Realistic expectations for the Chiefs’ draft picks

With camp underway, the hype around newcomers and rookies is at an all-time high. Let’s examine what realistic expectations for the rookies are.

One of the most unfair things that fans and the media can do to rookie players is hyping them up and then tearing them down if they don’t meet expectations. It’s wrong, but everyone wants their favorite drafted player to be an impact maker and a game changer. That said with high expectations can come a high chance of expecting too much out of a player, but what is too much and what is not enough? Every player has a certain threshold they will reach in their first season, whether they are a starter or not. Here are some realistic expectations for the Chiefs’ rookies.

Trent McDuffie

Any time a team moves up draft position to select a player the expectation is that they will be on the field sooner than later, and that is exactly what I expect out of McDuffie. In minicamp and training camp, he has taken reps with primarily the first team and will be a starter out of the gates. McDuffie was one of the top three corners in the draft, but due to his lack of interception numbers, his name was not floated as the top corner. McDuffie’s style of play is technically sound, relying on rangy athletic ability and football smarts. He won’t put up Trevon Diggs-like numbers, and this may cause some fans to not think he is contributing enough, but the less you hear a corner’s name the better. His boring style of play won’t make any highlight reels, but it’s this boring and consistent play that will make him the CB1 early on. Stat wide McDuffie will likely finish with around 40 tackles, six passes defended, and one interception. In a division loaded with wide receiver talent he will be tested early and often, but look for him to grade higher and higher the more comfortable he gets in the system and playing at the NFL level.

George Karlaftis

Plenty of eyeballs will be all over Karlaftis as well headed into the season since he was drafted to help the defensive line improve the pass rush. A unit that vastly underachieved in 2021 and failed to get pressure in big moments is in need of an injection of talent, but what can we expect from Karlaftis in year one? Linemen can take a little longer to develop at the pro level, due to having to learn more about the intricacies of hand fighting or adjust to the physicality. Karlaftis falls into the latter group, his effort and physical style of play are what made him stand out in a loaded draft class of pass rush, and will be his foundation as a player in the NFL, but he needs work on developing pass rush moves. His bull rush is top-notch, but in the NFL he’s going to have to find a way to work another move in there to go along with it and grow his rush combos. I expect him to come off the bench early on and be a run-down player until he can show improvement in the pass rush. A realistic stat line could look something like five sacks, 30 tackles, three or four tackles for loss, and two passes batted at the line of scrimmage. His pass rush win rate percentage will be low out of the gates, and he will likely receive criticism being the team’s first-round pick, but this feels like it will be a developmental year for him.

Skyy Moore

Training camp wide receiver hype is nothing new in Kansas City, but it’s at an all-time high with the emergence of Skyy Moore who has put on a show thus far in St.Joe. It’s hard to tamper the excitement, especially since Moore had an excellent film coming out of Western Michigan, and many are slating him as a potential rookie stand out.

I expect Moore to come in and contribute early on although I still don’t think he will be the WR1 by the end of the year, but he will firmly plant himself as a productive member of the offense who could develop into an All-Pro caliber player later on in his career. A realistic stat line would look something like 800 receiving yards, five touchdowns, off of around 55 catches. This may seem like it’s on the high end, but I do think his knack for making plays and route running ability will make him a quick riser on the depth chart.

Bryan Cook

McDuffie, Karlaftis, and Moore all enter the team at positions of need and look to help fill those needs right away. Bryan Cook joins the Chiefs in a group that will be manned by two veterans in both Justin Reid and Juan Thornhill. Having two players with experience ahead of him on the depth chart may affect his ability to see the field early on, but it could be a blessing in disguise. Cook was one of the most physical players in the 2022 NFL Draft, big hits and sure tackling dominated his highlight film, as well as an instinctual style of play that helped him become an imposing figure in Cincinnati’s secondary. Given his size and physical attributes early on we could see Cook over take Daniel Sorensen’s role from prior seasons as the team’s box safety, which would fit his skill set well and allow him to be a physical enforcer. I think we see Cook on the field for about half the snaps early on while having a larger role on special teams. His stat line could look something like 57 tackles, one forced fumble, and three tackles for loss. His role should grow in the next few seasons.

