Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs came up just one win short of their first Super Bowl appearance in 49 years. But what’s promising for fans moving forward is the fact reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes cemented his status as a franchise quarterback in just his second year as a pro. Though the team looks poised to remain among the AFC’s top teams in 2019, there are some positional concerns that needed to be addressed via this year’s draft.
Perhaps the most prominent is the status of Tyreek Hill. The immensely talented wide receiver made headlines on day one of the draft after an audio recording surfaced that reportedly showed him making disturbing threats to his fiancée. Hill had already been in hot water due to allegations of child abuse. Clearly, his status with the Chiefs is uncertain and it’s very possible he will not play another down with the team.
If that’s indeed the case, replacing Hill’s unreal playmaking ability ranges from hugely difficult to nigh impossible. But wide receiver suddenly became a glaring need in the wake of the news surrounding him. Doing so on day one of the draft wasn’t a possibility after KC dealt their first-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks as part of the deal to acquire defensive end, Frank Clark. But they did eventually take a pass-catcher when they came on the board for the first time in round two. It was the first of six picks for the Chiefs in this year’s draft which are listed below.
Chiefs 2019 NFL Draft Class
Second round, 56th overall: Mecole Hardman, wide receiver, Georgia
Second round, 63rd overall: Juan Thornhill, safety, Virginia
Third round, 84th overall: Khalen Saunders, defensive tackle, Western Illinois
Sixth round, 201st overall: Rashad Fenton, cornerback, South Carolina
Sixth round, 214th overall: Darwin Thompson, running back, Utah State
Seventh round, 216th overall: Nick Allegretti, guard, Illinois
Chiefs 2019 NFL Draft grade: 7.7/10
Kansas City Chiefs 2019 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Juan Thornhill
Thornhill obviously wasn’t the first player taken by KC given they addressed wide receiver with the selection of Hardman. But make no mistake about it; the ex-Virginia defensive back has every opportunity to make an immediate impact at the next level. He’s extremely versatile, having played both corner and safety in college even though his best fit in the pros is likely at the latter position.
Having seamlessly fluid hips in reacting to the route transitions of wide receivers is among the most important traits for an NFL-caliber defensive back. Thornhill is as good as it gets among this year’s prospects in that respect. Both his instincts in coverage and overall ball skills are highly impressive and he has all the makings of a consistent playmaker. Eric Berry‘s departure left a gaping hole at safety but that’s no longer an issue with the addition of Thornhill.
The Head-Scratcher: Not Addressing Center
Speaking of gaping holes, the Chiefs situation at center certainly qualifies for such a description given they lost Mitch Morse to the Buffalo Bills via free agency. As of right now, the only players at the position on the roster is 2016 seventh-round pick Austin Reiter and 2018 undrafted free agent Jimmy Murray. Alabama’s Ross Pierschbacher was a definite possibility if he somehow fell into the sixth round but that didn’t happen.
Ultimately, there were only a handful of pro-caliber centers in this year’s draft class before you saw a steep drop-off in talent. There were a few capable players available in the fourth and fifth rounds but Kansas City didn’t have any picks during that portion of the draft this year. Reiter made four starts last year so it would appear as if the Chiefs are going to hope he can hold the fort starting in 2019.
The Surprise: Darwin Thompson
The Chiefs were riding high at the running back position due to the exploits of Kareem Hunt over the past two seasons. But that all changed late last year when the team was forced to cut him after video of him attacking a woman in a hotel surfaced. That unleashed a wave of uncertainty as to whether or not the Chiefs offense could remain a potent force. In the end, Damien Williams filled in admirably and was a significant part of the club’s run to the AFC title game.
The team added Carlos Hyde in free agency after saying goodbye to Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. Given what Williams accomplished down the stretch in 2018, there was every indication the Chiefs running back corps could remain competitive next season. Adding Thompson augments things even further and serves as a pleasant surprise. He’s similar to Hunt in that he brings a pass-catching element to the table. The Utah State product is also hugely elusive once the ball’s in his hands and he’s certainly capable of generating yardage for himself. This has all the makings of a diamond in the rough selection.
The Steal: Khalen Saunders
Saunders is one of the more inspiring “prove the doubters wrong” stories in this year’s draft class. The St. Louis native was an unheralded zero-star recruit coming out of high school and took the FCS route to realize his NFL dream by playing collegiately at Western Illinois. He received a Senior Bowl invite and made the most of the opportunity as one of the event’s standout players. After the Chiefs drafted him, Saunders took to Twitter and offered some poignant thoughts on his journey.
This will be my last testimony.. but often times i see high school athletes stress over stars by their name. Complaining that they only have 1 or 2 stars. I just want to be the voice of the #0Star gang. Many have tried to discourage me from my dream. DON’T EVER let THEM win. 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/lHxvdOffD1
— Khalen Saunders (@khalenNOTkaylen) May 1, 2019
Perhaps Saunders’ strongest quality is his ability to win at the point of attack with his hands. He’s capable of executing a vicious slap-swim arm over move to gain access to the gaps of opposing blockers. What also could make him impactful at the next level is he does a good job dealing with double teams. If he can become more conditioned, which is certainly doable, the sky is the limit for a player who’s worked his tail off to get here and should continue to do so in his quest to become a starter for years to come.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp: Mecole Hardman
The Chiefs selected Hardman as a failsafe of sorts in the event that they have to release Tyreek Hill. There are similarities between the two in that they’re both diminutive targets capable of kicking it into an extra gear after the catch with the ability to contribute on special teams. Hardman’s initial burst is particularly impressive and it should enable him to win against physical press corners looking to jam him.
The former Georgia receiver is a bit of a raw prospect in that he played defensive back in high school and still has much to learn. There are just two years of noticeable production on tape and many of his big plays came against overmatched non-conference opposition. Another thing he can improve on is becoming a more polished route-runner. If there’s anything Chiefs Kingdom can hope for, it’s that his status as Hill’s potential replacement lights a fire under him to become capable of such a tall task.
The Chiefs rounded out their draft by taking Allegretti with the second pick of the seventh round. The Illinois product looks the part of an NFL offensive lineman and is versatile, having played both guard and center for the Illini. Allegretti initially projected as a priority free agent but scored immensely high on the Wonderlic test which played a part in him becoming a draftee. But his lack of athleticism and play strength might inhibit his ceiling at the next level.
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