Chiefs

Grading the 2019 NFL Draft: Chiefs get high marks for second-, third-round picks, UDFAs

The 2019 NFL Draft is over, and the grades are in.

Working with seven picks when the process started Thursday night, the Chiefs added six new players through draft selections and have signed 19 more as undrafted free agents, so far.

Thanks to the Frank Clark trade, the Chiefs didn’t have a first-round pick, but general manager Brett Veach moved up in the second round to nab wide receiver and return specialist Mecole Hardman from Georgia.

In adding players like Hardman, the Chiefs addressed nearly all of their immediate needs through the draft. Most outlets gave the Chiefs at least average marks for their draft class.

Sports Illustrated: B+

ESPN, Mel Kiper Jr.: B-

SB Nation: C+

Pro Football Focus: Average

Yahoo: C+

The Star is giving the Chiefs an overall B for this year’s draft. Because the Chiefs pulled off the blockbuster trade for Clark earlier in the week, the team didn’t make a first-round selection. Instead, Hardman became the Chiefs’ first draft choice when Veach traded up to land him with the No. 56 overall pick.

Hardman will likely contribute immediately as a developmental, Tyreek Hill-type player. The Chiefs’ next two picks, in Juan Thornhill and Khalen Saunders, were solid second- and third-round picks, giving new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo versatility and depth in his defense. As a true free safety, Thornhill may end up being the best pick in the Chiefs’ class.

Let’s break down the grade pick-by-pick.

Round 2, 56th overall: WR Mecole Hardman, 5-10/187, Georgia

Our grade: B+

Where he fits: deep-play threat, return specialist

What the Chiefs like: Coach Andy Reid said the team was looking to add another wide receiver even before the Hill audio was published. But the position became an even more pressing need in the aftermath. In Hardman, the Chiefs, led by area scout David Hinson, saw a quick receiver with plenty of burst and explosion. They also view Hardman as an “instant returner” and an “instant vertical guy.” Reid compared Hardman’s skill to that of Hill when he first entered the league. With the team seeming to increasingly distance itself from Hill, Hardman joins the team as the heir apparent to Hill’s role.

Round 2, 63rd overall: DB Juan Thornhill, 6-0/210, Virginia

Our grade: A

Where he fits: free safety

What the Chiefs like: Welcome to the very new and likely improved defense, Thornhill. The Virginia defensive back fits into the mold of the other players the Chiefs have added since Spagnuolo took over. He’s a versatile piece that will complement safety Tyrann Mathieu. While Mathieu will likely be frequently utilized as the strong safety, Thornhill gives the Chiefs a true free safety, center-fielder option. While Reid said he sees Thornhill starting out on the back end, he noted the defensive back gives the team a lot of flexibility.

Reid said he can see using Thornhill to match up with a tight end, and he’s also comfortable kicking him outside. Thornhill brings natural athleticism and instincts to the team, gained in part from playing quarterback in high school. Thornhill credited his time at that position as giving him the ability to read an opposing quarterback’s eyes and make a play on the ball.

Round 3, 84th overall: DL Khalen Saunders, 6-2/310, Western Illinois

Our grade: A

Where he fits: defensive tackle, part of core rotation on defensive line

What the Chiefs like: Saunders falling to the third round of the draft was one of the biggest draft night surprises — and windfalls for the Chiefs. Valued as a second-round pick, Saunders is a great get in the third. He’s a big guy but is shifty and quick-footed. He even played running back through high school.

He’ll fit in well on the defensive line playing alongside 2018 draft pick Derrick Nnadi. Part of Spagnuolo’s calling card is a relentless defensive line, formed by a relentless rotation of solid players. Saunders will be a part of that core nucleus along with guys like Nnadi, Frank Clark and Breeland Speaks. Plus, he can do backflips. What’s not to like about that?

Round 6, 201st overall: CB Rashad Fenton, 5-11/188, South Carolina

Our grade: C

Where he fits: special teams player

What the Chiefs like: Kansas City needed a corner in this draft, but after trading away the first-round pick for defensive end Clark, there simply wasn’t enough draft capital left to go up and get one of the top-tier corners in the early rounds. So instead, the Chiefs landed on cover-corner Fenton in the sixth.

The Chiefs like his ball skills, athletic ability and knack for making plays. He had five interceptions in four seasons with the Gamecocks. To the Chiefs, Fenton’s experience playing in a versatile system that included cover-2 and cover-3 will make him a more NFL-ready corner. The Chiefs also made adding guys with special teams ability a priority in the later rounds, and Fenton could be a gunner.

Round 6, 214th overall: RB Darwin Thompson, 5-8/200, Utah State

Our grade: B-

Where he fits: change-of-pace back, special teams, potential returner

What the Chiefs like: Veach likes 6-foot, 220-pound backs. Thompson breaks that mold, and that’s by design. The Chiefs can use the Jenks, Oklahoma product as a change-of-pace back, and national scout Trey Koziol said the team really liked his twitch and his burst.

Though his measurables make him smaller on paper than the other backs in the room, Koziol described him as “rocked up,” noting that his strength will be a difference-maker in breaking tackles. Not only can he run the ball, he also had a 15.3-yards-per-catch average, giving the Chiefs another big-play threat. He wasn’t much of a returner in college, but it sounds like the Chiefs are going to test him out in that role during the preseason.

Round 7, 216th overall: OL Nick Allegretti, 6-4/320, Illinois

Our grade: B+

Where he fits: interior offensive line

What the Chiefs like: With the departures of linemen Mitch Morse, Jordan Devey and Jeff Allen, the Chiefs needed to address depth on the line through this draft. They got some with their final pick, in Allegretti. The Illinois product played at both center and guard in college, and the Chiefs believe he can do the same on the next level.

According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t give up any sacks in his last 15 games and didn’t give up a single quarterback hit in 2018. He’s tied for first in pass-blocking efficiency among Power 5 guards in the 2019 draft class. The Chiefs also like Allegretti’s leadership and intelligence, noting he earned a 42 on the Wonderlic.

UDFAs

LB Gary Johnson, Texas

P Jack Fox, Rice

QB Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt

WR Cody Thompson, Toledo

RB James Williams, Washington State

LB Darius Harris, Middle Tennessee

TE Logan Parker, Southern Utah

WR Felton Davis, Michigan State

WR Andre Lindsey, Sacramento State

C Bruno Reagan, Vanderbilt

QB TJ Linta, Wagner

ATH John Lovett, Princeton

CB Mark Fields, Clemson

WR Jamal Custis, Syracuse

S Gaje Ferguson, Utah State

CB Dakari Monroe, San Jose State

CB Jalin Burrell, New Mexico

WR Jamire Jordan, Fresno State

Our overall grade: A-

The Chiefs added quite a few players in positions of need as UDFAs. The major gems in this group include Johnson, Custis, Williams and Fields. The biggest surprise here is that the Chiefs only added one tight end in the group (Parker). With Demetrius Harris moving on to Cleveland, the Chiefs are in the market for a complementary piece to Travis Kelce. Bringing in just one new TE could signal confidence in second-year man Deon Yelder.

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Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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