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What the Chiefs should do at cornerback

A breakdown of the 2021 Chiefs roster — one position at a time.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency scheduled to officially open on March 17, it’s a good time to take a closer look at positions of need on the Kansas City Chiefs. I have looked at the offensive tackles, defensive ends, wide receivers and centers. In this article, I’ll examine the cornerback position.


Who they have

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

L’Jarius Sneed

Last year’s fourth-round selection began his NFL career playing nearly every defensive snap of the first two weeks, filling in for suspended cornerback Bashaud Breeland on the boundary. After nabbing two interceptions in those games, Sneed broke his collarbone in Week 3 and was placed on injured reserve. After his return in Week 11, he became the Chiefs’ primary slot defender, leading all Chiefs defenders in slot coverage reps by nearly 90 snaps through Super Bowl LV — and allowing passer rating of only 74.7 in that span.

Playing in one of the defense’s most important positions, Sneed quickly became one of its most impactful players. As a slot corner, he was utilized more like a box defender, making plays in the running game and blitzing off the edge. He excelled in those roles — while also covering slot receivers effectively.

Modern NFL offenses have turned the slot receiver position into one of the most dangerous positions from which to attack defenses — meaning that a good slot corner is highly valuable. I’d prefer that Sneed is kept in that role for the immediate future.

My opinion: Keep Sneed as the primary slot cornerback.

Rashad Fenton

New England Patriots Vs. Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Fenton played 49% of the 2020’s regular-season defensive snaps. In the postseason, Fenton missed the divisional round game with an injury, played 40% of the defensive snaps in the AFC Championship and then only saw special-teams use in the Super Bowl.

While Bashaud Breeland was suspended early in the season, Fenton played on the boundary. As the season progressed, he played more in the slot. He also appeared as the kick returner multiple times — but all three of his returns came in Week 17.

Following Sneed’s injury, Fenton had a breakout game in Week 4, playing 100% of the snaps — mostly as a boundary cornerback — earning four tackles, an interception and three pass breakups. Then Breeland was back, so Fenton didn’t get another chance to prove himself on the outside. The rest of the season, he was used only as a reserve slot defender behind Sneed and safety Tyrann Mathieu.

in his two seasons, the Chiefs have pushed to use Fenton as a slot defender — but his best opportunity to play in 2021 may come on the boundary.

My opinion: Give him the opportunity to compete for the starting boundary cornerback position.

BoPete Keyes

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After trading back into the seventh round to select Keyes in the 2020 NFL draft, the Chiefs only got him on the field with the defense in garbage-time opportunities. He saw 11 total defensive snaps in the blowouts of the Denver Broncos and New York Jets, then played the majority of Week 17’s game as a boundary cornerback — racking up eight tackles. He played six special-teams snaps in the Divisional round, but was inactive for the next two postseason games.

No one was expecting much from Keyes this season — but going into 2021, he’ll need to prove his worth as depth. The next player on this list may challenge him for the last cornerback spot on the active roster.

My opinion: Give him the opportunity to compete for the fourth or fifth cornerback slot.

Deandre Baker

NFL: JAN 03 Chargers at Chiefs Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Baker was originally a first-round selection of the New York Giants. As a rookie in 2019, he played the second-most defensive snaps. As 2020 began, an off-the-field legal situation kept him off an NFL roster — but once the charges were dropped, the Chiefs signed him before Week 15. He saw special-teams snaps that game, but got the opportunity to start in Week 17. Unfortunately, he broke his femur midway through the contest — but before the injury, racked up five tackles, a sack and a pass breakup.

Head coach Andy Reid has said that Baker underwent successful surgery and that he “looked forward to getting him back.” He has been re-signed to a reserve/futures deal for 2021.

Once he’s healthy, Baker could be a legitimate contributor. We don’t know how his rehabilitation is going, but it sounds like the Chiefs can’t wait to get him back on the field.

My opinion: Give him the opportunity to compete for the fourth or fifth cornerback slot.

Who they could sign

The Chiefs should be working to tender restricted free agent Charvarius Ward and get him back in the mix. They could also look at re-signing Bashaud Breeland, but it sounds like he’s looking to finally get a multi-year deal from another team.

External free agent options for the Chiefs include one top-tier name that’s been floated around Kansas City for a while: longtime Arizona Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson. For more reasonable team fits, the Chiefs could look at the Indianapolis Colts’ Xavier Rhodes, the Seattle Seahawks’ Quinton Dunbar, the San Francisco 49ers’ Jason Verrett or Williams Jackson of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Who they could draft

In the first round, the Chiefs have a few valuable options: South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, Georgia’s Eric Stokes or Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II.

Later round choices that fit the Chiefs’ mold for a boundary cornerback include Ifeatu Melifonwu of Syracuse, Asante Samuel Jr. from Florida State, Kelvin Joseph of Kentucky or Tenneessee’s Bryce Thompson.