KANSAS CITY: Super Bowl-champ Chiefs wrap draft with eye on repeat title
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs spent five frustrating decades trying to win a second Lombardi Trophy.
They plan to spend just one year winning a third.
That was the thought process behind general manager Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid deciding to retain almost every crucial player from last season's Super Bowl run. It left them with 20 of 22 starters on the roster heading into next season, and in the enviable position of being able to supplement wherever was most helpful in the NFL draft.
In the first round, the Chiefs added to the vast array of weapons at the disposal of Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes by drafting do-everything running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of LSU. They upgraded their speed and athleticism on the opposite side of the ball by selecting Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. in Round 2, then selected TCU offensive tackle Lucas Niang in the third round to provide immediate depth and a potential starter down the road.
“Obviously we worked, really five decades to do, to get back to the top, to be the best team in the NFL — to be the team that other teams and their fans aspire to be,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said Saturday. “And I think every player we add to the team, you really analyze that player in the context of what he brings to our championship squad.”
The Chiefs tried to maximize their selections the first two days knowing they only had five scheduled picks. They wrapped up Saturday by choosing Louisiana Tech defensive back L'Jarius Sneed and Michigan defensive end Mike Danna, then traded a sixth-rounder next year to jump back into the draft and pick Tulane cornerback Thakarius Keyes in the seventh.
Sneed played safety for the Bulldogs last season but played cornerback in 2018, and his 6-foot-1 frame and ability to play press-man defense makes it likely that he will return to the outside with Kansas City. The Chiefs took him over several other cornerback prospects, including teammate Amik Robertson, who went to the Raiders with the very next pick.
“It won't take me long,” Sneed said. “Soon as I get in, I'm going to get to work, give them my all. You can't teach effort, so whatever position I'm playing, whatever spot I'm at on the time, I'm giving my all each and every day.”
The Chiefs' situation this off-season was far different from previous years.
When he took over the GM job in 2018, Veach was in the rather tenuous position of sending out a relatively untested quarterback in Mahomes after sending away veteran Alex Smith. Veach's goal then was to surround his first-year starter with as much talent as possible, giving Mahomes every opportunity to succeed in the Kansas City offense.
Mahomes wound up winning the league MVP award while leading the Chiefs to the AFC championship game.
They ended up losing to the New England Patriots in overtime, and the main culprit that cold January day was a defense filled with holes. So last season, Veach used free agency and the draft to completely remake that side of the ball for new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, ultimately building a stingy defense to complement the Chiefs' potent offense.
It certainly worked. The Chiefs shut down the San Francisco 49ers in the second half in rallying to win the Super Bowl.
“A big part of what Brett and Andy have done over the last two-plus years is try to bring in players that are going to make that offense go,” Hunt said. “Clearly, Pat is a unique talent and having great receivers, great running backs, offensive linemen that can block for him is very important, but it's not important to the exclusion of building a great defense.”
The choices the Chiefs made in the three-day draft were designed to get them back to the Super Bowl, particularly the picks in the first three rounds. But they also were designed to keep the Chiefs contenders for the foreseeable future.
Most of their key players are in their early- and mid-20s, giving them a wide window to chase several championships.
“When you have the chance to return so many players and you have a coaching staff stay together, and have a group that went through and played right through February, we'll see what happens going forward,” Veach said, "but I think it certainly plays in your favor for the continuity and knowing the playbook and knowing what's expected.
“Whenever we get back into the swing of things with camp, whether it be shortened or whether we start on the original date, I think guys just knowing how things operate and knowing the terminology and the playbook, I don't know how it could be a disadvantage,” Veach added. “We're certainly looking forward to that, hopefully we get started on time, but I think that the guys are ready to go, and we'll be in a good position this year to have a chance to repeat.”
-- By Dave Skretta, AP
DENVER: QB Drew Lock big winner in Broncos' infusion of speed
John Elway waited four years for just this sort of weekend where could actually build around a quarterback instead of sleuthing for one.
After declaring Drew Lock his starting QB this spring, Elway used his cache of 10 picks in the NFL draft to score both targets and shields for his second-year passer.
Moreover, the Broncos GM injected some serious speed into an offense that averaged a piddling 17.6 points last season — and only 15.9 before Lock's five-game audition during which Denver averaged 21.4 points.
