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Grading the Chiefs 2019 Rookie Class

The Chiefs hit on this years draft with two players making big time contributions and four others with loads of potential.

The 2019 NFL Draft saw the Kansas City Chiefs add six new members to the team. In Brett Veach’s second draft as General Manager, the Chiefs were able to find immediate contributions out of the bunch. There are still a few works in progress and only time will tell how the Chiefs actually managed to do in this draft, but it’s not to early to grade the players in this class based on their performance throughout the regular season. In my grading, I will be looking at position drafted, on-field impact, development, as well as potential.

Mecole Hardman: B

The first player taken by the Chiefs was the 56th overall player taken. To some Hardman looks like a steal for a second-round pick but considering the Chiefs drafted him with their first pick of the draft means they had probably had their eyes on him for a while. Hardman finished the regular season with 26 catches for 538 yards and six touchdowns. He had an astonishing 20.8 yards per catch but that had to do a lot with his role of “Home Run Hitter” in the Chiefs offense. Hardman would be baptized by fire early in the season with the injury to Tyreek Hill. It did not take long for him to show why the Chiefs drafted him.

For any other team, that guy is the number one deep threat all year long but with the injury to Hill, it gave us an extended look for how Hardman would look like a deep threat.

He is one of those guys who makes everyone else look slow. Even with the great deep ball threat Hardman also provided versatility for the Chiefs Offense even with the return of Hill. On Sunday night against Green Bay, the Chiefs were able to manufacture Hardman a little shovel pass. All he needed was one crease and he was able to take it to the house.

Considering the fact that Hardman was thought of early as a “project” pick for the Chiefs and that the Chiefs already had one of the most talented receiving cores in football, it was tempting to grade him out as an A even though he was limited in offensive reps. However, Hardman’s struggles on special teams are what ultimately leads to the B.

This fumble came at a crucial time in a must-win game for the Chiefs. The Chiefs desperately wanted Hardman to use his blinding speed on special teams much as they saw in Tyreek Hill’s first few seasons. That was Hardman’s second fumble on the season on a kickoff, and with the Chiefs troubles on special teams this year those didn’t help the cause any. There were also issues with his punt returning, and decision making when deciding to field or let punts go. Still, good players learn from their mistakes and always know how to finish…

Even with all the struggles on special teams this season Andy Reid and Dave Toub kept their confidence in Hardman and by week 17 it paid off.

Juan Thornhill: A

At the start of the season, there was some question about who would man the other safety position next to Tyrann Mathieu. By midseason, there was no doubt the Chiefs had their man. Thornhill the 63d player taken near the back end of the second round has made the largest impact on the team of the 2019 draft class. Thornhill finished the season with 43 solo tackles, three interceptions, and allowed 14 receptions on 25 targets. Thornhill’s presence goes beyond the box score as the Chiefs defense started to play better and better so did Thornhill.

This is just outstanding timing and natural instinct to make a play on the ball. Thornhill has given the Chiefs a guy who can play centerfield so to speak and go out to contest passes that others might not. Thornhill sees the field well and this vision and has been able to make quick decisions that have rewarded him with big plays.

While Thornhill’s ability to play the pass has been the biggest help to the Chiefs this year he also showed sure tackling and was a willing player in run situations.

His ability to read the play from the depth and come in under control to make the tackle is something a lot of young safeties struggle with but Thornhill plays it like a veteran. Being able to make these plays as such a young player is a testimony to the amount of film study and effort Thornhill has shown on a week to week basis. The Chargers tried to fool the young player by running a double drag rout but Thornhill sees through it to make the play.

Thornhill is a perfect safety for the modern NFL and has the skills to develop into one of the best in the game. He has the speed and range to cover the deep ball, as well as the football IQ and grit to make plays in the tackle box and along the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, a season-ending ACL tear will sideline him for the playoffs. Hopefully, Thornhill is able to come back strong in 2020 because he is a key cog in the Chiefs defense, one that can take them from good to elite. The only rookie to get an A

Khalen Saunders: C

The big man from Western Illinois was taken in the third round 84th overall in the draft. Some had high hopes after seeing video’s of eye-popping athleticism and dominate play from the non-bowl subdivision of college football, but Saunders struggled a little bit out of the gate. After not making much impact in the pre-season and looking a bit overwhelmed early against the Indianapolis Colts, and Houston Texans, some were ready to write him off. At the end of the season that’s not so much the case. With offensive and defensive linemen it is sometimes true that they take a little longer to develop than most. The speed and physicality of the trenches is a huge difference from any college to the pro level. Toward the second half of the season, the team started to see some of the sparks GM Brett Veach saw when he drafted Saunders.

In Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, he likes the linemen to be big-bodied run-stuffing plugs in the middle and Saunders fits that bill. Saunders isn’t the most gifted player lengthwise but he has shown some fast-twitch in his game that allows him to overcome the lack of arm length or height.

