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Chiefs’ mid-to-late round 2022 picks continue to make an impact

The second part of Maurice Elston’s review of the latest draft class.

Seattle Seahawks v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs improved their record to 13-3 on Sunday with a victory over the Denver Broncos. The Chiefs have leaned on multiple rookies to be successful in 2022.

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

In the second of two articles, we examine how the late-round picks have progressed throughout the season. Check out the first one here.

Round 3, Pick 103: Leo Chenal

For the third straight year, general manager Brett Veach took a linebacker on Day 2 — this time in the third round. Since he is more of a run defender in a league that plays with three wideouts most of the time, Chenal’s sample size has been small during his rookie season. We also saw him go through some growing pains early in the year.

But we have seen his snaps increase over the past three weeks — and he has shown some improvement. 12 of his 30 tackles have come in the last three games. Chenal’s improvement has been crucial — and will be a vital piece when teams try to go base or heavy to run against Kansas City in the playoffs.

Round 4, Pick 135: Joshua Williams

Playing cornerback in the NFL is hard enough — but especially when you are coming from a Division II college. With the injuries to Trent McDuffie (and former Chiefs cornerback Rashad Fenton) early in the season, Williams was probably forced to the field before Kansas City intended. He has played in all 16 games so far, logging defensive snaps in 13 of them. He has 40 tackles, an interception and five passed defended. Unfortunately, opposing quarterbacks also have a 128.3 passer rating when targeting Williams.

At 6 feet 2, 193 pounds — and with 32 7/8-inch arms — Williams has the size and length that you like to see in an NFL cornerback. He’s also very athletic and tough. His main struggle is that he can sometimes get too handsy in overage — which has led to a number of costly penalties in recent games.

Williams’ play has been up and down. He has shown stickiness in coverage — and the ability to play the ball — but hasn’t yet developed the trust in his own technique and skillset that will keep him from grabbing and holding. As his technique improves, so will his outcomes. How Spagnuolo uses him — and helps him — will be big in the playoffs. If he can limit penalties, he should be fine.

Round 7, Pick. 243: Jaylen Watson

When you are selected in the seventh round, there aren’t many expectations on you. So, it is safe to say that Watson has exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Like Williams, injuries forced Watson on the field very quickly — starting his first NFL game in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers. A late-round rookie starting against a dynamic offense could have led to disaster — and while he had some rough points, he also made the play of the game: notching his first career interception and touchdown in the same play.

Watson’s season has also been up and down. He’ll have a solid showing (like did against the Seattle Seahawks) and then struggle in the next game — like he did against the Broncos on Sunday. He currently has 38 tackles, an interception, two passes defended and a touchdown. Not bad for a seventh-rounder,

His rotation with Williams will continue, which will sometimes make it hard for either of them to get into a rhythm and flow. But both will be on the field in the playoffs, so Kansas City will need each of them to be solid.

Round 7, Pick 251: Isiah Pacheco

The running back room was considerably more crowded when the Chiefs drafted Pacheco. Some experts questioned whether would make the team — and considered him to be a practice squad guy for his rookie year.

But in the preseason, special teams coach Dave Toub named Pacheco his starting kick returner, cementing his spot on the 53-man roster. At 5 feet 11 and 215 pounds, Pacheco had the ideal frame to be an NFL running back. Add his 4.3 speed and it’s a miracle he was still available at pick No. 251.

Because Kansas City got out a decent lead against the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener, we saw Pacheco get a chuck of carries. Immediately he showed promise, turning 12 carries into 62 yards and a touchdown. After weeks of the Chiefs going with a running-back-by-committee approach, they named Pacheco the starter in Week 7. Since then, he has 131 carries for 617 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

The combination of Pacheco and veteran running back Jerick McKinnon has given Kansas City a dynamic backfield for which opposing teams must account. Pacheco’s punishing style of running will come in handy in the postseason — especially if the Chiefs are managing a lead.

The bottom line

Great teams are built through the draft — not free agency. Just the same, teams do not normally plan to start five rookies — but that is just what the Chiefs have done in 2022. While each of these players had their fair share of bumps along the way, it’s hard to complain about the group’s overall output.

The Chiefs have built a young foundation they can use to finish the season strong — and upon which they can build during years to come. With a few veterans who will be due for a 2023 payday, it’s good to have so much talent on rookie contracts — and a nice batch of draft picks for the next offseason.

However the season may end, 2022’s rookie class will have played a significant role.


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