Chiefs’ Steven Nelson looks back at rookie season as learning experience

Oct. 11, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs rookie cornerback Steven Nelson warms up before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)
Oct. 11, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs rookie cornerback Steven Nelson warms up before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs received numerous contributions from the 2015 NFL Draft class.

Of the team’s nine draft picks, eight went on appear in at least one regular-season game and log meaningful playing time during the Chiefs’ 11-5 season.

The lone exception was wide receiver Da’Ron Brown, who spent the season on the practice squad after being selected in the seventh round.

“I thought the rookie class in itself played really well,” general manager John Dorsey said. “Everybody has different learning curves and how they grow.”

While cornerback Marcus Peters and center Mitch Morse began the season as starters, Dorsey’s point on individual adjustment certainly applied to cornerback Steven Nelson.

The 5-11, 194-pound Nelson was inactive the first four games before appearing in every game the rest of the way, including two postseason contests.

But his impact was limited to 53 total defensive snaps (4.9 percent) on the season while transitioning from a college role as an outside corner at Oregon State to a nickel cornerback with the Chiefs.

Nelson, the second of two third round-draft picks (98th overall) in 2015, didn’t get frustrated and looks back on his rookie season as an education process. And it helped to have supportive teammates to lean on.

“I think my rookie year being here around all the older vets,” Nelson said, “just learning from each and every one of them so I can help myself.”

While Nelson’s recorded just one tackle on defense, Dorsey was encouraged by what he saw.

“I think towards the end of the season, I think Steven Nelson, he began to contribute,” Dorsey said. “He began to contribute not only in nickel, dime situations, but on special teams.”

Dorsey has a good point with the latter area, of course.

Nelson more than doubled his playing time from defense to special teams, where he totaled 125 snaps and recorded seven tackles.

Playing and contributing on special teams afforded Nelson the ability to play fast and within control.

Despite being inactive in Weeks 1-4, he ended the regular season tied for the third-most special teams tackles with cornerback Jamell Fleming behind rookie linebacker D.J. Alexander (11) and linebacker Frank Zombo (8).

With the rookie experience under his belt, Nelson turns his attention to recharging physically and mentally entering the early part of the offseason.

“I plan to rest my body and my mind a little bit,” Nelson said. “I want to spend time with my family, my son before I get back in football mode, and then start a little training, start working myself all the way back up.”

Nelson, a native of Warner Robins, Ga., has a plan when he eventually shifts gears to training mode.

He intends to spend time working out in his home state concentrating on drills specific to his position and working on fundamentals.

“Just more position work with my speed,” said Nelson, who possesses 4.49 40-yard dash speed. “I mean, still work on my speed – things of that nature – and watching more film.”

Nelson’s quest for self-improvement in the coming months could pay off when the Chiefs return for Phase I of the voluntary offseason workout program on April 18.

The Chiefs are likely to rely on Nelson in 2016 if cornerbacks Sean Smith and Jamell Fleming, both of whom are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 9, sign with other teams.

And growing from a rookie campaign to becoming a regular contributor is what the current regime expects.

“As I’ve always said, I believe that rookies take bigger steps from year one to year two,” Dorsey said. “And I would expect this class to grow exponentially into year two, and I think they understand, culturally, what this organization is about.”


Herbie Teope is the lead Chiefs beat writer for and The Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.