The Kansas City Chiefs left the 2020 NFL Draft with six new rookies — plus 18 undrafted free agent rookies signed right afterward. Here are five things we learned on draft weekend:
1. The Patrick Mahomes Effect is real
During all the years that Chiefs waited for their franchise quarterback to arrive, we imagined that once we had him, high-priced free agents would flock to Kansas City just for a chance at a Super Bowl. Our own players would take big discounts to remain with the team.
So far, the reality has been disappointing. Some of that undoubtedly has to do with the fact the Chiefs entered their championship offseason with so little salary cap space — which is bound to be a turnoff to any free agent hungry for a big deal — but the effect of the team’s star quarterback has nonetheless been noticeable.
It’s clearly been much easier for the team to acquire mid-tier free agent players at a minimum cost — which is likely going to be a crucial part of keeping the team competitive once Patrick Mahomes’s new contract is part of the team’s salary cap — and draft weekend provided more examples.
One was that BoPete Keyes’ agent alerted Brett Veach that another team was on the verge of selecting the Tulane cornerback in the seventh round — after the Chiefs had used all of its picks. This allowed Chiefs general manager Brett Veach to use a 2021 sixth-round pick to trade back into the draft and select Keyes. That probably wouldn’t have happened without Mahomes in Kansas City.
Another was that the players who weren’t drafted clearly preferred the Chiefs. Our friend Terez Paylor of Yahoo! Sports noted that the team had snagged signed NFL analyst Gil Brandt’s top-ranked UDFA offensive tackle, cornerback and wide receiver — and his second-ranked interior offensive lineman. On Sunday, NFL Twitter was filled with similar notes about the top-ranked UDFA’s from one list or another coming to Kansas City. One example is new Chiefs wide receiver Andre Baccellia — who has 4.32 speed and did things like this for Washington:
It’s probably good not to get too excited about undrafted free agent players; we know that most won’t make the team. But some will. A few will become NFL stars — if not valuable second-tier contributors on championship teams.
2. Maybe Brett Veach isn’t such a gambler after all
Deserved or not, Veach has acquired a reputation as a GM who is willing to make any deal on draft day. But until he heard from Keyes’ agent on Saturday, he had been content to stand pat with the team’s picks in the 2020 draft.
“I think when you are envisioning winning a Super Bowl,” said Veach on Sunday, “in the back of your mind, you’re like, ‘Once we get one, we can maybe alter our approach and take a step back.’ Once you get there, though, you know how tough it is.”
Veach believes that his aggressive approach helped get the team to a championship — and isn’t willing to dial it back all the way.
“It’s that fine line: staying aggressive but then being decisive — [and] being aggressive when you want to be aggressive. It’s also having that flexibility [that] when you want to pull the trigger, to pull the trigger.”
Veach called it “selective aggressiveness.” After all, no one wants to be thought of as passive-aggressive.
3. Kareem Hunt’s heir-apparent has arrived
While arguing about whether it is wise to select a running back in the first round of the draft, it’s been easy to overlook why the Chiefs did it: to find a way to get the offense back to what it was in 2018 — before Kareem Hunt’s off-the-field actions forced the team to release him.
As so often happens, hindsight makes it all a lot clearer.
When the Chiefs signed free-agent Carlos Hyde last spring, no one considered Hyde to be the kind of player who could take Hunt’s place as a rusher and receiver. But once he joined the team, his comments suggested otherwise.
”I had a little success catching the ball with Shanahan,” he said of his time with the San Francisco 49ers. “That was the first real time I got to show my hands a little. But ever since then, I’ve been focused on catching the ball more. Coming to [the Chiefs], I didn’t know that they used the running back so much in the passing game until I got here. But it put a smile on my face. Now I’m in another offense where I can really showcase my hands — really take ownership on that issue.”
But Hyde didn’t work out. He was traded to the Houston Texans before the season began. And in his rookie season, Darwin Thompson — a running back who had the right skill set to succeed Hunt — didn’t show us much in his limited opportunities. That set the stage for the Chiefs to grab LeSean McCoy when he was released by the Buffalo Bills at the final roster cutdowns. McCoy was getting long in the tooth, but there wasn’t any doubt that he could be the player to replace Hunt — at least for a little while.
But that didn’t give the desired result, either.
Make no mistake: Damien Williams did a solid job as the starter. His work in both the 2018 postseason and the Super Bowl run is especially noteworthy; he played a significant role in the team’s success in both playoff runs — particularly in Super Bowl LIV. But Williams just wasn’t the explosive every-down threat that Hunt had represented.
Williams got the job done. But the Chiefs were seeking someone who could do more. Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks like the guy who could do exactly that.
4. There will be war in the trenches
Behind presumed offensive line starters Eric Fisher, Andrew Wylie, Austin Reiter, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Mitchell Schwartz, the Chiefs now have a whole passel of players. Joining returning backups Martinas Rankin, Greg Senat, Nick Allegretti, Ryan Hunter and Jackson Barton — along with free-agent pickup Mike Remmers — will be rookies Lucas Niang, Darryl Williams, Yasir Durant and Jovahn Fair. That’s a total of 10 players competing for what will likely be three positions on the 53-man roster — and probably a couple of practice squad spots.
It’s much the same on the defensive line. Likely starters Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Alex Okafor will be rotating with returning players Mike Pennel, Khalen Saunders, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Demone Harris, Breeland Speaks, Braxton Hoyett, Devaroe Lawrence and Tim Ward. Along with reserve/future signing Anthony Lanier, just two rookies are being added: Michael Danna and Tershawn Wharton. Behind likely backups Pennel, Saunders and Kpassagnon, eight players trying for what could only be a couple of roster spots — and a place or two on the practice squad.
These battles are going to get bloody.
5. Living rooms >>> green rooms
You might feel differently about it, but I loved seeing the draft prospects at home with their families — rather than dressed up in suits and crowded into an offstage green room, where the main goal appears to be getting shots of players watching themselves fall in the draft. I loved seeing them share the moment with their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and best friends — all of those who have played a role in shaping the lives of these young people.
I even liked seeing the coaches and managers at home with their families — although I’m sure they found it awkward and difficult to be physically separated from their staffs.
But I didn’t much care for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
I get it: the commissioner should be the guy who opens every draft session — and he should definitely be part of it throughout the event. But somehow, holding court from his basement exposed the truth even more than usual: Goodell isn’t a TV host — and he shouldn’t try to be. Watching him was just excruciating — especially in the later rounds, when it seemed he’d rather be doing something else.
Surely there’s a mainstream comedian or celebrity (who is also a big fan of college football and the NFL) who would be a better master of ceremonies. I hate that I’m saying this — it seems wrong to make the draft even more of TV Event — but that ship sailed long ago. If we’re going to spend a dozen or more hours watching the draft every year, let’s at least make it bearable.