During this week’s NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs built up assets to help construct the future of their franchise.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ focus in this year’s draft was defense, defense, defense. Utterly disgusted with last seasons abysmal defensive performance, Chiefs Kingdom demanded it. Until, that is, audio from the Tyreek Hill child abuse scandal mere hours before the draft leaked, reopening the criminal investigation.
Luckily for the Chiefs, they had addressed part of their defensive issues with the additions of Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark earlier this offseason. These two fortuitous acquisitions allowed the Chiefs to utilize their first pick to nab a proven wide receiver and return man as insurance in the event they are without Hill this season. The Chiefs’ front office came through in fabulous fashion.
Round 2, Selection 24
Mecole Hardman, Wide Receiver, Georgia
Hardman played 11 games on the Bulldogs special teams unit in 2016. He was introduced to the offense in 2017 when he scored four receiving and two rushing touchdowns. In the national championship game against Alabama, he scored both of his team’s touchdowns. He also was selected second-team All-SEC for his returns. Hardman was but a single yard short of ranking second in FBS punt-return average.
Hardman is one of the most versatile players in this year’s class. In addition to being a skilled ball carrier as a receiver and punt/kick returner, he also took reps as a defensive back with Georgia. He is one of the fastest athletes of this year’s draft. However, his small stature (5-foot-10, 183 pounds) is not ideal for blocking or taking defensive backs head-on. He makes up for this through his speed, acceleration, cuts and pass-catching ability. While his routes were limited at Georgia, he displays all the traits necessary to be a versatile slot receiver for the Chiefs with four-down ability.
With proper coaching and mentoring, Hardman will prove a sure-handed target for quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a welcome addition to the Chiefs’ high-powered offense.
Round 2, Selection 31
Juan Thornhill, Safety, Virginia
Thornhill played as a reserve as a Virginia true freshman with two tackles. He was named a starter his sophomore year and nabbed three interceptions, 45 tackles, and seven pass breakups. He earned third-team All-ACC honors in 2017, only to top that in his final season as a first-team All-Conference selection.
Thornhill is, quite simply, a ball-hawk. The perfect size for an NFL safety, Thornhill has the physicality and athleticism not only to easily handle open-field tackling but also to challenge every receiver who dares come his way. He quickly closes distances and drives through runners’ legs to finish his tackles. With exceptional ball-handling skills, he poses a formidable interception threat to quarterbacks brave enough to throw his way. His skills also lend themselves to the possibility of the Chiefs utilizing him as a cornerback, too.
Under the mentorship and with the help of veteran safety Mathieu, Thornhill will thrive and help make the Chiefs’ secondary a virtual battle zone for opposing offenses.
Round 3, Selection 21
Khalen Saunders, Defensive Tackle, Western Illinois
A St. Louis native, Saunders made an immediate impact as a redshirt freshman at Western Illinois. As a reserve, he netted 27 tackles and two-and-a-half sacks. As a sophomore, he started all games and posted 48 stops, one-and-a-half sacks, and two pass breakups. He continued his prolific play in his final two collegiate seasons, being named Missouri Valley Football first-team All-Conference in 2017 and AP FCS second-team All-American in 2018.
Saunders is energy personified. Athletic, aggressive, and tenacious in his attack against the opposing line, Saunders has the ability to disrupt every play. However, he is small for a defensive tackle and is oft-criticized for running out of gas during longer stretches of play. His dynamic play, ability to separate from the block, and a more comprehensive NFL-caliber conditioning should eliminate these concerns fairly quickly.
The combination of newly-acquired Clark will have old-school Chiefs fans reminiscing the days of Hall of Famers Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith. Saunders is the Chiefs’ best pick of the draft given his selection level.
Round 6, Selection 29
Rashad Fenton, Cornerback, South Carolina
Fenton was starting cornerback in 11 of his 13 games for South Carolina in 2017. He broke up eight passes, had one interception, and tallied 48 tackles. In his senior year, the cornerback started 12 of 13 games, snagging three interceptions and breaking up eight passes while garnering 34 tackles.
Physical and vigorous, Rashad Fenton is abnormally effective at slowing releases via quick blows to receivers shoulders. He also has a knack for peeling from coverage and jumping underneath for the pick. However, Fenton’s stiff hips and tendency to panic in coverage when beaten are concerning but coachable. Fenton also adds value to the Chiefs as a potential kick/punt returner.
Fenton has the skills and agility to be a great NFL cornerback. He will prove an upgrade to last year’s lackluster defense.
Round 6, Selection 42
Darwin Thompson, Running Back, Utah State
Thompson transferred to Utah State from Oklahoma A&M after being selected an NJCAA All-American, as well as offensive MVP. In his first season at Utah State, Thompson rushed for 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 13 games (nine starts). He was voted Mountain West second-team all-conference in 2018 as a junior. Thompson opted to skip his senior year and declared for the 2019 draft.
Thompson is a surprisingly zealous running back in spite of his small size and shows neither hesitation nor fear when running between the tackles. Thompson stays low to the ground and uses his powerful hips and thighs to grind for yards. His pass-catching skill and ability will make him a welcome dropoff target for Mahomes when in trouble. Unfortunately, Thompson does not possess the burst of most great running backs and is often caught by linebackers when he gets to the next level.
Thompson has the ability to ensure the Chiefs have an effective if not explosive “backfield by committee” along with Damien Williams, Darrel Williams, and fullback Anthony Sherman.
Round 7, Selection 2
Nick Allegretti, Guard, Illinois
Nick Allegretti capitalized on his college experience to showcase not only his work ethic but also his leadership skills. Although not much tape exists of his time at Illinois, Allegretti’s multiple years as a starter, experience as two-year team captain, and flexibility between guard and center proves his value to any NFL team roster.
Wide-bodied, strong-mitted, and with good foot placement, Allegretti proves he can hang with the big boys whether pass or run blocking. He always plays through the whistle and has no problem working downfield. His underdeveloped upper body and tendency to fall off blocks are troubling but can be addressed through a combination of coaching, conditioning, and experience. As an added bonus for the Chiefs, Allegretti can also fill in at center, if necessary.
Allegretti is a great pickup for the Chiefs. His intelligence will serve both he and the Chiefs well. He will be a Chiefs starter within his first few seasons.
Considering the Tyreek Hill drama which unfolded just prior to the draft, their limited selections, and the many holes that they needed to fill, the Chiefs made the honor roll with this year’s draft selections. The only hurdle now is ensuring they turn these talented picks into NFL players. They desperately need to clear that obstacle to meet or exceed last season’s success.