KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs general manager Brett Veach didn’t find a trade to his liking in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft on Thursday night but the market changed dramatically in the following days.
“You got to take calculated risks,” Veach said. “And I think you saw that. We took a stab to get up there in round one. We couldn’t, so we played it smart. But then when we had windows of guys that we just didn’t think there were like components of or similar value, we went ahead and made those moves.”
The Chiefs explored opportunities to move up in the first round but nothing came to fruition. Veach wasn’t terribly interested in moving inside the top 20, which left teams such as the Los Angeles Chargers (No. 21), Baltimore (No. 22), Jacksonville (No. 26) and Buffalo (No. 27). Nothing developed from conversations with the New York Giants (No. 24) or Dallas (No. 26) either.
“At that time, no one wanted to trade,” Veach explained. “We had a window there where we inquired, and again the price was a little bit too high. And then after that, you know there was no teams wanting to trade. These teams wanted to pick. There was a small move there from Buffalo in Jacksonville, but didn’t get any feedback from the rest of those teams.”
After Thursday’s first round, Veach said he felt reluctance from the AFC teams to make a deal with the Chiefs. He believes that apprehension, however, had more to do with opposing general managers wanting to land the player they desired and little if anything to do with avoidance of the Chiefs. Conventional wisdom suggested the Chiefs were in the market for a receiver, and teams with picks No. 20 through No. 23 all selected receivers.
“I feel like all these drafts kind of work out the same way and it all comes down to just the motivation between the buyer and the seller,” Veach said. “Depending on the teams and the needs, you never know how teams value other players and where they have them on their board and if they think they can get a similar player later. I’d like to think all these teams operate from what’s best for the team.”
By the time the Cincinnati Bengals were on the clock at No. 28, Veach was resigned to holding firm at No. 31. They eventually selected Kansas State defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah, a player they pegged as going between picks No. 25 to No. 40. Potential offers from Las Vegas (No. 38 overall), Tennessee (No. 41) and other teams didn’t interest Veach because they didn’t want to lose out on Anudike-Uzomah.
“We were content because we had a player in Felix that we liked and then we’re able to do some maneuvering the next couple of days,” Veach said.
Indeed, the Chiefs proved more aggressive on Friday and Saturday. Veach eventually close four deals during the draft, including moves up in the second, third and fourth rounds in drafting wide receiver Rashee Rice, offensive tackle Wanya Morris and safety Chamarri Conner.
In each case, Veach and his staff moved quickly to acquire players high on their board before they were gone. That was the case for Rice and Morris, players that the Chiefs targeted heading in the draft and believed options that followed were of lesser quality.
“When we get aggressive it’s because you know, we spent all the time watching these guys and we feel like the drop-off or potentially they’re not,” Veach said. “He could be the last guy that we value in regards to a guy coming in and helping us year one.”
In the case of Conner, the Chiefs debated between selecting him or Morris in the third round.
“When we had a chance, and this goes about being selectively aggressive, and then we selected Wanya and it could have easily been the Virginia Tech safety,” Veach explained. “Then we get back in round four and you’re sitting there, and once you get into that window where this makes sense for us, and he’s going to be gone pretty soon. We went up there again to get him.”
Chris Jones Extension?
With the draft in the rearview mirror, now it’s time for Veach and the personnel staff to turn to other outstanding projects, among them a potential long-term extension for defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Veach remains optimistic a deal will get reached but still holds his cards close to his vest.
“I don’t think until you get a deal done, I don’t know in this league if you’re ever confident with anything,” he said.
Jones is entering the final year of an $80 million, four-year deal signed in 2020. He has a cap number of $28.29 million in 2023 including a $19.5 million base salary. The NFLPA public salary cap report currently shows the Chiefs with just more than $4.8 million in cap space, which counts only the top 51 contracts and doesn’t include this year’s draft class. A new deal with Jones would provide the team with ample cap relief.
The last time the Chiefs and Jones agreed to a new contract, the deal was signed on July 15, and Veach wouldn’t be surprised by a similar time frame.
“We’ll spend time and obviously we have a great relationship with Chris and his staff,” Veach said. “We’ll get to work and see what we can do. Those things usually take a little bit of time here. We have a little bit of a runway now until the start of training camp to hopefully get something done.”
McKinnon Returning, Clyde Still in KC
Veach played the role of beat reporter during his Zoom conversation on Monday, delivering the clearest indication yet that veteran running back Jerick McKinnon will likely return for his third season with the club.
“Obviously we have a long standing relationship with with Jerrick and we had communication so I wouldn’t be surprised if something got done with him soon,” Veach said. McKinnon was reported in Kansas City on Monday with a deal expected on the horizon.
McKinnon had a comeback season in 2022 for the Chiefs with 803 yards from scrimmage. That’s the second-best total of his career behind the 991 yards he gained in 2017 with Minnesota. He also posted career highs in the passing game with 56 catches for 512 yards and nine touchdowns.
