Chiefs' Andy Reid sees a "very intense player" in draft pick Breeland Speaks
For the first 45 picks of the 2018 NFL Draft, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach was patient.
But when the player he wanted — Mississippi defensive lineman Breeland Speaks — was still available at No. 46, Veach jumped up and got him.
As Veach emerged from the Chiefs' war room late Friday night to address the media, it didn't take long to learn why he moved strategically to acquire a player some had tabbed as a third-round pick.
“He’s got long arms, he’s extremely physical and he’s a power-rush player that can kick inside if you want him to,” Veach said. “He goes all day ... you’ve got to affect the quarterback, and we looked at it as the last opportunity to affect the quarterback.
"You have Speaks up there, and you see what’s behind Speaks … you go get him. We felt there was a very slim chance he’d be there at No. 54."
Speaks, 22, is listed at 6-foot-3 and 283 pounds. In 2017, he recorded 67 tackles (eight for loss) and seven sacks — all career-highs — primarily as a defensive end.
He certainly has his fans around the NFL, including a scout reached by The Star Friday night.
"Very good athlete — can play laterally and redirect quickly at his size," the scout said. "High upside with inside/outside flexibility. Violent and relentless tough guy. Hell of a player."
Speaks has long arms (33 3/4 inches), and he also ran an impressive 40-yard dash (4.87 seconds) for his size. On top of that, he possesses plus overall athleticism. He fills a need along the defensive line and edge rush, where the Chiefs could have some attrition next season due to free agency or cap casualties.
"I never saw him take a play off, and he played a lot," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Speaks. "He’s on the field, chases everything. He’s relentless."
Reid said Speaks will start off as an outside linebacker who has the ability to play inside on third down.
"We see Speaks as a guy where it will be Justin (Houston), Dee (Ford) and Speaks, and Tanoh (Kpassagnon) can still develop," Veach said.
Speaks, to his credit, seemed enthusiastic about the challenge.
"I feel like it totally fits my skill-set," said Speaks, who added that he had a very strong feeling the Chiefs would move up and get him. "You're getting a passionate player who is going to play with relentless effort and not give up on any plays.
"I'm a hard-working guy from Mississippi."
Speaks plays with an edge, which is mostly a good thing but got him ejected against Mississippi State last fall for two unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties, which along with a DUI arrest in 2016 prompted NFL front offices to dig into his background.
He also had only one year of significant production, 2017, before he declared for the draft as a redshirt junior.
"Boom-or-bust talent," another NFL scout told The Star. "Athletic but lacks strength and toughness."
None of that seemed overly concerning to the Chiefs and Veach, who said Speaks won them over during a pre-draft process that included a visit to Kansas City.
“(The visit) went a long way, because you’ve got to see for yourself,” Veach said. “We’ve had situations where we felt better about players when they come in here, and some where it’s like, no it's not gonna work. He came in here and really impressed us."
Reid liked him, too.
"He’s a smart kid — we thought he handled everything very well,” Reid said. “You can tell he loves the game. He made some mistakes on and off the field. He’s past them. Owned up to them. Very honest that way.
"He’s a good kid, hard, hard worker."
Speaks said he just tried to be open and honest during the visit.
"There were some issues early in my football career in college," Speaks said. "I had a DUI in my past, and I just tried to clear my name, be open with them and make sure everybody knows I'm a guy who has made mistakes, but learned from it and is moving forward, not backwards."
Veach wasn't shy about letting Reid know that he believed in this player —as he has with past players like Desean Jackson, Fletcher Cox, LeSean McCoy, Patrick Mahomes and Chris Jones.
Veach sold Reid on Speaks by sending him loads of video. The coach wound up watching every game..
“He’s very accurate,” Reid said of Veach. “So you’re gonna know where he stands, which we can all appreciate.
"This was one where (Veach) and I sat together and watched every snap. (Speaks) was never on the ground, and the way he used his hands, that was really something. He’s so similar to Tamba (Hali), his measurements, testing. (Terrell) Suggs, (Calvin) Pace."
In exchange for the pick, the Chiefs gave up the first of their two third-round picks (No. 78) to the Cincinnati Bengals. They received pick No. 100 in return, too. The Chiefs eventually used No. 86 to move up to No. 75 and select Florida State defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, a 6-foot-1, 317-pound run stuffer the Chiefs hope will eventually team with Speaks to improve a defensive front that's badly in need of reinforcements.
"Solid interior 'a' gap-type player," one scout said of Nnadi. "Great kid."
"Compact with long arms, good power and hand use, physical player from the inside," another scout told The Star. "Plays with good effort and motor."
The Chiefs weren’t done adding to their front seven, either, as they used their last pick of the day — No. 100 — to fill a need at nickel linebacker and select athletic Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel. O'Daniel is not only best friends with Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller, he also has a reputation as a strong special-teams player and cover linebacker with range.
“Tweener … is fast for a coverage player with a good feel to avoid blocks,” one scout told The Star. “Does struggle to take on and play off blocks but is tough and plays with good tempo.”
The Chiefs have four picks remaining today in Rounds 4-7 of the draft in Dallas: a fourth-rounder, a sixth and two sevenths.
Veach is confident that the three men the Chiefs selected Friday will contribute immediately and potentially grow into long-term starters.
“We talked about bringing a toughness and mentality on defense," Veach said. "Breeland Speaks has a high motor, tough, plays hard. Nnadi, same deal. O'Daniel will be a chess piece for us, will do a lot of things in sub-personnel. We had him rated as the best special teams player.
“These guys are physical players. Those guys play four quarters, leave it all on field and bring mentality we’re looking for.”