Kansas City Chiefs Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Khalen Saunders, DT, Western Illinois – Round 3
My track record will probably take a hit with by choosing Saunders since it seems impossible for both Saunders and Derrick Nnadi to turn into solid starters. Both are nose tackles, and Chris Jones is firmly in place as Kansas City’s three-technique penetrator. However, perhaps the athletic Jones will play some end and be moved around, which could allow for both Saunders and Nnadi to have the potential to be the solid starters.

Every year, the Senior Bowl is a great opportunity for some small-school prospects to show they are legit NFL prospects, and Saunders was the small-school star of the 2019 Senior Bowl. He was very quick at the point of attack, showing speed to dart by guards and pressure the quarterback. Saunders also has strength with a short, quick, thick build that makes him tough to block. He could be a three-technique or a nose tackle in the NFL, and I think the 6-foot, 324-pounder could be a quality starter for Kansas City.

2018: Derrick Nnadi, DT
2017: Kareem Hunt, RB
2016: Chris Jones, DT
2015: Mitch Morse, G
2014: Philip Gaines, CB
2013: Eric Fisher, OT

Most Likely To Bust

Mecole Hardman, WR, Georgia – Round 2
Hardman was a receiver and returner at Georgia who flashed some game-breaking speed, but he never became the big-play threat he is being billed to be. Selecting him in the second round could have been a pick out of necessity given the uncertain future of Tyreek Hill, but I think Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell would have been a better pick given he also has game-breaking speed and has shown more ability to produce as a receiver. Nevertheless, Kansas City has to bank on Georgia having underutilized Hardman, because if his receiving production mirrors what he did in college, the Chiefs could have a bust on their hands.

Hardman’s best season of receiving production came in 2018, when the junior averaged 15.6 yards per reception for 532 yards on 34 catches with seven touchdowns. His sophomore year production wasn’t big either (25-418-4), but the Bulldogs ran the ball so much the production of receivers like Hardman, Riley Ridley, and Terry Godwin was suppressed greatly. As a returner, Hardman had some decent yardage, but his game-breaking speed only produced one return touchdown over the past two seasons despite being the returner on punts and kicks for Georgia.

Previously, Kansas City was rewarded on the field by taking a boom-or-bust player like Tyreek Hill, who had a lot of character issues that sent him sliding deep into the draft. Now, it looks like those character issues have his NFL career in serious jeopardy. Hardman has similar risk, but his version comes from a lack of production in college. Hence, Hardman could be the Chiefs pick who is most likely to bust.

2018: Dorian O’Daniel, LB
2017: Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE
2016: KeiVarae Russell, CB
2015: Chris Conley, WR
2014: Dee Ford, OLB
2013: Knile Davis, RB

Potential Boom Pick

Juan Thornhill, S, Virginia – Round 2
The Chiefs traded their first-round pick for Frank Clark, but still came away with a prospect who had the potential to be an opening night selection with Thornhill. He could have gone off the board late in the first round, because the ball-hawking free safety has special coverage skills that make him a valuable prospect for the NFL.

Thornhill went under the radar playing for Virginia, yet he turned in three excellent seasons. As a senior, Thornhill recorded 98 tackles with six interceptions and seven passes broken up. In 2017, he had four interceptions with 12 passes broken up and 63 tackles. That came after he notched three picks, seven breakups and 45 tackles in 2016.

The first attribute that really jumps out at evaluators is his instinctiveness. He is a smart player who finds the ball. He reads quarterback eyes, is able to quickly diagnosis routes, and uses his speed and athleticism to get in place to make plays. Along with his instincts, Thornhill shows good range. He covers a lot of ground in the deep part of the field, using his speed and athleticism to get to the sideline from the middle of the field on deep throws. Thornhill is a true pass-coverage free safety who can be that single-high safety and a reliable deep center fielder to lock down the deep part of the field. He also can do some man coverage against slot receivers and tight ends. The reason Thornhill slipped to the second round was an issue with occasionally missing tackles. However, he would also occasionally fire downhill to make some good tackles in space. Thornhill is a willing tackler, and some of the missed tackles can be coached out of him with NFL expertise.

Thornhill’s pass-coverage skills are tough to find, and I think he will be a good complement to Eric Berry. It would not surprise me if Thornhill ends up being a very good free safety in the NFL and ends up being a boom pick from the Chiefs’ 2019 NFL Draft class.

2018: Breeland Speaks, DT
2017: Pat Mahomes, QB
2016: Demarcus Robinson, WR
2015: Marcus Peters, CB
2014: De’Anthony Thomas, RB
2013: Travis Kelce, TE

Future Depth Player

Darwin Thompson, RB, Utah State – Round 6
Any time the Chiefs take a running back in the mid- to late rounds, one has to circle that pick as a potential steal. Kansas City has had a lot of success finding quality backs after the early rounds. Thompson could continue the organization’s tradition by being a solid backup and contributor in his role. He is a smaller back with some slashing quickness and an ability to contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. I don’t think Thompson has the size to be the feature back in Kansas City, but he could be a solid backup.

2018: Armani Watts, S
2017: Jehu Chesson, WR
2016: Eric Murray, CB
2015: Steven Nelson, CB
2014: Aaron Murray, QB
2013: Sanders Commings, CB

Walt’s 2019 NFL Draft Grades:

56. Mecole Hardman, WR/KR, Georgia D- Grade
This isn’t nearly as bad as Cincinnati’s pick, but why in the world did the Chiefs trade up for Mecole Hardman. He would have been available for them at the end of the second round. Hardman has great speed and athleticism, and he’s going to help on special teams, but he’s a raw project who should have been chosen in the fourth round. I don’t think this pick would’ve been horrible at Kansas City’s natural selection, but there was no reason to trade up for him whatsoever!

63. Juan Thornhill, S, Virginia A- Grade
The Chiefs could’ve obtained Mecole Hardman at this spot. Instead, they’re actually picking a player at a solid value slot with this choice. Juan Thornhill is a versatile defensive back who has put together good tape. I didn’t think it was out of the question that Thornhill would be selected in the opening round, so this is later than I expected him to go. The Chiefs are likely upgrading a big position of weakness with this pick.

84. Khalen Saunders, DT, Western Illinois A Grade
Khalen Saunders is very athletic and strong. He thrived in the Senior Bowl, making a name for himself by winning against talented Division I-A guards in the Senior Bowl practices. He’s a bit of a raw prospect, but his upside is immense. He’s a terrific pick here, as he easily could’ve been chosen in the second round.

201. Rashad Fenton, CB, South Carolina C Grade
The Chiefs used their first pick on Day 3 on a player who should’ve been picked up by a team after Day 3. Rashad Fenton had some positive moments at South Caroina, but there were many lowlights as well. Fenton was frequently penalized and didn’t look like much of a pro. He also tested poorly at the combine, so this doesn’t seem like a very good pick.

214. Darwin Thompson, RB, Utah State B+ Grade
It makes sense that the Chiefs would select a running back after what happened with Kareem Hunt last year. Damien Williams did well in relief as a runner, but the Chiefs had to find a receiving back to complement him. It’ll be interesting to see how Darwin Thompson evolves into the offense, but he can catch the ball very well, so it seems as though he’ll be able to carve out a nice role.

216. Nick Allegretti, G, Illinois C Grade
Nick Allegretti wasn’t in my top 500, and I have zero notes on him. I’ve looked around, and I can’t find any information on him outside of basic information. This is a reach, but it’s also the seventh round, so it’s not a big deal.

2019 NFL Draft Team Grade: C . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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