A month before the 2023 NFL Draft gets underway at Union Station, the Kansas City Chiefs still face questions about their roster.
In particular, there are still holes to fill at wide receiver. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is now the only wideout on the roster who gained more than 250 yards in 2022. Kansas City also seems to need help at offensive tackle and defensive end.
However, based on the Chiefs’ past two offseasons, the presence of significant roster needs at the end of March should not be surprising. General manager Brett Veach appears to have used the draft process — including workouts and player interviews — to drive major decisions in both 2021 and 2022.
At this point two years ago, Kansas City did not have a left tackle signed — even though the team was coming off of an all-time horrific offensive line performance in Super Bowl LV. As one free-agent option after another became unavailable, panic set in among fans and local media analysts.
The Chiefs were even urged to sign 11-year veteran Russell Okung — who had missed 19 games over the previous two seasons — to fill its need. There was speculation that key acquisition Joe Thuney — considered among the league’s best guards — would switch to tackle.
But Veach appeared to be focused on the rookie class. Or at least, that’s what we thought.
Less than a week before the draft, Kansas City agreed to a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for tackle Orlando Brown Jr. While Brown’s two-season tenure in Kansas City was sometimes controversial, Veach definitely made the right decision. Consider the next five tackles who were selected after the 31st overall pick that was surrendered in the trade:
- Teven Jenkins 2/37 Chicago Bears
- Liam Eichenberg 2/42 Miami Dolphins
- Walker Little 2/45 Jacksonville Jaguars
- Jackson Carman 2/46 Cincinnati Bengals
- Sam Cosmi 2/51 Washington Commanders
All five players had frequently been projected to Kansas City in that offseason’s mock drafts. But would they have been better choices?
Jenkins required back surgery and missed most of his rookie year — before transitioning to being a full-time right guard. As pros, Eichenberg and Carman have also moved inside. In either of his campaigns, Little has not topped 40% of Jacksonville’s snaps.
Cosmi has been Washington’s starter at right tackle — but now that the Commanders have added former Chiefs lineman Andrew Wylie in free agency, it appears he may also kick inside.
And free-agent veteran Russell Okung? He never played another NFL snap.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no Scouting Combine. Prospects did not visit teams in person. Kansas City reportedly had a virtual visit with Jenkins and worked out Stone Forsythe — who went to the Seattle Seahawks in the sixth round — at Florida’s pro day.
While information about the 2021 draft process is abnormally scarce, Veach seems to have concluded that the draft would not provide the player he needed at left tackle. But this was clearly in contrast to how he addressed 2022’s primary need.
After cornerback Charvarius Ward signed with the San Francisco 49ers, the Chiefs made no attempt to find a veteran replacement; Veach appeared satisfied with a cornerback rotation of L’Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton and former first-round player Deandre Baker, whom Kansas City had snagged from the New York Giants.
A year later, only Sneed remains. The team drafted five defensive backs — including an aggressive trade-up from Pick 29 to select Trent McDuffie at 21st overall.
Looking back, there was a clear sign that Veach was planning to throw numbers at the secondary: the Chiefs used at least 10 of their 30 in-person prospect visits to meet with defensive backs. Those included visits with Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson, who were both among Kansas City’s Day 3 selections — and ended up playing major roles in a championship season.
Even without trading up for McDuffie — an opportunity Veach later claimed he was surprised to receive — it’s likely that waiting until the draft for cost-controlled cornerback help would have been a wise strategy The next two cornerbacks selected after the 29th pick — Roger McCreary (2/35 Tennessee Titans) and Kyler Gordon (2/39 Bears) — both started as rookies. (McCreary actually played 100% of Tennessee’s defensive snaps). Two other second-round selections — Alontae Taylor (2/49 New Orleans Saints) and Cam Taylor-Britt (2/60 Bengals) — became starters during the second half of the season.
But the Chiefs’ other first-round selection might have simply been a case of Veach getting lucky. Going into the draft, Kansas City also had a need for an edge rusher. As a rookie, 30th overall selection George Karlaftis delivered six sacks while playing just 64% of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps. No pass rusher selected on Day 2 collected more than three sacks as a rookie.
Following the draft, several veteran players — including Jerry Hughes and Jadeveon Clowney — were still available as free agents. The Chiefs also appeared interested in re-signing Melvin Ingram before he joined the Dolphins. We will never know if the availability of these players gave Veach confidence he could wait until the draft to address the position.
What does this mean for the Chiefs remaining needs — particularly at wide receiver? Veach and his staff will likely will spend the next part of the offseason comparing college prospects to available veterans. And until they have new homes, rumors of Kansas City’s interest in free agent Odell Beckham Jr. — and the Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins — will persist.
In the coming weeks, there will also be leaks (often intentional) about the team having an interest in wide receiver prospects. The Chiefs have already reportedly met with Jalin Hyatt of Tennessee and Ronnie Bell of Michigan.
Whether the situation ends with a major acquisition (as in 2021) or addressing the position in the draft (as in 2022), Veach’s recent track record suggests we should trust him (and his staff) to make the right decision.