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, centers, cornerbacks, guards, linebackers, and tight ends. In this article, I’ll examine the safeties.
Who they have
In 2020, Mathieu led the Chiefs’ defense in regular-season snaps, playing 91% of them. In the postseason, Mathieu was one of two Chiefs players to take every possible snap. He also earned the third first-team All-Pro honor of his career by nabbing a career-high six interceptions. He was also fourth on the team in tackles (62), including three for a loss. In the playoffs, Mathieu added an interception and another tackle for loss.
Besides Patrick Mahomes, Mathieu was arguably the team’s most important player in 2020. He took every meaningful snap and impacted the game in nearly every way he could have. Once cornerback L’Jarius Sneed became comfortable in the slot, Mathieu could be used in a variety of positions — which is how a player of his caliber should be used.
He’s quickly become the heart and soul of the defense. 2021 is the final year of his contract, but the team can’t allow him to test free agency next offseason.
My opinion: Extend his contract before the season begins.
Thornhill played 71% of 2020’s defensive snaps, which was the fourth-highest rate on the team. But that doesn’t accurately depict how inconsistent his campaign was; his usage fluctuated as he struggled to fully recover from his 2019 ACL injury. In the postseason, he saw only 46% of the total snaps — including only 27% of the Super Bowl plays.
Thornhill’s best game appeared to be the AFC Championship, in which he played 76% of the snaps and defended four passes. He may not have followed it up with a good performance in the Super Bowl, but it was still encouraging to see him look more athletic and explosive at the end of the year.
In 2021. it will be important for the team to closely examine his play. If he can look healthier — and be a more consistent playmaker — he’ll need to be extended before entering his fourth season. The team needs to give him every chance to prove he’s worth that extension.
My opinion: Trust him as the primary deep safety
While this reserve safety only saw 9% of the regular-season defensive snaps, Watts led the team in special-teams snaps — playing nearly 81% of them. He tied a career high with 17 total tackles and one pass defended in the regular season — and accounted for a tackle in the Super Bowl.
2021 will be Watts’ fourth year in the NFL — the last on his rookie deal. When he was drafted out of Texas A&M, there was promise that Watts could become a playmaker. But now, he’s buried on the depth chart; he hasn’t given the team a reason to play him over the other guys they’ve had.
Right now, he’s the third safety on a team that likes to use three on the field at the same time. By the time the season begins, he shouldn’t be in that position.
My opinion: Add a more capable safety through free agency or the draft.
As an undrafted free agent out of SMU, Clemons signed with the Chiefs after last year’s NFL Draft. He earned a practice squad spot on the team, but was never elevated to the active roster. After the season, the Chiefs signed him to a reserve/future contract.
He had a nose for the ball in college, earning seven interceptions and 27 passes defended over four years as a starter. In the pre-draft process, he was labeled as an aggressive, attacking kind of player — but definitely a raw prospect.
If Watts cannot make an impact as a defender during training camp, Clemons could take his spot as a special-teams player — giving him more time to develop as a safety.
My opinion: Give him the opportunity to beat out Watts.
Who they could sign
I would be in favor or re-signing veteran Daniel Sorensen to once again fill that third safety role.
There has been no news on that front — so if the Chiefs are looking elsewhere for that position, here are a few veteran options: Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson, the San Francisco 49ers’ Jaquiski Tartt, the Tennessee Titans’ Kenny Vaccaro, the Detroit Lions’ Duron Harmon or Tre Boston of the Carolina Panthers.
Who they could draft
It could also make sense to draft another player that fits the versatile role the Chiefs ask of their third safety. Some early-round options would include Oregon’s Jevon Holland, UCF’s Richie Grant, TCU’s Ar’Darius Washington and Cincinnati’s James Wiggins
Possible picks later in the draft could include San Diego State’s Tariq Thompson, Middle Tennessee’s Reed Blankenship or Missouri’s Tyree Gillespie.