“We had to get some speed and we had to get some talent on that offensive side and some explosiveness," Elway said Saturday after adding fleet tight end Albert Okwuegunam, a teammate of Lock's at Missouri, and light-footed Florida wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland to the mix.
That followed Elway's selections of two of the fastest members of this deep class of wide receivers in first-rounder Jerry Jeudy of Alabama and Penn State speedster KJ Hamler in the second round.
With all this added firepower, the Broncos expect to both catch up to and keep up with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
“We need to score more points whether we're playing the Chiefs or not,” coach Vic Fangio said. "But obviously playing against them, you're going to need to. So, that was part of it and it's always good to be fast.
“Hopefully we're a harder offense to defend now once it evolves and we get to playing games.”
Elway not only built the Broncos’ draft class with Lock in mind but he did it with Lock on the phone at one point.
“The first phone call Vic and I made today was to Drew to find out about Albert and see what he thought about him, because he had a much better junior year when Drew was there than he had last year,” Elway said.
Lock had high praise for Okwuegunam, especially his speed.
“When Drew gave him the seal of approval we were glad he was our target in the fourth round,” Elway said. “Plus, to put him on the other side from Noah (Fant), he’s a 4.49 guy that can really run at 258 pounds, and a big target in the red zone, so another player with great speed we could add.”
Lock’s big arm will be put to use whenever football returns.
Okwuegunam’s 4.49 time at the NFL scouting combine marked the second-fastest 40-yard dash for a 6-5, 250-plus-pound tight end since 2003.
He also brings a built-in chemistry with Lock.
“I can’t even explain how fired up I am ... just to have that chemistry and trust and confidence already established there,” Okwuegunam said.
Okwuegbunam also relishes playing with the likes of Jeudy and Hamler on an offense featuring Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton and Fant, last year’s first-rounder.
“It’s going to put a lot of strain on the corners and safeties,” Okwuegbunam said, adding that he and Fant will leave the linebackers in their wake, too.
Elway also drafted center Lloyd Cushenberry in the third round. He’ll get the opportunity to win the starting job next to right guard Graham Glasgow, part of the Broncos’ free agency haul that also features running back Melvin Gordon.
Elway added some strength in the sixth round in Fresno State guard Netane Muti, who put up an astonishing 44 reps on the bench press at the combine, the most in eight years at the combine and the fourth-highest total ever.
“I’ve always loved the weight room,” Muti said. “So, that was a big thing for me.”
Elway didn't exactly neglect his defense.
After trading for veterans Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye earlier this year, Elway selected Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia and Arkansas D-tackle McTelvin Agim in the third round, Wake Forrest inside linebacker Justin Strnad in the fifth and North Dakota State edge rusher Derrek Tuszka in the seventh.
Denver’s defense hasn't been the problem, staying stout year after year as the Broncos churned through quarterbacks, coaches and offensive coordinators in the wake of Peyton Manning's retirement four years ago.
“We’ve got to put points on the board, and as Vic said, it’s been very frustrating for all of us the last three, four years because we have not been explosive on the offensive side,” Elway said. “And even really five years. When we won Super Bowl 50, we weren’t very explosive on the offensive side. We were just very good on the defensive side.”
From his end, Elway said there weren't any hiccups in the draft conducted via videoconference because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought it went great. There were hardly any issues at all,” Elway said. "I'm sure there's teams that had some issues here and there and other than Vic's internet going out on the first day we really didn't have any issues at all.
"So, I think the credit goes to Commissioner (Roger) Goodell. He was taking a lot of heat because there were a lot of people that wanted to push it back, didn't want to do this, didn't want to attempt it, didn't want to stay at home and do it. Everybody wanted to get to their war rooms. And he pushed everybody out of their comfort zone and I think it came off great.
“People were craving something live and something the could look at on TV and get excited about.”
-- By Arnie Stapleton, AP
LAS VEGAS: Raiders get QB Derek Carr playmakers in draft
Count quarterback Derek Carr as a fan of what the Las Vegas Raiders did in the NFL draft.
The Raiders spent the first two days of the draft gathering dynamic pieces on offense they hope can bring out the best in Carr.
They drafted the fastest receiver available in Henry Ruggs in the first round and added two other playmakers in the third round in the versatile Lynn Bowden Jr. and receiver Bryan Edwards.
