The Kansas City Chiefs 2017 draft class is loaded with upside. Whether or not that shines through in the group’s rookie year remains to be seen, but the six new additions will still play a very influential role in how Kansas City’s 53-man roster takes shape.
First round: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mahomes himself may have the smallest on-field impact of anyone in this draft class, as in the Chiefs’ perfect world, the unpolished rookie never takes a regular season snap. Head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey were adamant that Mahomes is a long-term project and Alex Smith is the starting quarterback, as the Texas Tech gunslinger needs time to craft his fundamentals, understand the playbook and learn what it takes to be a successful NFL quarterback.
However, the decision to draft Mahomes does play a huge role in how Kansas City’s quarterback room performs. Smith now knows his replacement is in place, and with maybe only a year left in Kansas City, there’s a decent chance that Smith lets loose and plays with less caution since he knows his time left may be short. Some of Smith’s best performances as a Chief have come when he played with no fear, and drafting Mahomes could bring that out more on a regular basis.
It’s Smith’s team in 2017, and if he leads Kansas City to back-to-back division titles or even a trip to the AFC championship game, it may buy him an extra year and allows Mahomes more time to develop. How Smith responds to the newfound pressure of his heir apparent will be one of the season’s most interesting things to watch, as a nothing to lose mentality could push the offense to new heights or only solidify Mahomes’ spot in 2018.
The drafting also speeds up the clock on Tyler Bray’s development, as the 2013 undrafted free agent has been with the team ever since, despite never appearing in an NFL game. With Smith potentially helming the backup role next year, it’s make or break for Bray to prove if he can be a competent second string option. The Chiefs have brought in veterans like Chase Daniel and Nick Foles in years past, whether they do again this year will show a lot about how they view Bray.
Second round: Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova
Another developmental project, Kpassagnon is a massive 6-foot-7, 290 lbs., ran a 4.83 40-yard dash and has an arm reach of 35.5/8 inches. That’s not your typical defensive end, and Kpassagnon is a first-team all-bus player from day one.
However, he’s also coming from an FCS school in Villanova, where level of competition was a far cry from anything he’ll face at the NFL level. For this reason, it is a risky pick even with the athleticism. Second round picks are counted on to succeed at least by year two, and it could take a while to adjust for Kpassagnon to learn that takes more than athleticism to beat NFL offensive lineman.
Last year’s 21.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks in a 3-4 defense show that the defensive end doesn’t have to be standing up to get to the quarterback. He shares this trait with current ends Chris Jones, Allen Bailey and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and will likely figure into that rotation whenever someone goes down with an injury. The Chiefs run defense and pressure from the defensive line really struggled at the end of the year, so there is an opportunity for Kpassagnon to crack the rotation if he develops as a more fundamentally sound player.
Kpassagnon’s biggest impact could come on special teams in 2017, after he blocked three kicks in the last two years. He should have no problem making the roster as the team lacks defensive line depth after the departures of Dontari Poe and Jaye Howard, but this is another case of the Chiefs feeling good about their current rotation and drafting more with 2018 in mind.
Third round: Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo
Hunt has a very good chance of making the most on-field impact in 2017, as the competition for a pass catching 3rd down back is wide open. Jamaal Charles is still a free agent, Charcandrick West is coming off a disappointing 2017 campaign, new addition C.J. Spiller played with three different teams last year and Spencer Ware is not an ideal shotgun running back.
Hunt is the prototypical pass-catching back in the west coast offense and he averages a staggering 10 yards per catch in college, totally 403 yards on 41 receptions. He also has the ability to be more than just a third-down option, totaling 4,945 rushing yards and 44 rushing touchdowns in college, but that’s probably what his role will be at least in year one.
Although Toledo did not face the best competition, Hunt’s 28 games of 100+ yards rushing and 8 yards per carry average in 2014 show he did the most with his opportunities. Often times is the less-heralded backs who end up making the biggest NFL impact, and Hunt can only hope to have as big of an imprint as Charles, who was also a third round pick.
He doesn’t have Charles’ top end speed, but Hunt’s balance and quickness are what made the 5’10 back successful. The Chiefs traded up to grab Hunt, as running back was one of the team’s biggest needs with the uncertainty surrounding Charles, West and Spiller. If Hunt can crack the rotation, it would allow Reid to build an offense around Tyreek Hill serving strictly as a wide receiver.
Hunt’s versatility and ability to run in between the tackles and churn out yards after contact, as well as catch passes out of the backfield, will be a much needed element to an offense that struggled in that department last year. Coming from a small school and lasting till the third round, despite a stellar college career, could be just the chip on Hunt’s shoulder that motivates the back and becomes a steal for this year’s draft.
