The Chiefs’ recent trend of drafting players a year ahead of when they’ll be needed remains intact.
With the No. 37 overall pick Friday, the Chiefs — who traded out of Thursday’s first round — selected Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones with their first of two second-round NFL draft choices. After trading their other second-round pick to move into the third round, the Chiefs drafted Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell.
Jones, who is listed at 6 feet 6 and 308 pounds, declared for the draft after a true junior season in which he recorded 44 tackles, 7 1/2 for loss, and 2 1/2 sacks to go along with four pass breakups in his first season as a starter. Russell, a three-year starter, recorded 60 tackles (3 1/2 for loss), two interceptions and four pass breakups in 11 games.
“We got some really good players here,” general manager John Dorsey said. “They fit what we want.”
Jones, for his part, was surprised he landed in Kansas City but was happy to hear his name called. He was widely projected to go in the first round — Dorsey said if they took him in the first round, they would have been happy with the pick — and even though he didn’t get taken that early, he engulfed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with a massive hug onstage at the NFL Draft in Chicago.
“I didn’t think there was a good chance I’d ever go with the Chiefs — it was one of the last things on my mind,” said Jones, who said he didn’t visit Kansas City during the predraft process — a rarity for a recent Chiefs first-rounder.
“Just to finally be a part of a team, man, just to finally be a part of a brotherhood, man, I’m thankful for that. Because the process leading up to it, man, it’s nerve-wracking. Because you don’t want to be the last one in that room and you’re stuck not knowing (where you’re going).”
Jones fits a trend for the Chiefs. For example, they selected left tackle Eric Fisher in 2013 to eventually replace Branden Albert, who departed via free-agency the following year. And in 2014 they selected Dee Ford to presumably replace Tamba Hali, who had to take a pay cut in 2015 to stay but re-signed in March of this year. And in 2015 they selected cornerback Marcus Peters to replace Sean Smith, who left via free-agency to Oakland in March.
The Chiefs’ defensive line returns its top three starters — Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey — but lost Mike DeVito to retirement. Jones also provides insurance in case Poe, who is slated to be a free agent in 2017 barring a franchise tag, opts to leave or if his back flares up again. Poe played in 15 regular-season games last year but missed the preseason after undergoing surgery for a herniated disk. Poe said toward the end of the season he didn’t start feeling like his 2014 self — when he made the Pro Bowl — until October.
The Chiefs also have some other interior linemen they like, including Nicholas Williams, a 6-foot-4, 309-pound rotational player last season who is entering a contract year, and 2015 sixth-round pick Rakeem Nunez-Roches.
Draft analysts nearly universally said Jones is a thickly built lineman with lots of moldable tools. He features a powerful lower body that helps him anchor in against the run, with long arms (34 1/2 inches) and big hands (10 3/4 inches) to control blockers.
Jones also credits his basketball background — he played on his varsity high school team in Houston, Miss. — for helping him cultivate his athleticism and coordination at his size.
“My high school background helped me with my footwork, I think it gave me better leverage,” said Jones, who averaged 14.8 points per game as a junior. “I was a heck of basketball player, too. Let’s just state that.”
Jones also says he played all across the defensive front at Mississippi State — nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end — and is equally comfortable two-gapping and shooting gaps, adding to his versatility.
But Jones says he has plenty to work on. The first being pass rushing; he only has 8 1/2 career sacks.
“I definitely think I have that skill set to be a pass rusher — there’s a few things I’ve got to work on,” Jones said. “My hand placement, and a bunch of smaller things, staying low on tackles (and) leverage. There’s a few things I’ve got to work on, but I think I can be dominant. The sky’s the limit for me.”
Jones’ draft profile on NFL.com also says his “motor will run out of gas if he’s forced to chase after play for very long,” and that he has “average ball instincts.” Jones, however, said he felt he was in pretty good shape throughout the season, with his weight fluctuating only three pounds.
“The one trait he has, he has athleticism, he has the flashes of brilliance,” Dorsey said. “But what he does, like every young kid in college, he begins to play high. So we have to get his pads down. That’s a technical thing, and that takes a little bit of time, and he’ll be fine. Once you begin to rotate these guys and your role begins to develop, he’ll be fine.”
When asked to give a scouting report on himself, Jones wasn’t afraid to set the bar high.
“What would it say? A very dominant player,” he said, “has ability to be a Pro Bowler, needs to work on a few things, should be one of the best of all time — it’s up to him.”
The Chiefs acquired the 37th pick by trading their first-round pick, No. 28, to San Francisco. The Chiefs also received a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick from the 49ers, who also received the Chiefs’ seventh-round pick.
“We felt, after analyzing that board, if we were to go back a little bit, there’s still a high probability we could acquire that (good) player, and (lucky us), we acquired the player and got some picks,” said Dorsey, who declined to say whether Jones was their top-rated player on their board before they traded down from No. 28.
The Chiefs also held the 28th pick in the second round, No. 59 overall, but traded it to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a third-rounder, No. 74 overall and the 11th pick in the round, which they used on Russell, and a fourth-round pick (No. 106 overall).
That gives the Chiefs, who hold the No. 105 overall pick through another trade, back-to-back picks in the fourth round, which starts Saturday. They also have a third pick in the fourth round, No. 126 overall.
“We sit pretty good positionally in the fourth round, very high,” Dorsey said. “I think there’s really a lot of substantive players to acquire in this draft, and we’re going to try to do that.”
The Chiefs have four other picks on the final day of the draft Saturday: Nos. 162 and 165, in the fifth round, and Nos. 178 and 203, in the sixth.