The injury to Chris Jones and Xavier Williams forced Saunders into playing time and while he did appear to be trying to find his groove at times he was able to use his speed and quickness to make a play against Green Bay.

While Saunders may never be an elite pass rusher due to his physical limitations the big man does have a motor that never stops running despite him weighing around 330 pounds.

Saunders is well covered at the start of the play but when Rodgers starts to scramble Saunders shows some impressive burst and is able to run him down for his first and only sack of the season. Saunders didn’t dress out until the game against Indianapolis but has been a rotational player who has earned more time each week. The way Andy Reid and his staff have handled young linemen in the past parallels the way Saunders has been handled. Year two will be his proving ground in the NFL, if he can continue to work on his body and explosiveness he could be a great asset on the Chief for the foreseeable future. Saunders gets a C because while he has shown up and effected games in the past few weeks there were times when he made little impact and being inactive the first few games of the season didn’t help anyone.

Rashad Fenton: C

The Chiefs were expected to take a corner early in this year’s draft, so it may have come to be a surprise when they waited until the sixth round to take a corner. The Chiefs must have felt confident in having Charvarious Ward, Barshaud Breeland, and Kendall Fuller taking a lot of the reps because we have seen Fenton in a sparing amount this season. In 165 snaps played in the regular season, Fenton was targeted 17 times, allowing eight completions, with one interception and four passes defended. His interception came at a key time in a must-win game against the Chargers.

Fenton shows good speed here as it looks like he is in zone coverage, once he sees Ward get his man he immediately flips his hips, locates his man and gets his eyes up for the pass. He appears very comfortable back peddling and exploding out to make a play. Fenton plays the deep ball well, but he still has to improve.

Here the stack formation by Denver appears to freeze him for a few seconds which allows Emmanuel Sanders to get the space he needs for the easy completion. To be fair the Chiefs were up big at that point in the game vs Denver so he might have been playing to not get deep beat but this kind of play is a more recognition thing than anything else. Fenton does appear to be a quick learner as on the same drive he diagnoses a little swing pass by Denver and makes the tackle for no gain.

This kind of short memory can give good corners a boost, and as he got more time in the game vs Denver he got more aggressive.

For being a younger corner this a really encouraging play, to see him stick on his man and when the ball is delivered go swat it away is awesome, especially since it was fourth down! Fenton possesses the short-range quickness and burst possible to be able to make plays on slants and other routs underneath. That being said as most any young corner playing in the NFL teams are going to try to pick on him till he proves them otherwise. Here against the Titans Fenton appears to have Humphries well covered in man coverage but a crafty rout by Humphries gets him to bite and he heads back to the post for the go-ahead score. Fenton was far from the reason for the Chief’s loss to the Titans but teams going to continue to challenge him while he’s on the field.

In my opinion, Spag’s is kind of gearing him up to be a slot type corner for the Chiefs in the future given his size and good short-range quickness. He doesn’t really seem to have the size or length Spags likes in his corners and struggles at times with larger defenders giving up to much space. A slot corner will give him a chance to play more in the middle of the field and use his lateral quickness to good use. If not he will still be able to provide quality depth for the team in the future. All in all, Fenton was able to find some time despite the Chiefs rotating and moving around secondary players all season long. Next year will be his proving ground. Fenton gets a C for coming in and contributing when needed as well as showing some strides even when he did struggle at times.

Darwin Thompson: C

The Chiefs second pick of the sixth round was the little big man from Utah State. Thompson had been a stand out in college but early on for the Chiefs, he was buried behind other players at his position. We saw glimpses of the great athleticism and tackle-breaking ability but at the same time inconsistency and vision issues. Thompson’s most productive game came against the Raiders where he had 11 carries for 44 yards. This was the most action we had seen from him up to that point in the season. This was due to inconsistent play by the Chiefs RB unit as a whole as well as injuries. We did get a glimpse of why the Chiefs drafted him and some of that freak athleticism everyone had been told stories about.

Good job to break the arm tackle and then avoid another tackler by getting airborne. We would see more of this as the drive progressed. At times Thompson shows good patience to let plays develop. Below the Chiefs run power with a TE as the second puller. Thompson Allows Blake Bell and LDT to set up their blocks and then shows some short bursts to gain about eight yards and first down.

Later in this drive vs the Raiders Thompson put his strength and effort on full display. The Chiefs again run power this time with Anthony Sherman leading and Wylie coming through. As the hole closes and Thompson starts to get contacted by defenders he never stops his feet and as the pile starts to move he finds his way into the endzone. (Assist from Wylie).

Thompson showed a lot of promise in being able to find holes in power type plays or lead plays, but here against Denver he makes a good decision and hits the hole when it opens in the zone. This is promising to see given that the zone run is a staple in the Chiefs offense. It was a good job of seeing space open up as well as breaking the initial arm tackles.

