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AFC West Wednesday: Grading The Chiefs’ Great 2021 Draft Class

The NFL Draft is fast approaching. The Kansas City Chiefs own two first-round picks in the upcoming Draft, beginning on Thursday, April 28, in Paradise, Nevada. As we wait to welcome the newest members of Chiefs’ Kingdom, it is worthwhile to look back on last year’s draft class and how those picks have panned out thus far.

Entering the last offseason, the Chiefs’ main goal was to reconstruct an offensive line on life support. After losing Super Bowl 55 to Tampa Bay (and watching Patrick Mahomes run more yards than many of us run in a full year), the Chiefs released long-time tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. In the draft, they improved their offensive line and then some. Beyond the obvious, the Chiefs acquired promising talent throughout their draft class.

The Chiefs Find Their Answer At Left Tackle Prior To The 2021 Draft

Before the draft, the Chiefs began their offensive line makeover by signing All-Pro Guard Joe Thuney and making a huge trade with the Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs traded their 2021 first-round pick (31st overall), a third-round pick, and a fourth-round pick to the Ravens to acquire Orlando Brown Jr. and the Ravens’ second-round pick. When grading the Kansas City draft class, it’s important to note the Brown trade.

Could the Chiefs have found their new left tackle with one of the traded picks? Teven Jenkins was available when the Ravens were on the clock at 31. He would eventually be chosen 39th overall by the Chicago Bears. Fellow prospects Liam Eichenberg (42 to Miami) and Walker Little (45 to Jacksonville) would be drafted soon-thereafter in the second round. The Ravens would use their picks to draft defensive end Odafe Oweh (31) and guard Ben Cleveland (94). They traded the fourth-round selection received for Brown.

How did the early tackles fare last season? Jenkins underwent back surgery and was placed on Injured Reserve in September 2021. He made his debut in Week 14 for the Bears. Eichenberg started 16 games for the Dolphins and played mostly well. Little started just three games for the Jaguars. Only Eichenberg turned in a full-time starting performance as a rookie between the three tackles selected near the Chiefs range.

Trading for Orlando Brown Jr. gave the Chiefs something they could not have drafted late in the first round last season: a full-time, starting Tackle who could play at a Pro-Bowl level. The trade was the absolute right move for Kansas City.

Trade Grade: A

With Their First Pick Of The 2021 NFL Draft, The KC Chiefs Found A Defensive Rookie Of The Year Candidate

Round Two, Pick 58: LB Nick Bolton

Although the Chiefs did not have a first-round pick in last year’s draft, they hit a home run with their first chance to pick in the second round. Linebacker Nick Bolton, out of the University of Missouri, would be a massive impact addition for a Chiefs’ defense in dire need of a younger infusion of talent. Despite playing over 80% of snaps in just three games last season, Bolton finished as the team’s leading tackler with 112 tackles.

Congratulations to this year's Mack Lee Hill Rookie of the Year Award winner, Nick Bolton! 👏 — Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) February 15, 2022

With 11 tackles for loss, Bolton finished second to only Micah Parsons among rookies in 2021. In Bolton, the Chiefs have found their middle linebacker of the future. Look for Bolton to earn a larger snap share in 2022 with the departure of Anthony Hitchens.

Pick Grade: A

Round Two, Pick 63: OL Creed Humphrey

How often does a team draft a player who instantly becomes among the best at their position? That’s what the Chiefs found in Center Creed Humphrey. Creed started all 17 games at Center for the Kansas City offense and did so admirably. Creed was snubbed from the Pro Bowl, despite being graded among the very best blockers in the entire NFL.

Not only should Creed have earned a Pro Bowl nod, but he also made an outstanding case for an All-Pro honor as well. Rarely do rookies make such an immediate impact. His stand-out impact earned murmurs of Rookie of the Year votes from the Chiefs media and fans alike. In fact, he earned two official votes for the award. Humphrey will lock down the middle of the Chiefs’ offensive line for many years to come.

Pick Grade: A

Round Four, Pick 144: DE Joshua Kaindoh

Joshua Kaindoh, edge rusher from Florida State, became the third Chief off the board when the front office selected him in the fourth round. The season didn’t go according to plan for Kaindoh, who would go on to play just three games for the team in 2021. Kaindoh was placed on Injured Reserve early in the season on October 5th and wouldn’t be activated again until January.

From Weeks One through Four, Kaindoh played 23% of snaps on defense before missing the remainder of the season. He tallied one pressure and one hurry but zero tackles on the season. Looking ahead to 2022, the Chiefs will hope to rotate a healthy Kaindoh into more snaps.

Pick Grade: D

Round Five, Pick 162: TE Noah Gray

The Chiefs drafted Noah Gray with the potential of developing into a second receiving threat at the tight end position. Of course, Travis Kelce will be the starting tight end for the Chiefs for as long as he exists on the active roster. However, Gray showed flashes of great potential during the 2021 season. Gray played just 26% of offensive snaps. He made one start but played 70% of special-teams snaps.

Gray caught seven passes on ten targets for 36 yards and one touchdown on the season. It often takes time for tight ends to contribute at the next level, especially when they’re playing behind the best to ever play the position. Gray will get his chance soon enough.

Pick Grade: C

Round Five, Pick 181: WR Cornell Powell

The Chiefs chose not to sign a wide receiver in free agency last offseason. They traded their first-round pick, then failed to draft a wide receiver with any of their first four picks in the draft. This led expectations for rookie Cornell Powell to land fairly high. After all, Tyreek Hill was drafted in the fifth round, so why couldn’t Powell become the next elite offensive weapon for Patrick Mahomes?

Powell would not become that weapon in his rookie season. The Clemson product was waived in August 2021 before being re-signed to the Practice Squad. Powell finished third-team All ACC in 2020 but failed to see the field for the Chiefs in 2021. For a team that was starving for wide receivers to step up last season, it doesn’t bode well that Powell could not carve out a lane.

Pick Grade: D

Round Six, Pick 226: OL Trey Smith

The best pick for the Chiefs in the 2021 NFL Draft wasn’t Nick Bolton. No, even with his team-leading 112 tackles, the rookie linebacker wasn’t the best selection. The best pick wasn’t Creed Humphrey either. Despite his rookie-of-the-year votes and outstanding play, it was almost expected that he would become a great center in the league. The best pick by the Chiefs in the 2021 draft was sixth-round guard Trey Smith.

Trey Smith was picked after 225 players and instantly became a 17-game starter for the re-made Chiefs Offensive Line. Smith became a mauler at the NFL level. He stood out on tape as one of the best players on the field each and every week. In 17 games, Trey Smith played all 1,195 snaps on offense. This, after concerns about his health, torpedoed his draft stock from first-round grade to Day Three value pick. The Chiefs hit big on Trey Smith, and it’s a major reason why their offensive line rebuild is an example for teams around the NFL.

Pick Grade: A

How would you grade the Chiefs’ 2021 draft class? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.

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