The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Kansas City Chiefs 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 2 (58)
Round 2 (63)
Round 3 (94)
Round 4 (136)
Round 4 (144)
Round 5 (175)
Round 5 (181)
Round 6 (207)
Kansas City Chiefs Offense
By Rich Hribar
Last offseason, the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes came to a mega 10-year contract. We could go over the parameters of that contract that has a ton of flexibility after the 2023 season, but let’s just be real, Mahomes is going to be a Chief for a long time.
Behind Mahomes, Chad Henne is under contract for 2021 as a veteran backup who got Kansas City through a playoff win a year ago. Both Anthony Gordon and Jordan Ta’amu are also under contract for 2021 and exclusive rights free agents next offseason. The Chiefs could kick the tires late to add a rookie contract to the position, but that is about it and surely not a need.
The Chiefs running game was 16th in the NFL in yardage per game (112.4) despite 24th in overall attempts (403) as they were effective when they did run the ball off of their stellar passing game, ranking ninth in expected points added via rushing (31.6).
2020 first-round rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire posted 1,100 yards and five touchdowns while forcing 35 missed tackles in the run game, which was third among all rookie backs. The rookie back may have been a luxury pick at the time that did not live up to his investment in year one, but he was far from a disaster as well.
Kansas City retained Darrel Williams, who delivered when called upon in the postseason, to a one-year contract. Darwin Thompson is the lone back here under contract beyond 2021 with the Chiefs controlling rights to Elijah McGuire and Derrick Gore after this season.
Kansas City still may explore adding a bigger body to the fold here via the draft or post-draft since Williams is their lone banger, but Kansas City has more pressing needs overall.
At wide receiver, Kansas City is top-heavy with Tyreek Hill coming off arguably his best season so far. Hill scored a career-high 17 touchdowns in 2020 while receiving a career-high 9.0 targets per game.
The team lost Sammy Watkins via free agency, but they did retain Demarcus Robinson on a one-year deal, still have Byron Pringle, and are still awaiting 2019 second-round pick Mecole Hardman to take a step forward.
Hardman improved on his rookie line (26-538-6 on 41 targets) in the targets (62), receptions (41), and yardage (560) departments, but his explosive plays (20.7 yards per catch in 2019) dropped (13.7 in 2020) while he went from six to four touchdowns.
With Hardman failing to show much as an actual nuanced wideout through two seasons, Kansas City has not hidden that they have been in the market for a wide receiver this offseason, linked to players such as T.Y. Hilton and JuJu Smith-Schuster so far. Striking out on those established free agents, Kansas City will surely add at least one rookie wideout, if not taking multiple swings.
Hill and Hardman are the only Kansas City wideouts currently under contract beyond 2021.
Travis Kelce continued his onslaught on being the top tight end in the NFL, exiting 2020 with career-highs in receptions (105), receiving yardage (1,416 yards), and touchdowns (11). Kelce will turn 32 years old this October, but signed a four-year extension last offseason.
After Kelce, the Chiefs have consistently tried to add a tight end seemingly every offseason and this year they brought back Blake Bell, who was with the team in 2019. While Bell is a low-leverage signing that only had 8-67-0 receiving with the Chiefs in 2019, there is added viability to his signing from a scheme perspective. In 2019 with Bell, the Chiefs used 12 personnel on 28% of their offensive snaps, which was fifth in the league. Last season, that dipped down to 18%, which was 18th.
Given Kelce’s age, the lack of a true pass catcher on the depth chart after him, and no tight end here outside of him under contract beyond 2021, tight end is still an option for the Chiefs on the third day of the draft.
LT: Orlando Brown*/Martinas Rankin/Lucas Niang
LG: Joe Thuney*/Nick Allegretti/Yasir Durant/Bryan Witzmann
C: Austin Blythe*
RG: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif/Kyle Long*/Andrew Wylie/Stefen Wisniewski
RT: Mike Remmers/Prince Tega Wanogho
The Kansas City offensive line was badgered in 2020, finishing the season with 40.4 adjusted games missed per Football Outsiders, which was the third-most in the league. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out for the season, Kelechi Osemele (11 games missed) and Mitchell Schwartz (10 games missed) also were absent for double-digit games while Eric Fisher tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship game.
