It’s easy to forget how Kansas City Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach rose up the ranks in front offices as a scout that supposedly stood on the table to draft players like LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Fletcher Cox and Patrick Mahomes.
This year, that foundational skill of scouting football players will be as important as ever — with the Chiefs having 12 draft picks, including eight in the first four rounds. It’s an unprecedented situation for this organization — they haven’t selected more than six prospects in one draft since 2016.
Veach gave us a few nuggets about their strategy during his pre-draft press conference on Friday. Here’s what to glean from it:
1. First-round possibilities
“We have around 16 to 18 names on our front board as first-round picks,” Veach revealed to reporters on Friday. “Picking there at 29 and 30, the odds of one of those guys falling isn’t great... but similar to last year, when you look at value in this draft, 30-60 is really good. We were able to get Nick Bolton and Creed Humphrey last year. I think there will be a lot of value similar to that; there’s a lot of good players in the second and third rounds.”
Veach has succeeded in that hot zone he has referenced for multiple years, but it’s because he’s had to. The Chiefs’ on-field success has prevented them from having the capital to be in the mix for a top prospect, but that isn’t the case this year.
All these picks in the first four rounds allow them to be much more flexible in terms of a trade-up scenario on opening night.
“We talk about 16-18 guys valued in the first round, and you get to picks 19, 20, 21, and there’s still some of those guys on the board, I think you make a decision and see if you can find a trade partner,” Veach laid out. “If those 16 guys are off the board by the time you get there, I think it drives the narrative to just stay put and just collect the assets. I don’t foresee a huge jump up, throwing a haymaker and trying to get into the top 10 — unless something unforeseen happens. We’ll be flexible, we’ll let the board talk to us and if there’s value, we will — and if not, we’ll just stay put.”
That scenario doesn’t just happen for any position. The Chiefs have plenty of needs, but the prospects they would move up for would likely be an edge defender or wide receiver.
2. The class of edge and receiver prospects
When Veach was asked directly about the two positions in this year’s class, the detail differed from one answer to the other.
“The edge class is deep,” Veach noted. “I think there are a lot of talented players there. There are some numbers in [rounds] one through two that play into your equation.”
Veach continued, speaking on the receivers.
“The receiver class is unique this year because you have a lot of different skill sets. The top guys — you have a vertical guy, a bigger guy, you have a shifty guy. You throw in some injuries and some long-term analysis for where they’ll be, it does throw a little bit of a wild card into their final grades and where you take them.”
It’s worth noting that while the Chiefs have had publicly-announced visits with wide-receiver prospects like Jameson Williams and George Pickens, there has been no report of any pre-draft visit with any notable name along the defensive line in this class.
Could the quiet be a result of Kansas City wanting to hold their cards close to the chest when it comes to who they’re targeting to draft for the defensive line?
With how the Tyreek Hill move altered the offseason and possibly prevented them from adding to it in free agency, they could be locking in on a few prospects they believe could give an immediate impact — earning their first-round grade.
3. The potential defensive line targets
There is one name that comes to mind that should be on their first-round board and has a higher-than-zero percent chance of falling to the 19-21 range Veach mentioned; it would likely take pick 62 or maybe even pick 50 to move up that far:
- Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson II
Johnson is projected to go as high as the top 10 — but compared to the other edge rushers in this class, he could be the one pushed down in favor of other positions.
If Veach were willing to “throw the haymaker” and get closer to the top 10, he should keep an eye on Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux — who is seemingly falling in the eyes of the NFL for his off-field interests, not his on-field play.
Even if the Chiefs can’t go up and get the first-round target they had hopes for, there will be intriguing options at the back half of Day 1 and into Day 2 — and it’s vital that we don’t narrow our scopes too much on what type of edge defender they’d look at.
“It comes up a lot with some of the 3-4 rushers; they’re not really ideal scheme fits — but at the end of the day, if you can get guys that can rush the quarterback, let’s find a way we can utiliize and implement them,” Veach emphasized. “Whether it’s standing up and playing in a joker-type role or just as a pure pass rusher... it’s just exchanging ideas, a little give and take but getting to the point where everyone is comfortable and sees the vision together.”
Unorthodox prospects in that sense to look out for include:
- Penn State edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie
- Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto
Veach has dug his feet in the ground on the fact that his lack of investment in cornerbacks on the first two days of the draft has not been purposeful. If the right prospect with the right value to him falls to them, he will take him — so that will once again be the case this year.
If you ask him, cornerback and defensive end are pretty close on the list of prioritized needs.
“I think that they’re both up there, and it just comes down to our selection and where we value the guy,” Veach reasoned. “I think they’re both there neck and neck in regards to what we feel need wise... I think there’s a need to get better at all levels and I think that there’s certainly a high priority on defensive end and corner, and I think we’ll be in a position to add to both of those positions.”
So don’t dismiss the idea of a cornerback being one of the team’s first picks — and if something crazy happens like LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. falling into the trade-up range, it could end up finally being a valuable enough move at cornerback for Veach to do.
5. Running backs
“The running back class this year is really crazy. When you factor in that COVID year last year, and some of the guys that stayed in school, I’ve never seen such a large group of fifth, sixth or seventh round running backs; the names go to the top of the ceiling to the bottom. I told the guys my prediction is that there will be a 1,000-yard rusher that is an undrafted free agent or seventh-round pick, just based on the sheer volume of the numbers.”
Here’s a nice detail Veach threw into his 30-minute presser. The Chiefs have yet to add the fourth running back to the room that I believe would round out the group for 2022. It may be because they have their eye on some late-round players that could fill the role, with the potential upside to progress over a four-year rookie deal.
Start digging into the running backs projected to go at the back end of this year’s draft.