Fourth round: Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan
The third player that Dorsey traded up to get, Chesson was a hard player for NFL teams to guage given his differing junior and senior seasons. After a junior year at Michigan with 9 touchdowns and 764 yards, Chesson was injured in their 2016 bowl game and never found the same success.
Chesson caught just two passes and 500 yards in 2017, leading many to wonder if teams learned how to defend him, if he lost his first step, or if it was just a down year. The Chiefs are taking a chance that they can coach him to his potential, and the 6’3 wide out is an experienced route runner after starting at Michigan for three years.
A 4.47 40-yard dash and 33-inch arms put him in a similar athletic category of former Chiefs third round pick Chris Conley, but the Chiefs view Chesson as someone that can contribute sooner than the Georgia draft pack. More polished coming out of school, Chesson will likely have to play special teams at first, but don’t be surprised if he is taking snaps sooner than most rookie receivers to play in Reid’s system.
With Conley, Hill and Jeremy Maclin likely roster locks, and after the Chiefs traded up to get Chesson, this puts the pressure on the last couple roster spots. Albert Wilson has been a Cinderella undrafted success story over the past couple years, but he is still one of the most athletically limited options the Chiefs have. De’Anthony Thomas is on the outside looking in after the emergence of Hill, and last year’s fourth round pick out of Florida, Demarcus Robinson, now has to wonder if his roster spot just went to Chesson.
Wide receiver was not much of a need going in, but the Chiefs obviously thought Chesson was enough of a steal to trade up and take in the fourth, and that they’re wide receiver depth had room for improvement. How Chesson performs in training camp will show whether or not he’s ready for the 4th wide receiver spot, while the competition for the last couple wide out spots will be another compelling training camp battle.
Fifth round: Ukeme Eligwe, ILB, Georgia Southern
After many questioned what kind of role Derrick Johnson could play in 2017 after his late season injury, many thought the Chiefs might go inside linebacker in one of the early rounds. Instead they waited until the fifth, which could mean a number of things about Johnson, Eligwe and the options they already have in place.
This is a good sign that they feel Johnson will return in some capacity, as if he were out for most of they year they likely would have signed someone in free agency or used a high draft pick. Or it shows the confidence they have in their inside linebacker options, with Ramik Wilson, D.J. Alexander, Justin March-Lillard and Terrance Smith all set to return. Josh Mauga also could return if Johnson has a setback.
While it may be a good sign for that group, the Chiefs may just view Eligwe higher than most teams and think he could crack the rotation early on. It wouldn’t be the first time the Chiefs find a steal in the fifth, after selecting Hill in the same round last year.
Eligwe played the WILL in college, where Johnson plays right now, and he has all the physical tools to step right in. The 6-foot-2, 239 pounder ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, which would have tied him for the second-fastest time at the combine among linebackers.
Just like Kpassagnon and Hunt, the competition again left a lot to be desired, and was he dismissed from Florida State after the 2014 season for a violation of team rules. Eligwe is not guaranteed a spot given the other inside options, and whether or not he’s versatile enough to take snaps on the outside or on special teams could be the difference.
The unproven Wilson and Alexander made large impacts on the 2016 team, with one making the pro-bowl as a special teamer and the other starting in a playoff game. Eligwe could have a similar impact with injuries always a factor and could find playing time on third down passing situations, giving his top end speed for a middle linebacker.
Sixth round: Leon McQuay III, DB, USC
With the Chiefs already set at safety with Ron Parker and the resigning of Eric Berry and Daniel Sorenson, McQuay will have to make the roster through special teams and versatility as the Nickelback corner. The Chiefs have shown to view secondary depth as one of the most important factors, after drafting three in the first six rounds last year.
After a disappointing return for Phillip Gaines last year, the Chiefs turned to a little known free agents Terrance Mitchell and Kenneth Acker, and young corners Steven Nelson and D.J. White. Eric Murray was an All-Pro special teams player in his rookie year, so there is already quite a log jam in the secondary.
This bodes well for McQuay in a way, as even with these options, they viewed him highly enough to draft. A great athlete coming out of high school, McQuay started for two years at USC and turned in 50 tackles and eight pass deflections his senior year. He played some slot corner at Southern Cal and he’ll likely have to do so in KC as a backup to Nelson.
His above average ball skills and quick recognition were on full display as safety and could translate well in the nickel, but learning footwork and technique in that spot is never easy. He has the ability to earn a spot through special teams and athleticism to make his way onto the field on passing downs if the likes of Nelson, White and Gaines don’t improve. You can never have too many defensive backs, but McQuay will have to learn fast if he wants to overtake someone who has already been in the defensive system for at least a year.
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