For general manager Brett Veach, the Kansas City Chiefs' 2018 draft class has aged about as poorly as any draft class could.
In 2019, things got a little better with the additions of wide receiver Mecole Hardman, safety Juan Thornhill and defensive tackle Khalen Saunders — all of whom helped the Chiefs during their recent Super Bowl runs.
In 2020, Veach picked up steady defensive contributors like defensive lineman Mike Danna, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and the team's best draft choice during those three years — cornerback L'Jarius Sneed.
But the three drafts from 2021 through this past weekend have made Kansas City's roster deeper — and likely better — than it has been in recent memory.
We understand that for the current offensive roster, everything starts and stops with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce. But those players can't do it on their own. Picks scouted by Veach (and his staff) have surrounded those two players with talent, preventing the unit from missing a beat after the departure of All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
On paper, Kansas City's offensive line is a top-5 unit — and is just as deep with backup talent as it is with starters' potential. Center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith — taken in 2021's second and sixth rounds — balanced the group's budget in a way that Chiefs fans may never have dreamed possible.
And then, in 2023's third round, the team grabbed tackle Wanya Morris — a college teammate of Smith's in Tennessee — who will compete with Lucas Niang and Prince Tega Wanogho to become the team's starting right tackle.
At tight end behind Kelce, Veach's crew found 2021 fifth-rounder Noah Gray, who has grown into a nice all-around player who has seemed to show improvement each week.
The wide receiver unit has been totally transformed since the Legion of Zoom days. While the current wideouts are short on historical production, they don't lack the physical ability to be great. In 2022, Kansas City drafted Skyy Moore in the second round — and later traded 2023 third and sixth-round picks for Kadarius Toney. Both players scored touchdowns in Super Bowl LVII.
Then on Friday, Veach traded up in the second round to secure a pass-catcher who is reported to have already established some chemistry with Mahomes: Rashee Rice.
In the coming years, all three have opportunities to become game-changers. If just two pan out as planned, the passing offense should continue to flow along.
Then there is 2022 seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco, who led the Chiefs' running game to (and through) the playoffs as the team's leading rusher. His best days are almost certainly ahead of him. He's a prime candidate to rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2023.
On the other side of the ball, we realize that defensive tackle Chris Jones is the anchor of the defense. But 2022 first-round defensive end George Karlaftis is just 22 years old — and displayed tangible improvement in his rookie season, collecting nearly all of his six sacks late in the year. Then in Thursday's first round, Veach added a bookend for the other side: first-round pick (and Kansas City native) Felix Anudike-Uzomah, a 21-year-old defensive end with excellent pass-rushing upside.
At the second level, Kansas City boasts at least three young players who are hard to keep off the field. Joining Gay is 2021 second-round choice Nick Bolton, the unit's playmaking leader. Then there is 2022 third-round pick Leo Chenal — a stout, freakishly-athletic physical presence on the field.
But it's in the secondary where the draft was most successful — starting with Sneed in 2020. It's headlined by the rookie trio that started a combined 21 regular-season games last season — first-rounder Trent McDuffie, seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson and fourth-rounder Joshua Williams. 2022 second-round selection Bryan Cook is now positioned to start at free safety this season — and in Saturday's fourth round, Veach added another versatile back-end player: Chamarri Conner.
The bottom line
For an NFL personnel staff, few things are more challenging than consistently finding success in the draft — particularly for a contending team always picking at the end of each round. Yet, in recent seasons, the Chiefs have done precisely that. While the quality of the selections from the 2023 draft is yet to be determined, the last couple of drafts should give us a lot of confidence.
But as things now stand, Kansas City's roster has more depth (and fewer true "holes") than most fans have seen for a long time. It's a tribute to the foothold established in the 2020 draft and the two excellent classes that have followed — along with the coaching staff that has developed these young players to their potential.
If other NFL teams thought the Chiefs were tough to handle while claiming their second league championship in four seasons, they should just wait and see what will happen if the 2023 class meets the recent standard.