With the way the season closed for Kansas City in the Super Bowl with Patrick Mahomes under constant duress, we knew the team would go in and add to this offensive line.
Kansas City immediately broke the bank for Joe Thuney at the start of free agency. Thuney has not missed a game since he entered the league in 2016 and immediately upgrades an offensive line that 31st in ESPN’s Run Block Win Rate at 67%.
The week prior to the draft, Kansas City also made a big deal for Orlando Brown to take over at left tackle. Brown has played right tackle for entirety of early career, but expressed a desire to move to left tackle and be traded to a spot to do so.
The Chiefs also added Austin Blythe and Kyle Long on small, one-year contracts while Duvernay-Tardif has opted back in to return this season. Thuney is obviously locked in at left guard, Blythe is expected to start at center, while Long and Duvernay-Tardif can compete at right guard.
While the interior of the offensive line has been recalibrated, the Chiefs still have major issues at the right tackle spot. Mike Remmers is still the best option at right tackle and potentially the only returning starter from this offensive line a year ago. Remmers started 10 games for the Chiefs last season, but is only under contract for 2021.
The Chiefs will be looking for interior backups and competition at right tackle.
Kansas City Chiefs Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
Chris Jones signed a massive extension before the 2020 season and remained the best non-Aaron Donald interior defensive lineman in the league. He was first in pressure rate and second in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate. He’s good and should be for a while — his extension runs through 2023.
Tershawn Wharton was 37th among defensive tackles in pressure rate and showed some flashes when he was on the field. The undrafted rookie played 48% of the team’s defensive snaps. Derrick Nnadi, a 2018 third-round pick, has turned into a dominant run stopped — he was second behind Quinnen Williams in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate among defensive tackles — but enters 2021 on the final year of his rookie deal.
Frank Clark hasn’t been the top-tier pass rusher that his trade cost or contract would suggest, with just 15 quarterback hits and six sacks. He ranked 63rd among 124 qualified edge rushers in pressure rate, according to Sports Info Solutions. Taco Charlton was signed on a one-year deal for 2020 but appeared in just seven games for a total of 8.4% of the defensive snaps due to a fractured ankle. He was re-signed for another one-year deal.
The Chiefs make up for the lack of impactful edge rushers by blitzing at a high rate. Last season, they ranked fifth in blitz rate and no team rushed six players or more at a higher rate than the Chiefs (14%), according to SIS. So while Kansas City could use another pass rusher, few teams rely less on the edge to create pressure than this team.
Willie Gay Jr.
There is a wide range of how often the Chiefs use their linebackers. Kansas City used base personnel 22% of the time, which ranked 17th. They also had dime+ personnel on 35% of their defensive snaps, which was the fourth-highest rate in the league.
Willie Gay was a second-round pick last season and spent most of the year on special teams before he got more run on defense at the end of the season. It’s likely the Chiefs will continue to rotate Gay, Hitchens, and Niemann in while they let some safeties play in the box often, too.
On the surface, there’s not a lot invested at cornerback but the Chiefs have done an incredible job at finding value. Charvarius Ward, an undrafted free agent, was acquired in a preseason player swap in 2018. Rashad Fenton was a 2019 sixth-round pick. L’Jarius Sneed was a college safety drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. With those together, the Chiefs ranked 16th in DVOA against the pass.
There’s certainly a need for depth behind the top-three, but not the immediate need for high-level impact that the surface level of investment would suggest.
Tyrann Mathieu was again all over the field as a deep safety, linebacker, slot corner, and pass rusher. He remains the skeleton key that allows all the other positions to work.
There was a significant disconnect in pass defense for the Chiefs last season. They ranked 24th in defensive DVOA against short passes but second against deep passes.
Juan Thornhill, a 2019 second-round pick, played in all 16 games, but rarely looked fully comfortable while recovering from a torn ACL suffered at the end of the 2019 season. On the plus side, Thornhill’s best game of the season was the Divisional Round game against the Bills.
Sorensen spent most of his time in the box and played as a pseudo-linebacker. He was re-signed on a one-year deal for 2021. 2020 fourth-round pick Armani Watts also has some versatility to play multiple positions in the secondary.