KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs expected to make defense a priority in the 2018 NFL draft, and the club did just that, moving up in the second round to select Mississippi defensive lineman Breeland Speaks.
Head coach Andy Reid watched every snap from the 22-year-old’s redshirt junior season at the urging of general manager Brett Veach.
“He has a tendancy when he likes somebody to wear me out with that guy,” Reid said. He pointed to former players such as LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson and current Chiefs such as Patrick Mahomes and Chris Jones as players Veach relentless sold to his coach.
Reid raved about Speaks’ motor and tenacious nature on the field.
“I never saw him take off a play, and he played a lot,” Reid said. “He’s on the field. He chases everything, he’s relentless.”
Speaks did not exhibit blazing speed at the combine, clocking in a 4.87 40-yard time. But Veach believes that Speaks possesses the toughness he wants to instill in his defense.
“He’s a power-rush player that can kick inside if he has to,” Veach said. “But he’s extremely strong.”
The club engineered a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals to select Speaks with the 14th selection of the second round. The Chiefs traded their second-round pick (No. 54 overall) along with a third-round selection (No. 78) to the Bengals for the 46th overall pick and a third-round selection, No. 100 overall.
Speaks took a Top-30 visit in meeting with the team. He had extensive contact with the club through the draft process, and felt Kansas City a likely destination.
“I actually thought (when) the Chiefs would possibly move up in the draft, and I had a very strong that they were moving to get me,” Speaks said.
Veach said the visit to Kansas City went along way toward solidifying the team’s interest in Speaks. He met with Veach and Reid along with defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and outside linebackers coach Mike Smith.
“The kid came in there an really impressed us,” Veach said. “He impressed coach Smith and certainly impressed coach Sutton and coach Reid. The kid did a great job.”
Speaks tallied nine sacks and 15 tackles for loss in 37 games with 18 starts at Mississippi. He earned second-team All-SEC honors last season. The 6-foot-2, 283-pound redshirt junior drew some criticism, however, during his college career. He notably received an ejection against Mississippi State in a game last season and posted and arrest for DUI in March 2016.
“He made some mistakes early in his career on and off the field,” Reid said. “We think that’s past him. He owned up to everything with whatever things went on. He’s very honest that way.”
Speaks admitted he made mistakes on and off the field earlier in his career but feels he has learned from those missteps.
“I basically was open and honest,” Speaks said. “Really just trying to be open with them and make sure that everybody knows that you’re getting a guy who, yes, has made mistakes but has also learned from it and is a guy who’s also moving forward and not backward.”
Analyst Dane Brugler with NFL Draft Scout ranked Speaks the 17th best defensive lineman in this year’s draft with a fourth- or fifth-round projection.
“Overall, the NFL team that drafts Speaks will do so for the flashes and not his body of work, hoping to groom him to be a productive rotation player in a four-man front,” Brugler wrote in his draft evaluation of Speaks.
Reid said the Chiefs envision Speaks as an outside linebacker in their 3-4 base defense.
“Most like it will be outside linebacker to start with, then a rush position on third down as a defensive end,” Reid said.
Speaks feels he can fit that role, although he has limited experience dropping back in pass coverage.
“I feel like it totally fits my skill set,” Speaks said. “It’s basically how my defensive line coach does it at Ole Miss. I can move this guy around where I ever need to and I know he’s going to do his job. Just hearing that from a coach, that’s all I needed.”