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The Chiefs’ 2023 draft class signals a change in philosophy

With another Lombardi Trophy now on the shelf, Kansas City could afford to adjust its strategy.

NFL: APR 27 2023 Draft Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As an incredible NFL Draft came to a close, there was a lot for which Kansas City can be proud; the difficulty of planning and (and executing) such a large-scale event cannot be understated.

But Kansas City Chiefs fans can be proud of more than that. In recent years, the front office has continued to show why the team is is one of the league’s best-run franchises. The 2023 draft class signaled another change in its draft philosophy.

A year ago, the trade of wide receiver Tyreek Hill made it clear that the team would not be held hostage by a contract negotiation with a star player. This offseason, that point was amplified when tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was allowed to walk to free agency. Now, the signal is loud and clear: it’s Patrick Mahomes over everything.

Floor and ceiling

The Chiefs’ 2019 Super Bowl championship roster included a healthy mixture of players acquired by former general manager John Dorsey and his successor Brett Veach. But the roster that won 2022’s NFL championship was powered by players Veach has acquired during the last two drafts.

The early-round players in each of those draft classes — like Nick Bolton, Creed Humphrey, Trent McDuffie and George Karlaftis — tended to be high-floor prospects who fit immediate roster needs. Yes... at the time, there were other options at these positions. But these players were still expected to be instant contributors.

In later rounds, Kansas City took some gambles — just like most teams do — with players like Joshua Kaindoh, Trey Smith (medicals) and Jaylen Watson. Some of them have worked out; others have not.

But in 2023, we saw the Chiefs beginning to take more risks in the draft. And why not? It was obvious that the team did not need to draft 10 players on top of the 10 who were selected a year ago.

What changed?

Despite an enormous amount of smoke suggesting Kansas City would trade up for a pass-catcher, the team held its water in the first round. Veach 1.0 was hyper-aggressive with splashy trade-ups — and in a weaker wide receiver class like this one, probably would have forced a move. But this year, that didn’t happen.

Yes... the Chiefs did execute several trade-ups — but most were minor moves. And for just the second time since taking over, Veach even traded down on one occasion. It’s clear that we’re now watching Veach 2.0 — a GM who is generally content to remain patient.

The selections of defensive ends Felix Anudike-Uzomah and BJ Thompson both show that defensive line coach Joe Cullen has a larger voice in the construction of the defensive line. While Anudike-Uzomah is a few pounds short of meeting defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s usual physical thresholds, Thompson represents a significant change in what Kansas City has sought on the edge; at 243 pounds, he’s the smallest EDGE Spaguolo has had with the Chiefs.

Kansas City’s selection of wide receiver Rashee Rice has been one of the most hotly-debated picks of the class. A player with terrific traits and frame, Rice nonetheless lacks the technique and tape that screams “seventh-best wideout in the draft.” The Chiefs are essentially gambling on his physical profile, believing that they can coach him up.

The team is also gambling on newly-drafted offensive tackle Wanya Morris — and with Thompson. While both have high athletic upsides, they also arrive with some off-the-field concerns. Last season, Morris served a two-game suspension for academic violations. Thompson was suspended (and ultimately dismissed) from Baylor after a failed drug test. Kansas City has a long track record of success with players who have these kinds of red flags — but in the last two drafts, we haven’t seen them take these kinds of players.

The bottom line

The Chiefs’ previous two drafts laid the foundation for the team to gamble a bit more during the draft in Kansas City; several of their new picks have higher ceilings (and lower floors) than we have recently seen. They could afford to do this because they concentrated on higher-floor players at positions of need in both 2021 and 2022, giving them the depth they will need in case these new players don’t immediately pan out.

Kansas City is betting on its championship infrastructure to develop these prospects over the long term; it may take longer for us to see whether the draft was truly a success. But given what we have seen in recent years, the Chiefs have earned the benefit of the doubt.

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