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The Chiefs’ early-round picks continue to make an impact

In part one of a two-part article, our Maurice Elston examines the drafted rookies.

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs improved their record to 13-3 Sunday, with a victory over their divisional rival, the Denver Broncos. The Chiefs have leaned on multiple rookies to be significant contributors for the team to succeed in 2022.

The Chiefs went into the NFL Draft with some holes on its roster, with 12 draft picks to try to fill some of them. The Chiefs ended the draft with 10 players — seven on defense and three on offense. Eight out of 10 have received significant playing time.

In our first of two posts, we will examine how the early-round picks have progressed throughout the season.

Round 1, Pick 21: Trent McDuffie

The Chiefs were so high on McDuffie that they traded up to get him.

At first glance, most were surprised by this pick, given McDuffie stands at 5 feet 11 with 30-inch arms. That's not the usual size and length that Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo typically pursues in his style of defense. In his college film, McDuffie flashes the aggression, flexible hips and explosiveness to play cornerback in the NFL. Add in the fact that he could play inside and outside with a willingness to tackle, and you see why the Chiefs were forceful in moving up to get him.

McDuffie's season got off to a great start against the Arizona Cardinals. He showed stickiness in coverage and left no room for quarterback Kyler Murray even to target him through the first half of the game. But on the final play of the Cardinals' opening possession of the second half, he would leave with what turned out to be a significant hamstring injury. He would end up on injured reserve and not return to the Chiefs lineup until Week 9.

Since his return, McDuffie has played at least 95% of all defensive snaps and has continued to be consistently tight in coverage, allowing an 83.4 passing rate when opposing quarterbacks target him and a 0.072 separation grade (per Pro Football Focus), which ranks him 14th in the NFL. McDuffie may have had his best game and biggest play of the season this past Sunday. With the Broncos threatening to score, McDuffie got his first career sack and forced a fumble, all in one play.

Not only was this play huge for the Chiefs, but McDuffie also showcased his added versatility with this blitz coming from the slot. The Chiefs have a true lockdown corner and playmaker in McDuffie, that will be with them for some years to come.

General manager Brett Veach hit on this first-round pick, ending the talk that he doesn't take cornerbacks high in the draft.

Round 1, Pick 30: George Karlaftis

Outside of cornerback, defensive end may have been the Chiefs' greatest need before the draft. They wasted no time addressing that with their second pick of the first round, taking Karlaftis. Most reports had good things to say about Karlaftis coming out of Purdue: great bull rush; he can line up anywhere on the line, and he has a high motor. But the consistent concern was that he may have already reached his ceiling as a player.

The season started slow for Karlaftis, at least from a sack standpoint. He was playing well early for a rookie, but when you are an edge rusher drafted in the first round, the expectation is for you to get sacks. Karlaftis only recorded 0.5 sacks through that timespan. He had 24 hurries and five quarterback hits during that same span, but many were waiting for him to turn those hurries and hits into sacks.

Fans wouldn't have to wait long.

Since Week 12, Karlaftis has had a sack in every game except one. With his sack this past Sunday, his total for the year to 5.5, which is second on the team behind All-Pro Chris Jones.

Add his sack numbers in with his 33 hurries, and seven batted passes this season, and it's safe to say that Karlaftis has turned the corner. He's having a solid rookie campaign overall and is a great building piece for the Chiefs' defensive line going forward.

Round 2, Pick 54: Skyy Moore

The 2022 draft class was deep in good wide receivers in the first two rounds.

With the trade of Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, many predicted the Chiefs would use the extra draft capital to trade up in the first round and grab a big-name prospect.

Six wide receivers went off the board before the Chiefs picked in the first round before Veach went defense with the first two picks. The second round saw six more receivers go, and the Chiefs still hadn't moved to get one. The Chiefs then selected Skyy Moore with the No. 54 overall pick in the second round.

From the start of training camp onward, Moore flashed all the things the scouts raved about — strong hands, crisp route running and the ability to make people miss in the open field.

It was looking as if he would be a significant part of what the Chiefs would do on offense, but that still hasn't come to fruition. I thought that Moore's first year would be similar to what we had seen from Hill and Mecole Hardman in their first year.

Hill finished with 61 receptions for 593 yards and six touchdowns, as Hardman finished with 26 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns. Both served as the Chiefs' primary punt returner during their rookie seasons.

With the Chiefs naming him the starter at punt returner, it seemed like they would use that as a way to get him involved as they slowly worked him into the offense as they did with Hill and Hardman in their rookie seasons.

While Moore has shown flashes of showing his ability, this season hasn't been as most hoped it would be. He had trouble fielding the ball as a punt returner, and — after multiple muffed punts — he lost that job. He currently only has 22 receptions for 250 yards and zero touchdowns on the season.

Outside of the Los Angeles Chargers game — in which the Chiefs were down three receivers to injury — Moore hasn't been involved in the offensive gameplan. However, over the past few weeks, the Chiefs have used quick screens to get the ball in Moore's hands so that he can operate in space.

Moore is a good wide receiver and will have a promising career in the NFL. He has good hands and great route-running ability that will help the Chiefs down the stretch. I feel we will one day look back on the lack of production in his rookie season and laugh because of how good he will be... in 2023 and beyond.

Round 2, Pick 62: Bryan Cook

After letting safeties Dan Sorensen and Tyrann Mathieu walk in free agency, the Chiefs had to add to the safety room. They signed Justin Reid to start alongside Juan Thornhill, but a third safety has always been important to Spagnuolo's scheme. The Chiefs drafted Cook out of Cincinnati. The big, fast, hard-hitting safety was highly praised when the Chiefs drafted him.

Cook has played in 15 games and started one. Overall, he is only averaging 32.6% of defensive snaps, so he does not have enough time to show out. In the small sample size, we have seen, Cook has shown flashes and potential to be a key player over the next few years. In his limited time, he has tallied 32 tackles, a sack and two pass deflections.

It has been a solid showing for Cook in limited snaps this season. What the Chiefs do with Thornhill this offseason will really show us how they feel about Cook moving forward. Players taken in round two usually end up starting sooner rather than later.

We will continue this two-part post with the mid-to-late round picks on Friday.

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