In recent history, no position group has been addressed with more volume through the draft by the Kansas City Chiefs than defensive backs. Over the last five NFL Drafts, the Chiefs have acquired contributors like cornerback Rashad Fenton, cornerback L'Jarius Sneed, safety Bryan Cook — and last year's Day 3 picks: cornerback Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson.
In the 2023 NFL Draft, the Chiefs used two more picks to strengthen the position: a fourth-round selection for Virginia Tech safety Chamarri Conner and a seventh-round pick for Ball State cornerback Nic Jones.
Last season, the then-rookies, Williams and Watson, highlighted a Super Bowl run with game-changing plays — like a pick-six or a tipped-up pass intercepted by a teammate. Can we expect an immediate impact from this year's duo of Day 3 picks?
I went to the film to figure that out:
With the 119th overall pick, the Chiefs selected Conner, a versatile defensive back that primarily played safety at Virginia Tech. 60% of Conner's career snaps came in a slot alignment — but that changed in 2022 when he started playing more as a true free safety.
Playing less around the line of scrimmage, Conner's box score wasn't as filled up as in previous seasons. He set a career low in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and passes defended.
#Chiefs' 4th round pick Chamarri Conner was played all over the VTech secondary over 4 yrs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 10, 2023
In 2022, he mostly played from depth. He's at his best coming downhill & making plays around the L.O.S. pic.twitter.com/nRkAzUrS0Z
His experience closer to the line of scrimmage can be seen in his play as an open-field tackler. He flies downhill toward the ball carrier, showing off good build-up speed and attacking with decent angles. He may not be a body-to-body tackler, but he is willing to go low and throw his body at the legs of ball carriers.
There are repetitions of missed tackles, but it's not because of a lack of effort or aggression. He may come in too aggressive at times.
Conner is best coming downhill, because he doesn't look as comfortable moving backwards as a slot defender in coverage— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 10, 2023
The first 2 clips show that -- but when he matches up with a TE, his athleticism matches up better & he can stay with them vertically pic.twitter.com/sm5rDEZTeN
His strengths as a tackler are not matched in coverage. Conner simply does not have the athletic profile to man up a legitimate wide receiver and stick with them down the field. He will get handsy to catch up, or he can just be beat vertically, like in the first two clips.
The receivers' speed can put him at a disadvantage, but that doesn't happen with tight ends. You see him keep up with Old Dominion's tight end and a seventh-round pick in this year's draft Zack Kuntz. Each time, Conner blankets Kuntz on a downfield route.
It became evident quickly after the Conner pick that the #Chiefs see him as a Special Teams ace— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 10, 2023
At V-Tech, he had 804 career snaps on special teams. Here's a few highlights, a tackle and a blocked FG from 2021: pic.twitter.com/zwE0ddvfzU
Following the selection of Conner, Chiefs' area scout Anthony McGee told reporters that Conner projects as a four-phase special teams contributor. That is backed up by his play at Virginia Tech, where he had 804 career snaps on special teams. In 2021, he blocked a field goal that his teammate returned for a touchdown.
With the 250th pick, the Chiefs took Jones, a cornerback from Ball State that primarily played on the outside in college. 15% of his career snaps came as a slot defender.
#Chiefs' 7th-round pick Nic Jones played nearly 80% of his college snaps as an outside CB.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 6, 2023
Wk1 v. UT. He gets beat downfield on both of these routes, but stays w/ the play and finishes through the rep to cause two incompletions pic.twitter.com/7qx2dtHplg
On the outside, Jones was asked to play in press many times — using physicality at the line of scrimmage to disrupt a route in the early stages. He has some work to engage the receiver more at the line, but he shows good recovery ability on these two downfield routes. Playing from a trailing position on both, he makes a play on the ball to force the incompletion.
This is where Jones' size shows up: he measured in with an arm length in the 81st percentile for cornerback prospects historically, and his hand size is in the 95th percentile. He uses those traits to tighten windows that look more open than they are.
I wasn't able to watch any of his other games in full, but he wasn't as aggressive against blocks or as a tackler against Tenn as I'd like to see from #Chiefs' DBs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 6, 2023
It'll be something to watch in training camp, if he looks like any more physical as a tackler/block shedder pic.twitter.com/lApPx835Z8
As a tackler, Jones could stand to be more aggressive and willing to stick his nose into a block or sacrifice his body to take up space and allow someone else to make a tackle. On the perimeter, he will get blocked up by receivers too often; as a tackler, he doesn't look as comfortable flying at the ball carrier as someone like Conner. He does have the size to hold up in that part of the game.
The bottom line
Unlike last year's duo of Day 3 defensive backs, these two will not be competing for the same role on the team.
Conner is a safety, joining a crowded position room that should have the defensive roles filled from Day 1. The quickest way for Conner to make an impact will be on special teams, a unit that went through a lot of turnovers in recent seasons and is still looking for pillars to rely on. Conner has the play style to excel in covering kicks.
Jones is an outside cornerback, following in similar footsteps as Williams and Watson last season. He has similar size as those two and is coming into the NFL with more division-one college experience than the previous two did. He'll need to prove he's more willing to tackle in the open field than he showed on tape, but he's coming in with a similarly-underrated resume as Williams and Watson did last year.
Conner has the better chance to make his name known as a rookie, even if it's on special teams. That doesn't mean Jones can't surprisingly contribute like Williams and Watson did last season, but he has more to prove if that's going to be the case.