While the Chiefs didn’t select a running back in this year’s draft, they have agreed to a undrafted free agent deal with Tulsa’s Deneric Prince. The 5-foot-11, 216-pound Prince rushed for 729 yards last season while averaging 5.8 yards per carry. He boosted his stock with a strong performance at the NFL Combine that included running 4.41-seconds in the 40-yard dash.
The Chiefs also have a deadline Tuesday to exercise the 2024 option on the contract of Clyde Edwards-Helaire. That decision doesn’t impact that Edwards-Helaire remains a part of the team’s backfield complement as well.
“Clyde was one of the first guys that I saw in the building today,” Veach said. “We believe in that room, it’s a good room, and certainly Prince is going to come in here and compete for playing time and possibly a roster spot there.”
Future Camp Battle: Right Tackle
The conclusion of the draft signaled a clear end to one potential position battle for the Chiefs while lighting a flame underneath another.
While third-round offensive tackle Wanya Morris is a candidate for the starting right tackle role, thus far there is no serious competition for free-agent tackle Jawaan Taylor as the starting left tackle.
“I’m sure it’s safe to say that as we sit here today, Taylor will be able to go out there and run left tackle with the ones,” Veach said with the start of organized team activities (OTA) just two weeks away. ” “And then I think we’ll have good competition between (Lucas) Niang, just brought Wanya in here and then (Darian) Kinnard I think has some flexibility too.”
The 24-year-old Niang expects to start OTAs as the No. 1 right tackle. He started nine games in 2021 before a patella tendon injury ended his season. Niang saw limited action last season in seven games. Kinnard, a 2022 fifth-round selection, also could get a look although some in the organization believe he’s better suited at guard. While Morris has college experience at both left and right tackle, he most recently started at right tackle for Oklahoma last season and hasn’t started a game at left tackle since his 2020 campaign with Tennessee.
“I think you’ll see (offensive line) coach (Andy) Heck do a great job of just mixing and matching, and then we get training camp just let the competition speak for itself,” Veach added.
Tape vs. Analytics
The average Relative Athletic Score (RAS) for Kansas City’s seven draft picks this year didn’t quite reach the numbers posted by the club’s 2022 draft class but it did continue a trend during Veach’s tenure for the club placing a premium on athleticism.
The RAS score takes a prospect’s measurables including both physical traits (height, weight, wingspan, etc.) and Combine drill results then translates those results into a scale from zero to 10. Player scores are calculated by position as well.
Veach says the trend toward more athletic draft classes isn’t necessarily reflective of a changing emphasis on athletics but rather a measurement of his staff improving its talent assessment process.
“I think we always did a good job of blending the tape and making sure that we utilize analytics to make sure that we don’t miss anything,” Veach said. “We’re always crossing Ts and dotting Is, and so then I think it’s just a matter of fine-tuning that process over the years and making sure that we can be more locked in and better informed in all of our decision-making processes.”
Rice posted the highest RAS score from the team’s 2023 draft class with a 9.68. That ranks 94 out of 2,875 draft-eligible wide receivers ranked since 1987. That’s a higher score than both Tyreek Hill (9.39) and Mecole Hardman (8.31).
The Chiefs have continued to invest in analytics under statistical analysis coordinator Mike Frazier. Last year the club added Marc Richards as the team’s football research analyst. He won the 2021 Big Data Bowl grand prize in 2021 for developing a framework for assessing individual defensive performance in pass coverage and was a finalist last year for work on analyzing a punter’s optimal aiming location and hang time.
Veach feels his staff has always incorporated analytics alongside other scouting tools. His staff also uses analytics for performing self-reflection and identifying ways to improve the scouting process.
“Analytics have always played a role in what we do and we believe in it,” Veach said. “We also believe in the outstanding work our scouts do throughout the course of the year. So it’s really just every year just trying to fine-tune this process and get better and better and better.
It’s never too early to peak ahead at the 2024 NFL Draft and check in on how many selections the Chiefs have. The team made two trades over the weekend involving 2024 draft selections. They also sent a conditional seventh-round selection to Houston for defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. in May 2002, although it does not appear those conditions were met.
On Saturday Kansas City the Chiefs shipped their 2024 fifth-round pick to Minnesota in order to move up 15 spots in the fourth round to land safety Chamarri Conner from Virginia tech. Later the Chiefs picked up a 2024 fifth-round choice from Dallas in exchange for one of their sixth-round selections this year.
That leaves the Chiefs officially with seven picks as of now in 2024:
- First round
- Second round
- Third round
- Fourth round
- Fifth round (via Dallas)
- Sixth round
- Seventh round
This year marked the final third-round compensatory selection for Chicago hiring Ryan Poles as general manager. There is no draft pick compensation for Eric Bieniemy leaving as offensive coordinator in Washington. However, if another team hired a minority candidate from the Chiefs’ organization for a head coach or general manager position following the 2023 season, they would be eligible for compensation
Still left undecided is what the Chiefs may receive under the NFL’s compensatory free-agent formula. OverTheCap.com currently projects the Chiefs will receive two selections at the end of the fifth round as compensation for losing right tackle Andrew Wylie and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.