Kansas City Chiefs

Don't Blame the Rookie Class for Kansas City's Slow Start

Photo Credit: Kyle Terada (USA TODAY Sports)

There are several reasons why the Kansas City Chiefs are off to a slow start, but their 2021 rookie class isn’t among them.

The draft allows NFL teams to replenish their rosters at an affordable rate annually, but player readiness is always variable. Clubs can uncover gems in the later rounds and miss on their early picks.

In the Chiefs’ case, they have gotten solid returns from this year’s draft class. Here’s a look at all their selections:

Remember that Kansas City traded their first, third, and fourth-round picks this year — along with a 2022 fifth-round choice — for offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., a second-round selection in this year’s draft, and a 2022 sixth-round pick.

Also, picks No. 144 and 181 were compensatory.

How has Kansas City’s draft class fared so far?

You could make the case that Orlando Brown should count as the Chiefs’ first-round pick in the 2021 draft. While it’s too early to say if they won or lost the trade, the early results haven’t been as great as the front office probably expected.

Brown has appeared in all three games and has played every snap on offense. He recently got an endorsement from former Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who praised him for his spatial awareness, understanding his leverage, and his ability to pull difficult blocks. The 2018 third-round pick also earned praise from offensive line coach Andy Heck, who was pleased with Brown’s performance against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2.

On the other hand, the Oklahoma product hasn’t been flawless. He’s posted a Pro Football Focus overall grade of 62.3 and has been credited with one sack and six total pressures. Like any other player, Brown has room for improvement, but he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. He could be even better as the season progresses. If he does, it will be hard for the front office not to give him the contract extension he wants.

Brown isn’t the only offensive lineman the Chiefs acquired this offseason. They allocated a lot of resources to the group, drafting Trey Smith and Creed Humphrey. Both rookies were Day 1 starters and have held their own in the season’s first three games. Furthermore, the two of them have played every single offensive snap.

Humphrey has posted a PFF overall grade of 70.4 in three games, the highest mark among Chiefs rookies. Meanwhile, Smith has earned an overall PFF grade of 64.7, the 10th-highest in the team. Neither one has been outstanding, but it would be unrealistic to expect them to play at an All-Pro level. After all, they’re rookies. But based on their performance in the first three weeks of the 2021 season, it looks like Humphrey and Smith will be long-term fixtures of the Chiefs’ offensive line.

How about the Chiefs’ other draft picks in 2021?

Linebacker Nick Bolton was the Chiefs’ highest draft pick in 2021. The linebacker out of Mizzou has started every game, and Kansas City has gotten nine total starts from their rookie class (not counting Brown). That’s pretty good.

Bolton has appeared in 80% of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps thus far and has logged 23 total tackles and two tackles for a loss. The former Tiger hasn’t registered a forced fumble or a sack, but he hasn’t been a liability either. He laid a big hit on Los Angeles Chargers running back Justin Jackson in Week 3. That’s the kind of physicality Kansas City needs from their defense as a whole.

Noah Gray has barely seen the field, but that’s not surprising. He’s the third tight end on the depth chart and won’t get much playing time unless either Travis Kelce or Blake Bell miss time with injuries. The same is true for Joshua Kaindoh, who is stuck behind Chris Jones and Alex Okafor. The Florida State product has played just 30 defensive snaps in the Chiefs’ first three games. Don’t expect that amount to go up anytime soon.

Then there’s wide receiver Cornell Powell, who didn’t even make the Chiefs’ 53-man roster and is currently on the practice squad. He was general manager Brett Veach’s first draft pick who didn’t make the team — ever. The Chiefs have depth at the position, and the Clemson Tiger was a late-round pick, so it didn’t come as a surprise.

The Chiefs got three starters out of the 2021 draft. Four, if you include Brown. That’s a high batting average. It could be argued that they aren’t getting much production from their late-round picks, but most teams don’t.

Bolton, Humphrey, and Smith will go through a learning curve, but they all are young, promising players. All things considered, the Chiefs should feel good about their 2021 draft class.

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