In 2020, the Chiefs have had many rookies they’ve found stand out and look like diamonds with their draft picks, especially on defense.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire is showing promise of a running back that could lead that room for years to come, Willie Gay is showing looks of greatness in the limited snaps he’s receiving, Michael Danna is attaining far better success than most 5th rounders before and after him, and Tershawn Wharton has a solid chance to be the UDFA stud sooner than later. However, none of them are having the type of year another 2020 rookie that I haven’t mentioned yet is experiencing:
L’Jarius Sneed is having an extraordinary year for rookie corners and if it wasn’t for his collarbone injury, he would without a doubt be nominated to the Pro Bowl. Sneed will be a lockdown corner for years to come, but before we break down why, let’s take a look at his journey from college to being drafted by the Chiefs’ front office:
In 2016 for his freshman year, he was listed as a utility player (UT) which means that they can play any position on the field; he played seven games and had 17 total tackles (12 solo and five assisted) and an interception that turned into a 48-yard pick-six. In his sophomore year, he played nine total games and was moved to cornerback. He had 28 total tackles (27 solo), a sack, a tackle for a loss, five pass deflections, and an interception; but, Sneed’s best years were just ahead of him.
In his junior year, he had 12 starts and recorded 59 total tackles, a tackle for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and three interceptions that totaled 43 return yards and one touchdown (a 12-yard one against UTEP); he also had eight pass deflections. His senior year is where he shined where he moved to safety for the entirety of the season. He had 73 total tackles (43 solos, 30 assisted), 3.5 tackles for a loss, and three interceptions, with one of them being a 68-yard pick-six. He earned Second Team All-Conference USA honors that year.
In the following 2020 draft, the Chiefs needed cornerbacks after the departure of Kendall Fuller, and Sneed had everything they wanted in a corner. In the 4th round with the 138th pick, the Chiefs selected defensive back L’Jarius Sneed. The Chiefs were able to fill a hole in the roster with that pick; he just needed to show his worth at training camp now.
If there was one defensive player that truly showed up at training camp, it was Sneed. He impressed players, coaches, media, and fans with his ability to keep up with any receiver on that field, especially Tyreek Hill according to Chiefs’ reporter Herbie Teope. He stayed beside Hill the whole time in the deeper ends of the field and knocked the ball away at the best possible moment:
Fans were impressed, but some said we should pump the breaks a bit as he’s still a rookie and is still learning about how the NFL works. This was uttered by Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo:
“I think he has a long way to go. Most corners in this league, that’s a tough position to step in and play. It’s funny you brought it up, I just leaned over to him in the stretch line at the end (of) practice and I just told him that he needs to do everything faster, and I’m talking about from when the play ends to getting back in the huddle.”
While he did say he has a long way to go, he did praise Sneed’s quickness:
“We didn’t have to work on (Sneed) with his foot speed or with his quickness, being aggressive at the line of scrimmage. He came with those tools.”
Then in a flash, the season opener came about and this is where we saw a glimpse of what Sneed could be for this Chiefs’ squad. We saw a lockdown corner that could rule the league for years to come.
Week 1: Chiefs vs Texans (season opener)
2020 is a year no one expected with COVID, killer hornets, and whatever other terrible instances that occurred throughout it. For sports fans, commissioners from all over told us that the seasons will go on; however, the NFL had to cut the preseason, which sucked for many players trying to find a spot on the roster. On September 10th, that didn’t matter to most players and fans as finally, they would be able to watch some football action as the Kansas City Chiefs took on the Houston Texans right in Arrowhead Stadium with limited fans in attendance.
Besides Edwards-Helaire, Sneed was one of the rookies that showed true promise in the league. He finished the game with three tackles, two pass deflections, and an interception that was returned for 39 yards. This interception was mainly due to Tyrann Mathieu pressuring and hitting Watson, which caused the throw to be way off the mark. This is true, but on the return, Sneed showed quickness that all corners and safeties should have. Where he truly showed his colors was during the following game against the Chargers:
Week 2: Chiefs vs Chargers, and the halt to a fire start
Sneed had another impressive showing with seven combined tackles (six solo, one assisted), a pass deflection, and an interception. The interception itself proved the skill set he had. Before the ball had been thrown, he was able to diagnose where Herbert was throwing; he wasn’t even on the televised screen when it was launched. By using the quickness that has been talked about throughout this article, he has able to sprint, barge right in front of Keenan Allen, leap up for the ball, snag it, secure it, and bring it down for the interception. (If you want a more detailed description of this masterpiece of a pick, I suggest clicking here for more)
It was a great start for a massive rookie campaign, but sadly, next week against the Ravens put a halt to this as he broke his collarbone, which put him on injured reserve on October 1st.
After injury, and the Saints
After he was elevated from the IR list on November 4th, he gradually went back into the thick of the field. In Week 11, he saw 22% of defensive snaps, and that improved to 54% the following week. After two weeks in the 70s, Sneed was back in full force against the Chiefs, and it was one of the main causes for the Chiefs’ win versus the Saints. His best game, before he could fully participate, was in Week 14 against Miami where he had eight combined tackles and a pass breakup where he played 71% of defensive snaps.
Sneed had three combined tackles (one solo), the Chiefs’ only sack of the day, two pass breakups, and an interception in the first quarter that set the Chiefs up for a prime touchdown score. In this game, he showed improvements in pass coverage as he only allowed one completion on six targets for 17 yards for a touchdown (sadly, but he’ll learn from it as he lost track of the ball). He also had his highest PFF grade of his career that game as well:
If that doesn’t show raw improvement, then I don’t know what does. Sneed is making his name known, and it will be a sight to behold soon. Fun fact: he also hasn’t allowed a pass for more than 20 yards this season as well!
When will he be considered “lockdown”?
I’d say we’d have to give it at least four to five years to determine if he is. He’s having an outstanding rookie campaign even with missing a majority of his game due to that horrendous injury, and he’ll possibly have a great next couple of years with the way he’s playing. We have to trust Dave Merritt, the Chiefs’ defensive backs coach, Steve Spagnuolo, and Andy Reid to be able to elevate his game and they can. Look at what Mahomes, Jones, and other players on the roster can do. After four or five years, we’ll check the stats, see what he’s achieving, and decide from there.
What are your thoughts on Sneed so far? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion. Thanks for reading, and have a fantastic day!