KANSAS CITY -- Brett Veach knew he was utilizing the NFL Draft’s biggest cliche at the scouting combine in February, when the Chiefs general manager insisted the Super Bowl champions would take “the best player available” when they were on the clock.
How fortuitous they must have been.
The best player available wound up matching their biggest needs during three days of selections. The Chiefs added to their pass rush in the first round with Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah, gave Patrick Mahomes another playmaker in the second round with SMU’s Rashee Rice and some protection up front in the third with Oklahoma offensive tackle Wanya Morris.
The final four selections Saturday provided some much needed depth: Virginia Tech safety Chamarri Conner in the fourth round, Stephen F. Austin linebacker BJ Thompson in the fifth, Texas defensive tackle Keondre Coburn in the sixth and Ball State cornerback Nic Jones in the seventh to wrap up a hometown draft held at Union Station near downtown Kansas City.
“There’s always a sense of what you need,” Chiefs assistant GM Mike Borgonzi admitted, “but we’re really looking at the best value on the board. So the first night we took Felix -- obviously a pass rusher, you can’t get enough of those guys. And then we came back and we knew we wanted to take a receiver in the second round early, and we moved up for Rice. And you know, we were able to get a tackle in the third, so we felt good about filling the needs but also staying true to the board.”
In other words, that cliche about taking the best player available had some element of truth to it.
But the Chiefs also knew there were specific areas they needed to target.
They had to release Frank Clark early in the offseason to create some salary cap space, and Carlos Dunlap became a free agent, so they needed some help rushing the passer. Charles Omenihu provided a veteran presence, but the Chiefs were eager to get a bookend for last year’s first-round pick, George Karlaftis, and they found it just down the road.
Anudike-Uzomah grew up in Kansas City before turning into the Big 12’s defensive player of the year at Kansas State.
“Frank Clark is one of my favorite pass rushers, watching him, and I was like, ‘Listen, if he left, I could definitely have input for the team,’ especially because I’m a young rusher and I could learn from the people in front of me,” he said. “It’s honestly surreal, and I’m glad to be a part of the Chiefs and glad to be part of a winning culture.”
The Chiefs traded up in the second round to select Rice, who is aggressive after the catch in the same mold as JuJu Smith-Schuster, who left in free agency. The Chiefs also lost Mecole Hardman, making it a priority to add another pass catcher to a group headlined by Kadarius Toney and second-year pro Skyy Moore.
“You’re getting a playmaker. You’re getting someone who really wants to be a part of the Chiefs’ program,” said Rice, who caught passes from Mahomes at some impromptu workouts in Texas and got the MVP quarterback’s seal of approval.
“I can’t complain about a great quarterback,” he said. “I’m going to be able to build my relationship with him.”
Mahomes will need to establish a good relationship with Morris, too.
The Chiefs lost Orlando Brown Jr. when they were unable to come to terms on a long-term deal with the franchise left tackle, then they lost right tackle Andrew Wylie when he signed a lucrative contract in free agency with Washington. The Chiefs opened the checkbook to bring in Jawaan Taylor from Jacksonville, and plan to move him from the right side to left, but that still left an opening on the offensive line.
Morris is expected to compete with Lucas Niang and others for that starting job throughout the summer and training camp.
“You know, he’s long, he’s athletic, he’s got the feet. Now he’s just got to put everything together,” Borgonzi said, “and we feel comfortable with our room here that he’ll learn from some of the guys here.”
After the three biggest holes were plugged the first two days of the draft, the Chiefs spent Saturday on some luxury picks.
Conner could see playing time immediately after safety Juan Thornhill left in free agency. Thompson is an athletic linebacker who could play a variety of special teams roles. Coburn is a 332-pound space-eater in the defensive line who could free up Chris Jones to make plays. Ball State’s Nic Jones can provide depth in the defensive backfield.
“I think Day 2 and Day 3 are really where personnel staffs can distinguish themselves,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said, “and Brett’s staff has certainly done that in recent years. We look back to last year and the number of players that we were able to select in the later rounds who ended up making a big contribution last year all the way to the Super Bowl.”