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Chiefs rank in top tier of best 2021 NFL draft classes

In a ranking published by CBS Sports on Tuesday, the Chiefs looked pretty good.

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

On Tuesday, CBS Sports analyst Ryan Wilson published his ranking of the best drafts turned in by NFL teams over the weekend. In his eyes, two of the teams the Kansas City Chiefs will be watching closely this season — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Baltimore Ravens — had poor drafts; he ranked them 29th and 31st. Meanwhile, he ranked the division rival Denver Broncos third — but placed the Chiefs in the top tier.

8. Kansas City Chiefs

Round 2 (58) Nick Bolton • LB • Missouri
Round 2 (63) Creed Humphrey • C • Oklahoma
Round 4 (144) Joshua Kaindoh • DE • Florida State
Round 5 (162) Noah Gray • TE • Duke
Round 5 (181) Cornell Powell • WR • Clemson
Round 6 (226) Trey Smith • G • Tennessee

Favorite pick: Clemson WR Cornell Powell had just one year of production but he took full advantage of the opportunity. He reminds us in some ways of Sammy Watkins, especially his role in Kansas City. This could be a great fit for both player and team. We had a late second-round grade on Powell.

It would appear that Wilson had Powell rated more highly than most; our consensus draft prospects ranking had him as the 16th-best wide receiver — ranked 121st overall — so Wilson’s second-round grade might be a bit generous. But there was a lot of disagreement about Powell, too — one of the sources for our consensus ranking didn’t have him in their top 200, while the rest had him between 79th and 167th. Still... just about any way you slice it, Powell was a good value when taken 181st. Wilson is spot-on with his analysis of how the Chiefs see him, too.

“He’s going to be like our post-up receiver,” said Kansas City director of college scouting Ryne Nutt of Powell. “Like Dave Hinson said: when you see this kid, he’s big, he’s strapped up, he’s got big muscles, he’s strong, he’s very good after the catch. That’s kind of where he shines —so who better to use him than coach Andy Reid?”

Best value: Tennessee’s Trey Smith was getting first-round buzz a year ago at this time but medicals saw his stock fall to Day 3. We liked him as an early fourth-rounder, so the Chiefs are getting more than two rounds of value here. It’s also another indication that Kansas City is serious about fixing it’s o-line; they traded for Orlando Brown (which is effectively their 2021 first-round pick), signed several offensive linemen in free agency, and drafted two more over the weekend (center Creed Humphrey was the team’s third-round selection).

It’s difficult to argue against Wilson on any of these points; it’s possible that given some time, Smith will be seen as one of the draft’s biggest steals. But it’s probably wise to temper that expectation with a reminder that the 2021 draft — with a smaller talent pool than usual and substantially less information about prospects than normal — was a perfect setup for steals; competition for “steal of the draft” could be fierce. Just the same, the Chiefs deserve credit for doing their due diligence on Smith’s medical issues.

“I would say of all the players in this draft process, I don’t think I spoke to [Chiefs team physician] Mike Monaco more about (anyone) than Trey Smith,” said Chiefs general manager Brett Veach on Monday. “We had a ton of dialogue about him and Mike was involved a lot in that process — not just with me and my staff and [Chiefs head trainer] Rick Burkholder and his staff, but with the people at the University of Tennessee, Trey’s agent and Trey himself. Mike did a really good job of making sure that he had all the information.”

Most surprising pick: Duke’s Noah Gray is a move tight end who is undersized by traditional NFL tight end standards but who is a legit threat in the passing game. We had him as a late sixth-rounder just because we didn’t know where he might fit at the next level, but if Andy Reid likes you there’s a good chance you’re going to be set up for success.

Given what we knew before the draft, it’s hard to argue that picking Gray at 162 wasn’t a reach. Wilson had him in the sixth round, while our consensus ranking had him at 226th; just two of our source rankings had him in their top 200, and neither picked him higher than 164th. But that is another thing we should have expected in a low-information draft: rightly or wrongly, teams would be picking players outside analysts weren’t regarding as highly. We saw many much bigger reaches in this draft — and as Wilson inferred, if Reid likes Gray because he has a specific role in mind for him in the Chiefs offense, we might soon forget that Gray was taken above expectations. And it’s clear that the Chiefs wanted to get him.

“That was a guy, again as soon as we selected Josh Kaindoh (at No. 144), we had our eyes locked on,” Veach said on Monday regarding Gray’s selection. “We called Josh and we welcomed him to the Kingdom — and as soon as we got off the phone, we were back in the draft room, on the phone, calling every team to see how we could flop picks with them to get back up there and get Noah.”