Thompson has the natural ability to be a good in-between the tackle back but due to his lack of breakaway speed, he is limited to his role. There are also inconsistencies with his vision that must be addressed moving forward. Below vs Denver is a perfect example of that.

Thompson lets the blitzing bronco throw his eyes off the hole, as well as change his course as a big hole opens up off of the power blocks by Sherman and Wylie. It doesn’t look clean with the backside penetration but if Thompson had kept his feet running with his balance he would have been able to score on the play. These are the king of holes he will have to hit and plays he has to make he wants to earn more time. As I wrote about earlier in talking about how well the Chiefs ran on the Chargers in week 17, Thompson did show improvement hitting the holes made by the OL and seemed to be who Andy Reid wanted to go with on short yardage. Thompson will never have the breakaway speed to be a guy that defenses have to worry about burning them, however, he does have the ability to become a very reliable short-yardage back. I expect the Chiefs to bring in a running back via the draft as someone Thompson will have to compete with for more time, assuming Damien Williams is back, and Darrell Williams, LeSean McCoy, and Spencer Ware are all gone. Thompson may never develop into being a starting caliber back but for the near future, I would look for his role to expand in short-yardage as the Chiefs use him as a switch up type of back. I graded Thompson a C because given the depth of the Chiefs at RB early he wasn’t expected to come in and contribute to much, but even with the issues with vision and great breakaway speed he did show very promise as a back with excellent contact balance, as well as some very good short burst athleticism.

Nick Allegretti: N/A

So admittingly fiding clips for Allegretti playing in the regular season were few and far in-between. He only played in seven games for the Chiefs this year and most of his reps were relegated to extra point and field goal protection. The most snaps he played on Offense all season was two, which he did four games this year. These were either on kneel-downs, or some jumbo sets where the Chiefs would run him as a third tackle, usually on the backside of where the play was going. Seventh-round picks aren’t usually expected to come in and contribute very much, with a lot of them even being cut or relegated to the practice squad after training camp for most of the season. Being an offensive linemen makes this even harder to see playing time in one’s rookie year. The fact that Allegretti has gotten a chance to play some shows the coaching staff does think highly enough of him as a player to want him to be around the veterans as well as they want him to get a feel for the game speed. With his limited reps. That being said here are a few clips from Allegretti.

This clip is a good representation of what kind of player Allegretti is. He is the very definition of a brawler. He does a nice job to overtake the double team and get a good push on his man. His feet get a little crossed but he overcomes it by keeping his arms tight and not allowing the defender to create separation. He is lined up as the third tackle but in reality, his physical limitations will leave him playing in the interior in the future. When he plays in a phone booth he is a hard man to move, having a background in wrestling, however, in Andy Reid’s scheme OLinemen needs to be athletic enough to play in space and get downfield to block for screen passes.

In this bizarre sequence of plays, Alleggretti finds himself at right guard after injuries to Martinas Rankin and Mitch Schwartz on back to back plays forced Andrew Wiley to right tackle. Of all plays for Allegretti to come in on it’s a screen, so he must quickly get ready for the speed of the game. He gets off the line a hair quick compared to Reiter and Wisniewski giving the man he is supposed to block another second to read the screen. He does manage to put a hand on his man but this play kind of highlights some of his physical limitations. Allegretti did show versatility in the preseason as he displayed the ability to play center, and even started the final preseason game at the position. In college Allegretti had primarily been a guard bug for him to come in and compete at guard and center shows a high football IQ. Below he shows off that brawler style of play.

For a seventh-round draft pick, this is huge. It not only shows commitment to film study but being able to play more than one position will keep him on the roster and allow him to compete in the future. Without much film I’ll leave him as ungraded, and ultimately I don’t know if I see him being a starter for the Chiefs next year but he if continues to improve and can remain versatile he will be a good depth piece for the offensive line in the near future.

In Review

After a questionable first draft, Brett Beach hit a home run with his second as General Manager. Thornhill and Hardman made immediate impacts on the team and their contributions helped the team right away. Saunders started a little slower but his game has come on in the last few weeks as well, displaying great size, strength, and quickness. Thompson has the potential to fill a big void the Chiefs have had at running back, even though I would expect his reps to drop once the postseason comes around. Fenton and Allegretti have still yet to fully prove themselves on the field. We have seen glimpses of what will be to come from Fenton, but next year he will have an expanded role. If Allegretti can continue to develop at both guard spots and center he could be a valuable asset for the Chiefs to want to keep around on the offensive line. It has been a while since we have seen this many contributors from one draft class, and with even the back end guys still getting reps and being allowed to play shows they have earned the trust of Reid and Spagnuolo as well as the rest of the staff. The Chiefs blowout wins have been a good ground for them to get their feet wet and learn what it’s all about. Hardman and Thornhill have star power and could be electrifying players for years to come. As time goes on the 2019 draft class will be fun to watch progress, grow, and win in Kansas City.

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