After the first 32 selections of the NFL Draft, only three new faces will be joining the AFC West The Kansas City Chiefs selected Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie after trading up with the New England Patriots to the 21st selection. Near the end of the round, the Chiefs used their second first-round selection on Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis. And the Los Angeles Chargers selected Boston College guard Zion Johnson with the 17th pick.
Let’s take a look at how the division as a whole should be feeling after the first round.
Derek Carr, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson: The Broncos, Chargers and Raiders all boast elite pass rush units bolstered by flashy — and expensive — offseason additions. To say the Chiefs’ pass rush lags behind is a gross understatement. While Karlaftis should be a solid starter early in the season, his presence alone will not significantly increase the pressure each of the division's quarterbacks will feel in their two games against Kansas City. While there are still moves to be made, the Chiefs’ front seven still feels far from deadly. Herbert also will have another first-round talent protecting him.
Broncos, Chargers and Raiders defenses: The Chiefs’ rivals are a month removed from seeing All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill take his skills to the Miami Dolphins. In the hours leading up to the first round, rumors were circulating that the Chiefs might pursue an aggressive trade-up to secure an elite receiver such as Alabama’s Jameson Williams or USC’s Drake London. But when the Atlanta Falcons took London with the eighth selection — starting an 11-pick run in which six wideouts went off the board — the Chiefs did not make a move. Kansas City still has the offensive pieces in place to drive defenses crazy — but with their two first-round selections, they declined to bolster those weapons.
The Chiefs’ pass coverage: While the team’s pass rush will still lag behind the rest of the division, its secondary should now be taken seriously. With fellow cornerback L’Jarius Sneed and safety Justin Reid, McDuffie potentially gives the Chiefs more than three solid starting players in the defense’s back end. Reid and Sneed are 25 — and McDuffie is not yet 22 — so the three have a chance to develop and play together for a long time. Early in the season, the Kansas City secondary could very well become a strength of the team — possibly compensating for a less-than-desirable pass rush.
The Chiefs’ salary cap: The Chiefs took the third cornerback off the board before selecting the fifth edge rusher. While the star potential of either player can be debated, the earning power of those two positions is a matter of record. Adding players like McDuffie and Karlaftis in free agency has proven frustratingly expensive. But now, the Chiefs are likely to have starters at these two highly-priced positions through 2025 — and by selecting both of them in the first round, they will have the option to retain each of them for a fifth season.
Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders receivers: McDuffie is a good addition to a very intelligent Chiefs secondary. The unit appears poised to disrupt routes with a variety of pesky coverage schemes. McDuffie and Sneed are both versatile corners who can line up across the secondary, allowing defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to mask the called coverage before the snap. Last season, we frequently saw the Chiefs' offensive line neutralize an opponent’s pass rush — only to see sticky coverage prevent quarterback Patrick Mahomes from making a big play. Opposing receivers could now have similar difficulty getting open against Kansas City — even if their quarterbacks have sufficient time to throw.
The Chargers’ ceiling: Los Angeles is a very good team — but this year, there seem to be fewer takes suggesting that this might be the year it finally overtakes Kansas City. While Johnson is a very good player who should immediately start, it was an underwhelming selection. Adding a third option in the passing game to lessen the pressure on offensive playmakers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams — or adding a playmaker to the secondary — would have been higher-upside moves.
Analysis of bizarre Raiders moves: Time will tell if Las Vegas trading their first and second-round picks for Adams was the right decision. But the first round is clearly less interesting when the Raiders don’t make a selection. Going against analysts has long been a part of their identity as a franchise. The team is known for making draft picks that deviate widely from consensus prospect rankings — often overvaluing size and speed at the expense of demonstrated playmaking ability. The Raiders are not scheduled to pick until the 86th selection in Friday’s third round, minimizing the team’s ability to deliver shock — and earn ridicule.