KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs emerged from the 2018 NFL draft with a defense-heavy class that ticks off almost all the team’s needs entering offseason workouts, and each of the six prospects offer reasons for hope and worry for their long-term success in the league.
There’s plenty of reasons to believe why each pick fits one of the team’s needs and offers a tremendous upside for the future. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and his scouting staff certainly leaned on their ability to project future success for players in this draft. While some have a history of production to point toward, some may simply need the opportunity to prove they belong on the biggest stage.
Here’s a breakdown of all six picks and what’s to like and keep an eye on for each player:
Edge Breeland Speaks, 6-3, 285, Mississippi
What’s to like? Head coach Andy Reid invited the comparisons to Tamba Hali, and Speaks does share a similar size and speed as Hali as a 2006 draft pick. Reid also put Speaks in a class with Terrell Suggs and Calvin Pace. The club loves the power-rush capabilities of Smith. His breakout season as a junior included 67 tackles with eight for a loss including seven sacks and a forced fumble. His motor and nose for the football look strong, and his bend should definitely help in getting around the edge toward the quarterback. General manager Brett Veach wore out Reid pushing for Speaks, and when Veach feels that strongly about a player, he’s usually right. Teams that saw Speaks as a 3-4 edge rusher and not a 4-3 defensive end appeared to value him higher as a prospect.
Why worry? Speaks is a tweener, playing all over the defensive line for Mississippi but not fitting the normal makeup of an outside linebacker. Outside backers in Kansas City’s defense need to cover tight ends and running backs at times, and he has rarely been asked to do that. Speaks lacks the speed of must edge rushers, which means he must use a quick first move and strength to power through blocks. Speaks may have above average pass-rush ability but he needs to prove it on the field.
2018 projection: Situational pass rusher, mostly on third downs and a defensive end when the Chiefs go to a four-man front.
DT Derrick Nnadi, 6-1-312, Florida State
What’s to like? The Chiefs have lacked a pure run-stuffing defensive tackle since Mike DeVito’s retirement after the 2015 season, and Nnadi is a pure run-stuffer. His strong base (can squat 750 pounds) and upper arm strength (bench presses 525 pounds) provide the foundation to clog up the middle of the line. He led by example as a senior captain for Florida State and it’s hard to see anyone out-working him on or off the field
Why worry? Nnadi appears the safest pick by the Chiefs and the best fit for a specific need. He doesn’t possess top-end speed for the position and doesn’t look like a big gap penetrator, but that’s not what the Chiefs need him to do anyway. They need him to stop the runand clog the middle, and he excels at that.
2018 projection: Should be a reliable contributor at nose tackle in the defensive line rotation and don’t be surprised if he challenges Xavier Williams for the lead run-stopper role by season’s end.
LB Dorian O’Daniel, 6-1, 223, Clemson
What’s to like? Veach called O’Daniel a chess piece and he should emerge as that and more. A terrific coverage linebacker who should thrive in the Chiefs’ nickel and dime substitution packages. Possesses good speed and decent strength for his size. The club ranked him as their top special teams player in the draft. His ability to chase down plays can prevent short and medium runs from becoming long runs, and can cover in passing situations better than any current linebacker on the team.
Why worry? O’Daniel is another tweener, not exactly a linebacker and not quite a safety. He lacks the size and power to easily overcome blockers and must rely on eluding and ducking blocks instead. He looks a lot like Daniel Sorensen, and it just so happens the Chiefs already have Daniel Sorensen.
2018 projection: Should be an immediate contributor on special teams and quickly work his way into the team’s substitution packages. Wouldn’t be a surprise if his playing time increases from 20 percent of defensive snaps to 50 percent as the season progresses.
S Armani Watts, 5-11, 202, Texas A&M
What’s to like? A team captain, a four-year starter in the SEC and first-team all-conference? That looks like the kind of player that Reid and former general manager John Dorsey used to crave. He can play both safety positions and always finds himself around the ball. Only an ill-fated decision to bulk up for the combine and his pro day — his weight went from 191 at the Senior Bowl to 202 at the combine and 212 at his pro day — led him to drop to the fourth round. He looks the part on the field, smooth and athletic, and holds the experience and leadership to play immediately. Pro Football Focus clocked him at allowing a 54.3 passer rating in the slot.
Why worry? Watts is a bit undersized for the position, measuring at 5-foot-10 at the combine and 191 at the Senior Bowl. That size can make tackling an issue, which is why the Chiefs and Watts himself point to that as his biggest area of improvement.
2018 projection: Should be a valuable special teams contributor and at least join the team’s nickel and dime packages, perhaps as a slot cover safety or bracket on tight ends. With an open starting position alongside Eric Berry, Watts could challenge for a starting role.
CB Tremon Smith, 6-0, 190, Central Arkansas
What’s to like? Cross out the word Central in front of Arkansas and Smith probably goes on day two of the draft. He offers blazing 4.32 speed and always found his way to the ball, intercepting 15 passes and breaking up 53 more in 36 college starts. He can return kicks too, and the Chiefs need a kickoff specialist as well as a punt returner to relieve Tyreek Hill. Shows heart and enthusiasm on the field, and his press-man style fits with the team’s newfound aggressive nature.
Why worry? He comes from the FCS Southland Conference, which means he hasn’t always faced the toughest competition. The Chiefs won’t truly know that they have until they get him on the field. Another project player in a project draft for the Chiefs.
2018 projection: Could compete for return duties in special teams and emerge as depth off the bench at corner. Asking for more from a young small-school player is a tall ask.
OG Kahlil McKenzie, 6-2, 314, Tennessee
What’s to like? As a defensive lineman, where McKenzie played at Tennessee, this is a pedestrian pick and perplexing after the team’s other moves on defense. But as an offensive lineman, this looks like an inspired choice. McKenzie seems pumped about the move to the offensive side, and his bulk, strength and technique appear custom-built for offensive guard. It’s easy to see why the Chiefs and McKenzie’s family — Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and 16-year NFL veteran uncle Raleigh McKenzie — all think he’s a natural at guard.
Why worry? Another project pick in whom the Chiefs don’t know that what they’re getting. This experiment could blow up but with just a sixth-round pick invested (technically two sevenths since the Chiefs dealt those picks to grab McKenzie) it’s a low-cost risk.
2018 projection: Offensive line depth for now. Likely won’t see action until two or three guys get hurt, but the potential upside for the future is high.