Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach knows that on draft day, he has a reputation as a wheeler-dealer. When he spoke to the press on Sunday following the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft, he brought it up before anyone could ask him about trading back into the seventh round after the Chiefs had made all five of their selections.
“We stayed aggressive all weekend long even though we didn’t do trades in the first two days,” he said in his opening statement, “but you guys knew I had to sneak one in there at the end.”
It wasn’t just because Veach was simply itching to make a trade. It was also because one of the players the Chiefs had identified as a target — Tulane cornerback Thakarius “BoPete” Keyes — was about to be picked by another team.
“We were very confident that BoPete Keyes would have been drafted,” Veach explained. “In fact, his agent texted me with a text message from another team — I won’t say the team — but he was going to go, I think, four or five picks later.”
Veach said that at the end of the fifth round, he and his staff were going back and forth between Keyes and Michigan defensive end Michael Danna — whom the team eventually chose with that selection. Then Veach and his team started to re-evaluate where they stood.
“Our guys did a great job of reorganizing the board,” said Veach. “I had mentioned earlier, the value of not having a sixth or seventh [was] to really assess the board — and once the draft ends, to attack it. Once the board started to unfold [when] we were off the clock for the day, [we started] to look at the corner stack — and [understood] that with so many picks left in the draft, the odds of this guy getting selected here is very high.”
For Veach, giving up that future pick for Keyes wasn’t a difficult decision.
“You can’t sit there and accurately detail what corners would be there in (rounds) five or six next year,” he acknowledged. “What I can say is we felt like [Keyes] was a fifth or sixth-round pick.”
The general manager wasn’t afraid to say that the speed of the cornerbacks he drafted — including Louisiana Tech defensive back L’Jarius Sneed, who was taken in the fourth round — was part of the equation.
“Well, it’s certainly how those positions are played nowadays,” he said. “When you have guys that test extremely well and perform at the NFL Combine (or if they had pro days), those guys are certainly going to be — if you didn’t like them on tape — those guys are the ones that are going to get second and third looks just because of their athletic attributes.”
For the Chiefs, speed was just one of those attributes.
“We like guys — certainly in our scheme — that have some length and can run — bigger, longer, press-type corners,” said Veach. “We liked both players’ size and physicality. Sneed was a guy that when Saturday started, that was our guy. If we had the first pick in Round 4, it would have been Sneed, so we were certainly holding our breath there.”
But Veach said it wasn’t all about the athletic profiles.
[With] guys like [Mississippi State linebacker] Willie Gay and L’Jarius and BoPete, when you see their performances on tape, you get even more excited. We certainly want to target guys that run and test well — but they don’t just test well. They’re football players that test well — not testers [who] play football.”
Veach also praised his new third-round offensive tackle — TCU’s Lucas Niang — for his intelligence.
“Listen, he’s a smart kid — he picks up the game extremely fast,” noted Veach. “Potentially not having rookie minicamps or OTAs and [just] jumping into this thing is going to be a challenge for young guys — really on both sides of the football. So I think the fact that this kid is coming in here with a high football IQ — and is extremely versatile — is going to be something that will help us get him up to speed quickly.
“The kid’s a very interesting player,” Veach added. “He has some really good tape. I know you guys on this chat do a bunch of tape work, but I think there was an ’18 game where they played Ohio State — I think you guys can see him go against Chase Young and Nick Bosa — and I think Chase Young kind of mentioned out there that he didn’t have a great day versus Lucas. So, there’s talent there and we also feel there’s a lot of versatility in regard to his ability to play guard.”
The Chiefs also signed Missouri tackle Yasir Durant as a rookie free agent.
“Certainly [he was] a local guy that we got to watch a lot,” Veach said of Durant. “He played a bunch of tackle, but we do think that sliding him to guard might be his best position. Any time you can get a couple 6’6” guys inside there protecting Patrick Mahomes will be beneficial.”
Veach also noted that another rookie free agent lineman the Chiefs have signed — Mississippi State center Darryl Williams — was extremely productive player for the Bulldogs, and is another player with versatility. But in Williams’ case, it would be that he could kick outside to guard.
In any case, Veach feels confident about Williams because of his alma mater. He and linebacker Willie Gay become the fourth and fifth Bulldogs on the Chiefs roster — joining Braxton Hoyett, Martinas Rankin and Chris Jones.
“We’ve had a lot of success with Mississippi State players,” said Veach. “It’s funny, when you take a step back and look at some of these schools that tend to produce a lot of players, Mississippi State, [it] seems like every year [they send players] to the NFL. I don’t have numbers in front of me — I don’t have statistics — [it’s] just my overall impression of when I think of players that get drafted from Mississippi State: they always tend to work out.”