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).
In the wake of the Tyreek Hill trade, most mock drafts are tying the Chiefs to the top wide receiver prospects. After the team met with Georgia receiver George Pickens this week, there is some evidence those predictions may come to pass.
But the Chiefs are also doing their due diligence on wide receiver options outside of the first round. One interesting player is Erik Ezukanma of Texas Tech, who was recruited by Patrick Mahomes’ college coach (and now Arizona Cardinals head coach) Kliff Kingsbury. Ezukanma visited Kansas City on Thursday, which his agent confirmed by tweeting a photo of him with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
Remember this name:— Erik Burkhardt (@ErikBurkhardt) April 8, 2022
Erik Ezukanma (WR Texas Tech).
The smart teams see his crazy upside & that EZ is just scratching the surface of how good he’ll be as a pro. He’s been a popular man w 7 tm visits & workouts. He’ll be drafted Friday, likely sooner than later. @erikezukanma pic.twitter.com/hwVN1c6SuH
It’s difficult to predict what selecting Ezukanma would mean for the Chiefs. because he is very different than any other receiver with whom quarterback Patrick Mahomes has played in Kansas City. Let’s take a look.
Ezukanma joined the Red Raiders as a four-star recruit from Timber Creek High School in Keller, Texas, choosing Texas Tech among 13 offers — including SEC programs Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas A&M.
Ezukanma may not have made the best choice. During his four years with the program, two coaching staffs were fired, which negatively affected his development. He failed to catch 50 passes (or surpass 1000 yards) in any season — although individual game logs show multiple strong performances against ranked opponents.
College film evaluation
Ezukanma brings a completely different set of tools than any NFL wide receiver who has been paired with Mahomes. His most likely comparison would be Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers or Cordarrelle Patterson of the Atlanta Falcons, each of whom has thrived as a hybrid running back/wide receiver.
Texas Tech WR Erik Ezukanma visited the Chiefs Thursday. If the Chiefs are looking to draft dudes like this, that might be why Viska rumors got so quiet so fast. Ezukanma is no speed demon, but is dangerous if you design a way to get him in space. pic.twitter.com/xTUQISd2Zg— Jared Sapp (@TrumanChief) April 7, 2022
Ezukanma’s near-touchdown in this clip should remind Chiefs fans of countless gadget touches designed to get Hill or Mecole Hardman into the open field. But the power that Ezukanma displays with his much bigger body shows potential for new takes on existing plays.
If you would like to learn more about the player who prevents the touchdown at the last second, read our draft profile of Houston cornerback Marcus Jones.
Outside of Travis Kelce, Mahomes has rarely played with larger receivers. Ezukanma would break that trend — and on contested catches, he could offer the Chiefs much better odds than they have seen in some time.
The Chiefs appear to be favoring bigger and more physical receivers this offseason. Ezukanma would fit that. Outside of healthy Sammy Watkins, Mahomes has rarely had a receiver you would be comfortable throwing this pass to. pic.twitter.com/BankEXfUzC— Jared Sapp (@TrumanChief) April 7, 2022
Here we see Tech quarterback Henry Colombia throwing into heavy coverage, knowing that Ezukanma has the ability to come down with the ball.
Last season, the Chiefs’ biggest weakness was an inability to adjust when two-high safety formations prevented them from making big plays. One frequent suggestion was to put a player like Hill or Hardman in the backfield to punish the first level of the defense — just as Samuel and Patterson have been able to do. While the Chiefs experimented with Hardman in such formations late in the season, the much larger Ezukanma would be more likely to regularly handle that kind of use.
A shortcoming of the Chiefs has been the reliance on the big play. Ezukanma can impose his will on defenders and get the extra yards when they really matter. pic.twitter.com/0f7r9st98w— Jared Sapp (@TrumanChief) April 8, 2022
In this clip, his power is apparent as he flat-out drags a defender, willing himself to a first down.
Although Ezukanma brings a set of strengths we haven’t recently seen in Kansas City, the same can be said of his weaknesses. Since Mahomes became the starting quarterback in 2018, elite route-running and separation from defenders have been hallmarks of the team’s wideouts. While Ezukanma is a dependable target on 50/50 catches, he will find himself in many such situations because he is not fast enough to regularly elude NFL defensive backs. He will also enter the league as a raw (and limited) route runner.
Seeing the Chiefs looking at receivers like Ezukanma seems strange after so many years of prioritizing separation over physicality. Ezukanma will need to adjust his routes and show out on contested catches because he won't get away from quality NFL DBs. pic.twitter.com/rNn67vDKDH— Jared Sapp (@TrumanChief) April 8, 2022
On this play, the quarterback wants to give Ezukanma a chance to improvise and extend the play, but the wide receiver is unable to get by the defender on his short route.
Ezukanma’s best plays show why he was highly recruited. Still, his cumulative stats are underwhelming. Examining his game logs gives a ‘feast or famine’ impression, with many of his less impressive outings coming during late-season games. Being in the program through two coaching changes and multiple quarterback injuries — on top of COVID-induced interruptions to his development — will likely be factors that teams will consider.
How he fits with the Chiefs
As of this writing, Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the only receiver under contract with the team past this season, so any prospect with “WR” next to his name is a potential fit in Kansas City. But Ezukanma’s game is so different from what we have recently seen, it is difficult to predict his exact role.
After trading Hill, the Chiefs appear to be making a shift to larger, more physical receivers. Ezukanma should quickly become a dependable target on short, X-receiver outside routes; against top running defenses, he would present a good passing option in crucial short-yardage situations.
Reid has traditionally found a way to put his own spin on the league’s latest offensive trends. It is very possible he is intrigued by the success of Samuel and Patterson have found — and now wants to find a similar player of his own. Ezukanma would be a good candidate to follow Reid’s preferred development route, which initially focuses a player on a specific role and then expands it as he improves — just as Hill did during his first two seasons.
The bottom line
Individual teams are likely to be higher on Ezukanma than draft pundits have been. His draft slot will likely be closer to his agent’s Day 2 prediction (that is, the second or third rounds) rather than in the late rounds predicted by some publications.
Hill’s unprecedented success has caused more and more smaller, speedy receivers to sneak into the draft’s top 100 selections. Samuel’s breakthrough could create similar opportunities for raw (but physical) prospects like Ezukanma. Furthermore, the recent explosion in the values of free-agent wide receiver contracts is also likely to push wideouts further up the draft boards, leading to many players being selected earlier than expected.
The Chiefs are unlikely to build draft plans around Ezukanma to the point where they would pass on opportunities to address the position in early rounds. But if they do not like the value they find with their top 50 picks, they could pull the trigger on him earlier than expected — likely late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.