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Film Review

The GMKC: Grading the Chiefs 2020 rookie class

For a second straight season, General Manager Brett Veach hit it out of the park with his draft class. The 2020 class is loaded with contributors as well as star power.

The 2020 NFL regular season has come to an end, and the Kansas City Chiefs finished with a league-best 14-2 record, as well as having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The 14-2 mark was also a franchise-best as the Chiefs rolled their way through the AFC. While the team still saw more excellent play from veteran leaders, the rookie class emerged, showcasing potential, skills, and star power.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire: A

In his rookie season, Clyde Edwards-Helaire came as advertised, and he helped open up another dynamic of the Chiefs offense that they had missed in 2019. He finished the season with 1,100 all-purpose yards, 803 rushing, 297 receiving, and five total touchdowns.

These seem like modest numbers, but considering Edwards-Helaire was the day one starter as a rookie, in a year with no offseason, and also doubled the production that starting running back Damien Williams had last season it is safe to say this season could not have gone much better for the rookie.

His contact balance and ability to break tackles was his biggest asset to the Chiefs this season, as around week five and six teams started to drop more men into coverage in order to slow down, Patrick Mahomes. When this occurred it allowed Edwards-Helaire to operate in light boxes, where he could display his shifty running style in space, and also run through people.

Between running and catching the ball Helaire averaged a hyper-efficient 5.0 yards per touch, and to make things even better he did not fumble the ball one time this season. He is exactly the running back the Chiefs need right now, and despite getting hurt in week 15 against the New Orleans Saints all reports point to him being ready to go next week for the Divisional Round at Arrowhead Stadium.

Willie Gay: C

The only reason I couldn’t give Gay a higher grade this season is simply because he was not on the field for significant reps for a large portion of the season. He lead the team in tackles in week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons, but we just did not see enough of him out there to warrant a higher grade. I would have loved to give him a better grade, but this season was going to be a learning year for him anyway, so what we did get to see, and the improvement he did make should suffice until he gets a full offseason under his belt. But when he was out there he flashed a skill set the Chiefs have not had in a while.

His numbers were pretty indicative of his playing time situation, with just 39 total tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and three passes defended, but it was his skill set that we got to see shine more than his production.

Lateral quickness at the LB position is a huge bonus, but when taken into consideration that Gay is a bigger player, it makes him even more dangerous. The Chiefs used him as both a strong side backer, and the weak side backer in 2020, and on most obvious rundowns, as too simplify his job for him. The results varied at times, but his natural athletic ability took over most of the time.

This offseason coming up will be crucial not only to Gay, but for the Chiefs team as a whole. The Chiefs need Gay to be able to perform at a high level next season. He could be the missing link that puts the Chiefs from having a good defense into having a great defense.

Lucas Niang: N/A

Niang was one of the Chiefs’ opt-outs this season due to the Covid-19, but this year would likely have been a “red shirt” season for him anyway. Niang would have not had a ton of pressure this season, but with the injury that sidelined tackle Mitch Schwartz since week five, and it being unlikely he will return this season, it puts the future of his career in question.

If Schwartz does hang it up after this season, Niang will be thrust into the starting job, and have to protect the NFL’s most expensive player. He is another guy who it will be imperative that he has a tremendous offseason and make sure he is in excellent shape come training camp next fall. Time will only tell for Niang.

L’Jarius Sneed: A

A star was born this season, and his name is L’Jarius Sneed. It has been a long time since the Chiefs have had a cornerback with the skill set Sneed possesses, but it’s his playmaking ability and the way he attacks the ball that could make him one of the NFL’s elite talents.

He missed six weeks with a broken collar bone, but still managed to intercept three passes for the Chiefs all while recording a 73.9 season grade according to PFF, one of the highest in the league for a rookie defensive back. His ball-hawking skills draws attention but his physicality and closing speed make him dangerous.

He is exactly what Steve Spagnuolo wants in a defensive back, and his versatility has been one of the Chiefs’ defense’s biggest assets this season. He started out the season lined up outside mostly, but since his injury, the Chiefs have moved him inside to play some slot where he has dominated with physicality, but also being closer to the quarterback has allowed him to rush the passer some, which is why he has two sacks on the season.