Leo Chenal

For some rookies keeping their expectations to a minimum is easy, and then with guys like Leo Chenal, it can be a task. When a guy talks the talk, walks the walk, looks the part on film and in the weight room, with the athletic prowess and production Chenal had at Wisconsin it can create excitement and buzz. I have done as bad a job of anyone tampering with expectations for Chenal, but he seems to be a rare type of player. He will be able to play off-ball linebacker, but what should excite people is his ability to blitz combined with his size and speed should give him an interesting pass rush prowess. There have been glimpses of him rushing the passer off the edge, as well as in designed blitzes. Being conservative I anticipate Chenal to start the year playing mainly special teams and in blitz packages. This could be all we see from him, but if he is able to put it all together quickly he should be able to work his way into a more regular role down the line. I would expect his stat line to look like 50 tackles, six sacks, two batted passes, and one forced fumble. Maybe I am expecting too much from this rookie, but from how he has looked early on in training camp I am excited to see what kind of progress he can make into the season.

Joshua Williams

Early on in camp, the Chiefs are maxing out the number of looks that Willaims can get with it looking like he could find his way onto the field as early as week one. Williams is a big corner and has the physical attributes to help cover some of the lankier wide receivers of the AFC West, which the Chiefs could use quickly. Given that he did play small college football, and plays a position of need it makes sense that the Chiefs are trying to get him used to the speed of the league while getting as many reps as possible in. He can play press-man but has the movement skills to work in zone coverage as well. He is a jack of all trades but master of none corner, but the potential is there, especially with the injury that has Rashad Fenton side-lined early. Expect to see Williams as a four-phase special teams player, but also working as a rotational and situational corner. 30 tackles, two interceptions, and three passes defended seem reasonable given his style of play. Teams will try to go after him early and often, but with it, the opportunity will be presented to make a play on the ball.

Darian Kinnard

A year after the Chiefs struck gold with rookies Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith they again drafted an offensive line, this time taking Darian Kinnard from Kentucky. Kinnard was a First Team All-American in 2021 as a tackle, but whether he would play guard or tackle in the draft was up in the air. He fell into the 5th round and the Chiefs pulled the trigger. Due to the success the Chiefs have had to find offensive linemen in the past, it is tempting to anoint him to the starting lineup right away, but he still has work to do, especially in pass protection to be a full-time starter. Andrew Wylie has taken most of the first team reps at RT in camp so far and Kinnard has had to work his way in for reps. The team clearly wants him to take the position at some point, but he may not be ready on day one. I expect him to be the swing offensive lineman and the swing tackle for this team heading into 2022, but if there are injuries or inconsistent play he could get a chance to start a handful of games. I think he is more of a 2023 player, but he will certainly provide quality depth. If he can slow the game down some I would think that he can find a way to start by the end of the season. I think starting in Three-Six games is the most realistic option for Kinnard while being on the PAT and Field Goal team. 

Jaylen Watson

Watson like many rookies across the league will be fighting just to make the roster, but with a frame that would fit Spag’s system, and tape that shows the ability to play man could put him on the roster. With the team also in need of capable special teams players, Watson could find this to be his avenue to making the roster. I think that Watson gets waived early on but is added to the practice squad and then asked to fill in on special teams or for more depth as the season progresses. I think about ten games played with eight tackles and a pass breakup seems on par for where Watson was taken, as well as where the DB room is at. 

Isiah Pacheco 

It’s not often seventh-round draft picks make the roster, and it’s even less likely that they will find a role, but Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub said that “Pacheco would make the roster as the kick returner” when asked at the post-practice press conference on Tuesday. This may have been a shock to some, but Pacheco has explosive speed and that lightning-in-the-bottle playmaker type ability. He has been repped in for the first team at running back and I honestly think that he may have a chance to add some big play ability to the position as the year progresses. He will make most of his impact in the return game, but if inconsistent play continues in 2022 at the RB spot he will get a chance. I think Pacheco will have around 300 return yards, one touchdown, about 150  rushing yards with a touchdown, and 200 receiving yards with two touchdowns. I think he may be the “secret weapon” heading into this year, and I will be curious to see if he gets more looks in the offense around playoff time. 

Nazeeh Johnson

Johnson was taken at the end of the seventh round and will have a hard time making the roster based on the veteran DB’s the Chiefs added, as well as the other rookies that will get looks over him. I expect Johnson to get cut, but he will likely spend all year on the practice squad. 

Bonus: Jerrion Ealy

Most of the Chiefs’ undrafted free agents will likely start the year on the practice squad, but running back/wide receiver Jerrion Ealy could be a darkhorse candidate to break into the 53-man roster early on. Despite his lack of prototypical NFL size, Ealy brings a blend of elusive running and sure hands out of the backfield. He has taken reps at both running back and wide receiver in St.Joe so far and has made some nice plays out of the backfield in the passing game. I don’t expect a giant impact, but Andy Reid could find some ways to creatively use him as the season goes along, and maybe give him a shot in the kick return or punt return game. I expect Ealy to be week to week on the practice squad and the active roster.