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Setting second-year expectations for Chiefs’ 2022 draft class

How will the sophomore seasons go for last year’s rookies?

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most influential parts of the Kansas City Chiefs winning the 2022 Super Bowl was the quick development of their rookie class.

The Chiefs selected 10 players in the 2022 NFL draft, and the team had major contributions from almost the entire class. Even though there weren’t any immediate superstars, the number of guys who came in and played significant roles helped round the Chiefs’ roster out in a way that it wasn’t in 2020 or 2021.

However, most draft classes aren’t judged in their first year, but how the class develops over the course of a rookie contract. Now that the class has had another year of development, what are reasonable expectations for how each player will perform in 2023? Let’s start at the top of the class;

CB Trent McDuffie

McDuffie’s rookie year was hampered by a hamstring injury, but when he came back in the second half of last season, the Chiefs' defense took a massive jump. Before McDuffie’s return, Kansas City was 26th in success rate on defense but jumped to third with his return.

In dropback success rate, the Chiefs jumped from 24th to fifth. McDuffie’s presence allowed the Chiefs to move him and L’Jarius Sneed around interchangeably, which was important for specific matchups. Regardless of where McDuffie aligned, he was terrific last season.

Now that he has a full season under his belt, McDuffie should be able to add even more to his game this year. The Chiefs can play with their matchups more since McDuffie can play any spot necessary. McDuffie had an incredibly strong rookie season, but I expect him to get more notoriety this season with more playing time.

DE George Karlaftis

Earlier this offseason, I covered Karlaftis’s strong rookie campaign, but I do think Karlaftis takes another step this year. During the first half of last season, Karlaftis was struggling to generate wins as a pass rusher, but as the year went on, he kept adding more to the toolbox as he grew physically comfortable in the NFL.

Karlaftis is already a positive run defender, and I expect Karlaftis to be a more efficient pass rusher this season. As he adds more counters and pass rush moves to his arsenal, the higher his ceiling goes. I think the Chiefs found a high-quality starter with Karlaftis, and that will start to show more this season.

WR Skyy Moore

Out of all of this class, nobody has greater potential to add to their role than Moore. With wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster gone, the Chiefs have to find someone to target. Wide receiver KaDarius Toney might be the main weapon, but, given his injury history, the Chiefs will need someone else to step up.

Moore has all the talent to step into a bigger role, and he’ll get more targets. I expect the Chiefs to use him similarly to Smith-Schuster, moving him around the formation and funneling his targets underneath. If Moore’s able to pick up the entirety of the playbook, I’d predict a big leap in productivity.

S Bryan Cook

Of all the players the Chiefs drafted last year, there could be an argument that Cook was the best playoff performer of the class. Cook had an incredible postseason run, flashing range, ball skills and tackling ability. His AFC Championship game was terrific, as he made multiple critical plays for the Chiefs.

Now that safety Juan Thornhill is gone, Cook’s expectations are for him to be a starter.

He’s going to be on the field every play, and, in this defense, he’ll be tasked with a lot. Pairing with safety Justin Reid, the Chiefs have two interchangeable safeties that can handle a lot of coverage responsibility. Cook will have to sink or swim in that environment, but, given how good he was in the playoffs, I’m optimistic he can do it.

LB Leo Chenal

Chenal’s a tough player to project since the Chiefs are full at linebacker. With Nick Bolton, Willie Gay and the addition of Drue Tranquil, there aren’t many opportunities for Chenal.

I did think he handled his role as the SAM linebacker well, but it looks like that’s all his role will be in 2023 as well. 2024 and beyond will be key in seeing how much Chenal can handle — both Gay and Tranquil are free agents — but for 2023, I wouldn’t expect an expanded role.

CBs Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson

I wrote about secondary roles recently, but I still think there to be a rotation between Williams and Watson. The Chiefs liked to rotate Williams and Watson on any given series, depending on a matchup or who was playing better, and I wouldn’t expect that to change in 2023. If one of Williams or Watson emerges as the clear superior player, that guy will be the full-time starter.

Until that happens, I like rotating these guys depending on who’s playing well.

OL Darian Kinnard

Just like last season, Kinnard’s stuck in a deep rotation of good offensive linemen. General manager Brett Veach mentioned predraft that the organization — including offensive line coach Andy Heck — had been impressed with Kinnard’s development, particularly at guard.

Unless an injury happens, Kinnard will be with the reserves, but his development as a swing piece could dictate a future decision on either guards Joe Thuney or Trey Smith. For 2023, another year on the bench seems likely.

RB Isiah Pacheco

Pacheco had an incredibly strong rookie year, cementing himself as the best running back on this roster. That hasn’t changed going into this season. The Chiefs essentially kept the same running back room as last year, and I’d expect the roles to be similar. I doubt Pacheco ever makes a large impact in the passing game, but his physicality and speed provided a nice change of pace to the offense, and I’d anticipate the same this year.

DB Nazeeh Johnson

Johnson has a lot of athletic promise, but it’s hard to see him cracking the field with how deep the Chiefs are at defensive back currently. For Johnson to stick around on the roster, he’ll have to be elite on special teams. Special teams coach Dave Toub praised Johnson as the team’s best gunner during OTAs, so if Johnson can maintain that status in training camp, I’d expect the Chiefs to keep their special teams ace.

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