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How the Chiefs can address cornerback in free agency and the draft

There could be a few new faces in the cornerback room come next September for Kansas City.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Some might say that Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach doesn’t care about cornerbacks. Others could suggest his bargain bin shopping strategy is the right approach for the position. In either instance, you wouldn’t be entirely correct.

A few weeks ago, following the AFC title game, Veach divulged into some of the reasoning behind the franchise’s resource allocation at the cornerback position in the past few years. It was fascinating to hear, if nothing else.

Based on recent history, we can expect the Chiefs to really prioritize the defensive line above other groups this offseason (and I wrote all about that here). There’s also a strong possibility that key decision-makers will view the safety position as a greater area of focus in the defensive backfield rather than corners (and our Talon Graff detailed that position’s outlook at the beginning of the week).

Veach said it himself, though — there are several scenarios that could play out this offseason, and each big move that could happen has an impact on what comes next. Some of those scenarios could include a high-priced corner as the first significant move to occur — albeit unlikely. If the draft board falls just right, the Chiefs could select a cornerback in the first two rounds.

In this article, we’ll take a look at several key names who could be wearing the red and gold as cornerbacks for the Chiefs in 2022:

Free agency

Starting with the current roster, Kansas City returns starters in budding superstar L’Jarius Sneed and the reliably consistent Rashad Fenton. These two have earned starting jobs as the team enters the 2022 season. Deandre Baker is likely to return in a depth role, while Dicaprio Bootle and newly-signed Canadian Football League (CFL) standout Brandin Dandridge compete for roster spots.

Mike Hughes is set to hit the free-agent market for the first time following one season with the Chiefs. After a tough outing against the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round, it is questionable whether the front office prioritizes retaining Hughes.

Charvarius Ward is the biggest name possibly leaving the cornerback room after starting 53 games for Kansas City since 2018 — 43 during regular-season and 10 in the playoffs. Ward battled inconsistency during the past four years, as many do playing this position, but he rounded out his early tenure with a very good 2021 season. He fits into the current defensive scheme — which emphasizes physical, hands-on man coverage tools — very well.

Other teams may not value Ward’s greatest skills the way Kansas City does, but it still seems unlikely that he returns. Odds are another team with more cap space to burn will be willing to pay Ward upward of $8-10 million per season. That just isn’t a number Kansas City can likely afford to reach right now — not with several other holes to fill and potential Sneed and/or Fenton extension(s) on the horizon in coming years.

Some mid-to-upper tier cornerbacks set to hit the free-agent market that the Chiefs could view as quality scheme fits include:

If the Chiefs want to take another look at Sneed as an outside lane/boundary cornerback in 2022, Williams and Oliver make a ton of sense as options who could step in at the slot corner role. See the full free agent cornerback list here. Ultimately, I don’t think Veach was lying when he made it seem as though the team won’t be paying significant money for any single corner this offseason. A short-term contract for a starting-caliber corner is more likely — while keeping options open for any and all possibilities in the draft.

The NFL Draft

This part is a little more challenging to dissect as we currently do not know whether or not safety Tyrann Mathieu or Ward will return in 2022 — however, we will know those answers and more by the start of the draft in April. Predictability for draft outcomes will significantly increase by then.

Let’s start with a few big names entering the draft class at this position.

Derek Stingley Jr. of Louisiana State University (LSU) isn’t a realistic target, as he will almost certainly go within the first eight picks. Beyond that, potential fits include Roger McCreary (Auburn), Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson), Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant (Cincinnati), Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon (Washington), Josh Jobe (Alabama), Kaiir Elam (Florida), Martin Emerson (Mississippi State), Alontae Taylor (Tennessee), Marcus Jones (Houston) and Derrion Kendrick (Georgia).

Booth Jr. is a high-upside talent with plenty of quick-twitch and the ability to play the football downfield like a really good wide receiver would. It’s unlikely that he makes it down to Kansas City at the 30th overall pick, but he would be an excellent pickup for this defensive backfield.

A defensive lineman is a more likely pick for round one, but don’t be surprised at all if any of the above names are selected by the Chiefs in the first two rounds. Another cheap, long-term starter at an important position such as cornerback would be welcomed.

Auburn’s Roger McCreary

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

A personal favorite of mine that was discussed in greater detail on this week’s Arrowhead Pride “Draft Room” podcast is Auburn’s Roger McCreary. Despite some concerns of physical measurables such as arm length, this is a player who shows the skills on tape that a team can trust to translate to Sundays regardless.

Tested by the best collegiate receivers the SEC has to offer the past few years, McCreary spoke with plenty of confidence at the 2022 Senior Bowl.

“I’ve put it on tape. I’m gonna play the game the way I play the game. I’m a press-man corner at the end of the day. I’m a balanced player that’s ready to make an impact at the next level.”

McCreary played a brand of football at Auburn that resembles a lot of the things Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has asked his corners to do on a snap-by-snap basis. He lined up both outside and in the slot, oftentimes from press coverage looks where he showed a high level of comfort — whether he elected to be physical with his hands or not.

Watching McCreary, his playing style is a lot like Fenton — but with a little more potential to explore. Their playing styles are similar in that they are consistently making it tough for receivers to finish catches, remaining in-phase at all levels of the field and closing out plays with physicality. McCreary is very adept at disrupting wide receiver screen plays with reasonable anticipation at the point of attack.

While his physical attributes could prevent McCreary from ever being amongst the very elite cornerbacks in the NFL, he looks the part of a very solid day-one starter in 2022 if chosen by Kansas City due to the natural schematic fit. That could mean four-plus years of a good starting outside corner for the Chiefs.

If unable to acquire a sure-fire starter to join Sneed and Fenton by the draft’s end — if not sooner — Veach may then have to explore options in the trade market.