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Chiefs’ state of the 53: A pre-draft look at the defense

Before the NFL Draft begins on Thursday night, let’s take a look at the roster.

NFL: OCT 03 Chiefs at Eagles

After previewing the offense earlier this week, let’s now take a look at the Kansas City Chiefs defense and the holes that will need to be filled by general manager Brett Veach this week as the team enters the draft.

Interior defensive line

Projected on 53: Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Taylor Stallworth, Tershawn Wharton, Khalen Saunders

This group feels locked in, but don’t be surprised if it is still upgraded early on in the draft. Could the Chiefs add another 3-technique to backup Jones? Could the Chiefs add another run-stuffer with Nnadi, Stallworth and Saunders all out of contract next year? Are the Chiefs frustrated with Saunders’ lack of development and look to upgrade that rotational piece? All are realistic options for Veach to upgrade the room as a whole.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 2nd round — Travis Jones. Jones is a nose tackle that rag-dolled grown men with his brute strength. He’s assignment-sound and would allow Chris Jones to play to his full potential taking chances to make splash plays. If he makes it to pick 50, the Chiefs need to sprint to the podium and pull the trigger.

EDGE

Projected on 53: Frank Clark, EDGE2, Mike Danna, Joshua Kaindoh, EDGE5

After not showing a lot of action in the free agency market for pass rushers and Melvin Ingram potentially out the door as well, the cupboard is bare. The Chiefs not only need a difference-maker opposite Frank Clark, but they also need bodies in the room to take snaps this season. Clark is entering what may be his last season with the Chiefs, and Danna is a solid rotational piece. Kaindoh only played 46 snaps last season and is still a project coming off an injury. Veach stated that his primary plan for the offseason was to revamp this group, and as of right now, we are still waiting to see that come to fruition.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 1st round — George Karlaftis. Still only 21 years old, Karlaftis has a lot of power in his game already. While he doesn’t reach the length threshold that Spags usually covets, Karlaftis can come in Day 1 and be a solid edge opposite Clark. The Chiefs will need to double up here, and if they can grab Karlaftis, I’d like to see them take a project edge that could eventually have a higher ceiling attacking the quarterback like a Drake Jackson or Alex Wright.

Linebacker

Projected 53: Nick Bolton, Willie Gay Jr., Jermaine Carter Jr., Elijah Lee, LB5

After two consecutive drafts of selecting linebackers in the second round, Bolton and Gay seemed destined to be the linebackers of the future. Well, the future is now with the release of Anthony Hitchens and the decision to pass on re-signing both Ben Niemann and Dorian O’Daniel during free agency. Carter Jr. and Lee could both fill in some snaps and add to the team, but there is still a gap there. Veach may be planning on Malik Herring to press for a rush SAM role with Bolton and Gay Jr., or he could be seeing how the draft falls in the later rounds before ultimately deciding that either Niemann or O’Daniel should be brought back. Neither player has found a new team... yet.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 3rd round — Troy Andersen. I’m going to start by saying that I don’t think Andersen falls this far, but as I stated above, if the value is there, I could see Veach pulling the trigger. Andersen has the frame and athleticism coveted by the modern NFL for linebacker, coupled with his football IQ from previously being a quarterback and running back. He needs to improve in his block and shed technique, but he would perfectly complement Bolton and Gay at this value. If Damone Clark falls to the seventh round because of medical reporting, that’s another swing I would take (think Trey Smith last year).

Cornerback

Projected 53: L’Jarius Sneed, CB2, Rashad Fenton, Deandre Baker, CB5, Luq Barcoo

Another premium position. Another bare cupboard. After Charvarius Ward and Mike Hughes left in free agency, the Chiefs have seemingly stayed put with their cornerback room, reportedly only making calls for Giants cornerback James Bradberry. Sneed will need to push to outside corner full time this year, with the Chiefs no longer having the luxury of experienced outer corners to play him in the box. Fenton is in a contract year and is a fine CB3, but he was a liability at times when left on the boundary. Baker is sufficient depth, and Barcoo could become a special teams ace.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 1st Round — Kaiir Elam. Elam is an excellent fit in the press zone and is extremely physical, a trait Spags covets in his corners. He has ideal size and plays aggressively, going through the hands of the receivers at the catch point. Elam was a three-year starter at Florida, playing against the best competition; he’s ready to come in and be that No. 2 opposite Sneed even as he develops. Some mid-round corners that I like are Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams, who both are lengthy physical players that will be comfortable out on the boundary but will need time to develop.

Safety

Projected 53: Justin Reid, Juan Thornhill, Deon Bush? S4

The biggest free-agent acquisition made this offseason is arguably Justin Reid. Coming in to replace the production from Tyrann Mathieu will be difficult, but Reid has the range and physicality that will definitely play. Thornhill is entering the last year of his contract and will be playing for his big payday this season. Bush was brought in, but there are no certainties he makes the team. In house, Zayne Anderson and Devon Key have the opportunity to make the 53-man roster working mostly in special teams. If the team does draft a safety, I would predict that all three men will be on the bubble and will need to have improved significantly to make the team.

Earliest Draft Pick Used: 4th round — Damarri Mathis. Mathis is an aggressive player with a high football IQ and is fast and competitive. Can play corner or safety and understands route combinations and zone coverages. I could easily see the Chiefs selecting a safety early (Daxton Hill or Lewis Cine), but with other holes needing to be filled and an early free-agent investment at the position, I’d prefer them to wait until Day 3 to add to the room.