch
Tarron Jackson (DE) vs Brady Christensen (OT)
Coastal Carolina vs BYU, 4:30 p.m. Arrowhead time
With a last-second rescheduling, we get the most intriguing matchup of the weekend both between teams and prospects. Tarron Jackson of Coastal Carolina looks to continue his pass-rushing tear against the athletic tackle Brady Christensen of BYU.
Tarron Jackson DE #9— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 5, 2020
Senior bowl acceptee w/ a huge game today vs BYU
++ Thick, powerful build
+ Powerful hands w/ clubs, punch, swipe
+ Body control
+ Inside/outside flexibility
++ Energy and effort
- Stiff through hips/ankles
- Consistently playing w/ length pic.twitter.com/6fiF2fRtuR
Jackson is a powerful pass rusher that has had a great 2020 season. When you first see him, the power is evident, as he a rather compact body paired with long limbs. He rushes a little like a bull in a china shop, relying on quality explosion, speed and finishing plays off with pure power. He’s consistently the best athlete on the field — and he knows it. When he pairs that with relentless energy, he’s hard to block.
That also leads to some of his weaknesses. Jackson doesn’t have a great feel for a pass-rush plan or even much technique to the moves he does put out. He looks like a player still piecing everything together from a technical standpoint that will need some development at the next level. For a pass rusher relying purely on athleticism at this point, he is quite stiff through the hips and requires soft or under impeded corners to round the arc.
Brady Christensen OT #67— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 5, 2020
++ Light on his feet w/ easy movement
+ Mirror ability
+ Length and room on frame for more wt
++ Varied pass sets vs diff splits
+ Burst out into space
+ Body control framing at the 2nd level
- Inconsistent hand timing/placement
- Core str
- Pad level pic.twitter.com/E32yLmQNHC
Christensen isn’t a sleeper at tackle, but he’s a player who has a higher ceiling than what his current draft stock may indicate. He’s an incredibly fluid mover who stays light on his feet so he can redirect on the drop of a dime. He has a wide variety of pass sets — quick, lateral, vertical and more — that allow him to address rushers at various points of their rush. He often stays patient with his hands, utilizing his mirror ability to cut rushers off and not get off balance. There is a high ceiling to Christensen as a pass protector but there are some warts.
There is a general lack of strength — especially in the core — of Christensen and players can move him around even without perfect hand technique. Making the issue even worse, because of his patient hand style, he is often losing leverage in the hand battle and loses the ability to anchor. Christensen could really stand to develop his inside hand if he’s going to play feet first so much.
This matchup between Jackson and Christensen should be a ton of fun because it will be the biggest test either one faces all year and each player fits the profile that should present problems for the other.
Will Jackson’s power and athleticism overwhelm or will Christensen’s mobility and footwork present a too technical of a challenge?