Of the 17 undrafted free agents signed by the Kansas City Chiefs, three play the safety position: Texas prospect Anthony Cook, Marshall prospect Isaiah Norman — and the only Missouri Tiger brought in by the Chiefs during this draft process: Martez Manuel.
The native of Columbia, Missouri, was ready for an opportunity — calling his shot on Twitter once the signing was reported by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
All I needed was a chance. Watch this. https://t.co/rIWVXm5CxT— Tezo (@martezmanuel13) April 30, 2023
Manuel logged significant snaps in each of his final three seasons for the Tigers, building up experience at the position that could benefit him during the Chiefs’ rookie minicamp and give him a head start on proving his prophetic tweet correct.
As he answered questions from reporters on Monday, it was clear that he did not take his first professional opportunity for granted.
“It was an incredible three days,” Manuel reflected during his press conference. “I learned so much, mentally and physically. I was telling one of my good friends on the phone: ‘I see why this organization is a championship team.’ The coaches are so detail oriented, it’s incredible; I’ve honestly never played on a team where the details were so important. If you do one small thing wrong, you’re going to get corrected as if you made a huge mistake... it’s been an awesome experience.”
Manuel is hoping to make a roster that already had four safeties heading into the NFL Draft — then selected one in the fourth round in Virginia Tech prospect Chamarri Conner. It’s a position that the Chiefs typically only keep four players, so it will be an uphill battle for an undrafted player like Manuel to make the team.
It won’t stop the motivated safety, who is using his experience on draft day to help fuel him this offseason.
“Draft day, it was an emotional day. I had a lot of teams call me. I had high hopes,” Manuel shared. “I saw my father, and he talked to me and gave me some motivating words. He told me to use all this pain that I’m feeling as motivation, keep that chip on my shoulder. So every day, I’m out there at practice or in the film room, showing these coaches why I was a name that should have been called. I don’t say that in a rude way, I just say that as ‘if you don’t think I’m there yet, I’m going to show you that I am there.’”
One of the biggest things every rookie has to prove is their ability to learn all of the added information that professionals use in their playbooks compared to colleges. There’s much more to the game at the professional level, but Manuel is confident that his specific experience at Missouri can help him in that aspect.
“I had three [defensive coordinators] at Mizzou; that’s kind of to my benefit,” Manuel expressed. “I’m able to compare defenses to something, but at this level, there are so many more checks that go with the call based on what the offense gives you. Like in college, I can line up and get the play, see the formation, and know what I’m doing. At this level, line up, get the play, communicate the checks, one guy motions and I have to communicate a whole other set of checks — it’s incredible.
“I see why I don’t have school anymore; this is my job. This has been kind of an easier adjustment for me, because I feel like I’ve always been a pro in what I did — even in college as far as taking care of my body, watching tape, studying the playbook. I’m just translating that to now, being a pro, but now I’m getting paid for it.”
Above all other motivation, Manuel is driven to find a role on the Chiefs because he loves the game of football.
“This is a dream come true, this is the best job in the world,” Manuel said. “[I’m] around ball all day, get to go out and play ball, and you get paid to do that — doing it for 18 weeks. That’s the best thing in the world. I’m just trying to capitalize on my opportunity and hopefully keep this job for a long time.”
The Chiefs have given rookie defensive backs plenty of opportunities to prove themselves in recent seasons — even including undrafted free agents. A few years ago, safety Devon Key was taking first-team snaps over the summer.
In other words, Manuel will get his opportunity to prove himself at one point or another, but it’s all on him to turn that chance into a positive result rather than a negative one. He’ll get his next shot at the team’s organized team activities (OTAs), starting at the end of this month.