Sneed’s career is just getting started, but as the Chiefs head into the playoffs we should expect to see him make more plays.

Mike Danna: C

For being a 5th round draft pick, Mike Danna provided excellent depth and good production for the Chiefs this season. He was not on many teams scouting reports coming out of Michigan (after transferring from Central Michigan), but he finished the season with 2.5 sacks, 25 total tackles, and showed constant effort and discipline the entire season.

Danna is only a modest athlete but he has shown himself to be a technician when it comes to playing the edge. He plays with good leverage and doesn’t lose the edge on outside run plays, but if given the time he can get off some decent counter moves in the passing game.

The injury to Taco Charlton opened the door for Danna to have more playing time, and he really showed off his football IQ in the reps he was able to get.

I gave Danna a C because he exceeded his expectations, but those expectations weren’t all that high to begin with. In the breakdown of his college film, it is easy to see he will never be a high volume pass rusher in the NFL just do to physical limitations, but he can be a very solid run stopper and provide excellent depth for the Chiefs for the entirety of his time in Kansas City.

BoPete Keyes: N/A

Keyes was the Chiefs’ seventh-round draft pick this past season and was only active for one game, which was the last game of the regular season against the Chargers. He did have seven total tackles on the game, but one game alone is not large enough of a portion to give him a grade on the entire season. Hopefully this offseason Keyes can become more adept to the system, and be able to compete for an active roster spot in 2021.

Tershawn Wharton: B

The best story for the Chiefs in 2020 was the emergence of Tershawn Wharton as not only a solid depth piece for the Chiefs but also a potential playmaker. Wharton’s story is even better given the fact that he was an undrafted free agent out of Missouri S&T who many saw as just a camp body. It took only a few games for most to see that Wharton was much more than just a camp body, but someone the Chiefs will look to as a contributor in the future.

Wharton took advantage of a lack of early-season depth at the defensive tackle spot, but since then he hasn’t looked back. He plays with tremendous leverage and is strong against double teams not giving up much movement, but Wharton also emerged as another solid interior pass-rushing option for the Chiefs along the interior, so much so that he has become a staple for the defensive line on obvious pass rush downs. He is somewhat of a tweener between defensive end and defensive tackle, but he uses his speed and explosiveness to his advantage when rushing on the inside.

More than that Wharton has shown uncommon effort so far in the season. He plays every snap with a chip on his shoulder and plays every snap like it could be his last. Coming in as an undrafted free agent out of a division two school he was given the opportunity of a lifetime and he has run with it. As he has emerged as more of a pass rusher to end the season it will be interesting to see how he and Chris Jones operate together in the playoffs.

Yasir Durant: D

As an undrafted free agent, Durant more than any player on the roster has benefited due to injury, as well as Covid-19 opt-outs. One of the last players to make the 53-man roster, Durant has filled in at right tackle, as well as starting the last game of the season at right guard. The results have varied. It was telling for his future as a tackle that Andy Reid elected to go with Martinas Rankin and Patrick Omameh as his tackles in the final regular-season game instead of Durant.

Durant labors in pass pro, and when he wins he has to use his massive size to help him, but more often than not his footwork can be a mess, and his punch often times does not land. He played a decent game at guard, but it will likely be the last action he sees this season, barring a major injury.

Durant’s biggest asset is his size, and that he at times can look impressive moving people off of spots, but again, his lack of explosion and poor footwork can cost him, as well as his tendency to want to lunge forward and bend at the waist.

Durant will have to fight to make the roster next year, with Lucas Niang slated to come in, and with questions marks surrounding Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (opt-out), and Mitchell Schwartz, it is likely the Chiefs will look to add talent to the offensive line via draft or free agency.

For Durant to return in 2021 he will have to significantly improve his game, as well as change his body, in order to help him play better in Andy Reid’s offensive scheme. These things are correctable, and change is possible, and to Durants credit, he has what no coach can teach, size.

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