As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas from April 28-30, we’re taking a look at some of the players the team could be targeting with their 12 draft picks: Round 1 (29 and 30), Round 2 (50 and 62), Round 3 (94 and 103), Round 4 (121 and 135) and Round 7 (233, 243, 251 and 259).
At cornerback, Kansas City needs not only long-term depth but also an immediate starter. The team’s three-cornerback nickel set is its most commonly used personnel package — and on those snaps, starters L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton need a running mate.
The unit lost three-year starter Charvarius Ward when he signed with the San Francisco 49ers. If defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wants Sneed to continue handling the slot — which I believe is the best way to utilize him — the team will need a capable outside cornerback like Ward.
In the NFL Draft, I’ve highlighted Kaiir Elam as a first-round option to fill that void. Among Day 2 players, Martin Emerson of Mississippi State also projects to be capable of handling the responsibility.
From Pensacola, Florida, Emerson committed to Mississippi State as a three-star safety prospect — a position to which he had switched as a high-school sophomore after playing at wide receiver.
As a true freshman in 2019, Emerson played immediately, totaling 152 tackles, six tackles for loss, a forced fumble, 15 passes defended and an interception over his three-year career. In 2020, he recorded the third-most pass breakups in college football.
Martin Emerson is a CB prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 8.44 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 301 out of 1923 CB from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/yBWIUvr4bJ #RAS pic.twitter.com/JIPNdSt4rD— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 1, 2022
At the NFL Combine, Emerson measured in at 6 feet 2 and 201 pounds, with a wingspan in the 96th percentile for cornerbacks and hand size in the 97th percentile. In most of his athletic tests, he had only average results — but at his size, he boasted an impressive 6.9-second three-cone drill.
College film evaluation
At first, Emerson was used as a versatile piece in the Bulldogs’ defense — but by 2021, he was playing exclusively as a starting outside cornerback; last season, he recorded only one snap in the slot.
At almost 6'2" / 201 pounds, Emerson uses his 96th percentile wingspan & 97th percentile hand size to keep up with the Jameson Williams and Metchies of the world— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 17, 2022
He's a little handsy to do so, but you have to be. Make the refs call it pic.twitter.com/nSiXM5GiaL
Lacking change-of-direction ability on route breaks, Emerson has to compensate by maximizing his size advantage. So he disrupts routes with physicality and active hands — whether at the line of scrimmage or downfield.
That can absolutely draw penalties. Depending on the receiver matchup — and frankly, the officiating crew — that can make Emerson a very volatile player. But as he develops, there’s a balance to be found; his aggressive mindset is closer to an asset than a liability.
Watching the film, I came away impressed with Emerson’s awareness as a zone-coverage defender — whether that meant cleanly passing off receivers to other defenders, reacting to receivers coming into his zone or anticipating route concepts.
Miss St.'s Martin Emerson is a pretty easy projection to play outside CB for the #Chiefs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 17, 2022
His awareness in coverage stands out against Bama. Head's always on a swivel, looking for WRs entering his zone, like deep crossers (2nd clip) pic.twitter.com/CLvP0qOScP
In the second play shown here, Emerson carries the outside receiver vertically — but keeps an eye on the crossing route from the other side of the field, staying shallow enough to take it away. He seems to have a good feel for zone-coverage spacing.
You love to see the communication in coverage, pointing out the possibility of a crosser to the deep S once Williams runs a shallow crosser— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 17, 2022
Just generally looks comfortable maneuvering his responsibilities in zone pic.twitter.com/FaCXHV10WX
In the first play of this sequence, Emerson observes the receiver on his side run a shallow crossing route. Then he communicates to the safety on his side to watch out for the crosser coming back toward them. It’s a good example of a player who is comfortable enough with his own zone responsibilities that he can work with other players on theirs.
Emerson definitely has the swagger you like to see from your CBs, and it shows up especially when he's coming up to make tackles from the perimeter pic.twitter.com/5iASfRYjNx— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 17, 2022
Emerson showed plenty of swagger at Mississippi State; you don’t see him back down against any level of competition. You love to see that in a cornerback, but it needs to be backed with physicality. Emerson has that.
His main weakness is pretty simple: he can be beaten in strict man coverage — especially against a receiver with quick feet who can create separation.
How he fits with the Chiefs
If Kansas City selects him, I believe Emerson would immediately become the third starting cornerback, playing across from Fenton as Sneed operates from the slot. In my opinion, Emerson’s strengths and weaknesses are very similar to those Ward brought to the table.
But over the long term, Emerson has room for overall improvement. For starters, he is one of the draft’s youngest prospects; he won’t turn 22 until midway through his rookie season. On the field, he shows a high football IQ that makes me confident he can overcome the holes in his physical skillset. And I’d rather tame an aggressive player than try to amp up a low-energy guy.
His strengths align with Spagnuolo’s preferences. That’s why I’m confident that the Chiefs can maximize Emerson’s potential — just they did with Ward, who was also a less-impressive athlete.
The bottom line
Emerson is a cornerback who is likely to go on Day 2 — but exactly where is hard to say. While I believe he’s worthy of a late second-round pick, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler graded him as a fifth-round selection.
But no matter where he is ultimately selected, everything about his profile should fit the Chiefs well.