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Chiefs Draft Profile: CB Martin Emerson’s length and aggressiveness are a fit

This Day 2 pick from Mississippi State has a skillset that will fit the Kansas City defense.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Background

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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

NCAA Football: Armed Forces Bowl-Tulsa vs Mississippi State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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.