“We’ve been texting back and forth over the weekend. It started with Ruggs pick. ... I got about five texts with ‘W-O-W-!‘” general manager Mike Mayock said Saturday.
“He was just fired up with that pick. Then we get Edwards and Bowden. I don’t even know how to make emojis. I was just looking at all these emojis like ‘I guess he’s happy, that looks good.’”
The Raiders spent much of free agency trying to upgrade the defense by signing linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, safety Damarious Randall and defensive linemen Maliek Collins and Carl Nassib. They then added two cornerbacks in Ohio State’s Damon Arnette and Louisiana Tech’s Amik Robertson in the draft.
The big moves on offense came in the draft highlighted by the playmakers.
Whether all those moves are enough to help close the gap in the division with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs remains to be seen.
“They keep getting faster and keep raising the raise bar,” Mayock said. “I don’t know the answer to that just yet. We feel like we got better in free agency and I know we feel like we got better in the draft. Nobody is going know how much or if at all until we get out on the field and compete.”
DAY THREE PICKS
The Raiders traded up 13 spots in the fourth round to take Clemson guard John Simpson at 109th overall. They gave up the 121st and 172nd picks for Simpson, who was a second-team All-American last season. The Raiders then drafted Louisiana Tech cornerback Amik Robertson 139th overall with their final pick.
Robertson brings confidence and good coverage ability to the Raiders. The 5-foot-9 Robertson had five interceptions and 17 passes defensed last season and has the traits to become a slot cornerback in the NFL.
He felt he slipped in the draft because of offseason groin surgery but aims to prove the Raiders were right to select him.
“They got the best DB in this class,” he said. “Ballhawk, corner, nickel, safety, whatever. The best hybrid in the class that can force turnovers and get ball back to the offense.”
The Raiders signed two guards in Jordan Devey and Eric Kush and then drafted Simpson. That doesn’t mean they’re looking to cut ties with right guard Gabe Jackson, who has been rumored to be on the trading block because of a salary of more than $9 million. Mayock said those moves are about depth not about Jackson’s status.
“Gabe Jackson is our starting right guard,” Mayock said. “That’s exactly what it says.”
NO LATE-ROUND PICKS
The Raiders didn’t have a pick in the final three rounds after trading up to get Simpson. Mayock said he considered moving down with the pick used on Robertson but decided against it. One of the reasons was he believes it will be challenging for rookies to make the team this year with no offseason program.
“The further down you get in the draft, the more concerns we had about a kid being able to compete, realistically compete to make the roster,” he said.
TITLE GAME PEDIGREE
One of Mayock’s first scouting assignments when he was hired by the Raiders last offseason was the college championship game in the Bay Area between Clemson and Alabama.
Mayock joked that night that he could only draft players from that game and do well. Maybe it wasn’t a joke as he drafted two more former Clemson players this year with Simpson and third-round linebacker Tanner Muse.
They join Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, Trayvon Mullen and Hunter Renfrow, who were picked last year along with Alabama’s Josh Jacobs. The Raiders also signed undrafted free agent Lester Cotton Jr. from Alabama.
“We’re all like brothers,” Simpson said of reuniting with his college teammates. “It’s a bond that you can’t break.”
-- By Josh Dubow, AP
LOS ANGELES: Chargers won't put pressure on Herbert to start immediately
COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers are hopeful Justin Herbert can develop into a franchise quarterback. They are planning on a patient approach.
Before Herbert can become the face of the franchise, general manager Tom Telesco just wants him to learn the playbook.
“There’s no pressure on Justin to walk in on Day One — we’re not asking him to come in here and carry the football whatsoever — just asking him to come in, start competing, start learning and we’ll take it from there," Telesco said of Herbert, who was the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft. “Really not asking him to be the face of the franchise. That’s not what we’d ask him to do and it’s something I wouldn’t even have to tell him.”
The Chargers hope Tyrod Taylor can begin the season as the starter and take the immediate pressure off Herbert. Coach Anthony Lynn has confidence in Taylor from the two seasons they spent together in Buffalo.
Herbert said he would be comfortable with whatever his role is this upcoming season.
“If I’m the guy, that’s great. I love playing football and I want to be the guy, but if I have to sit back and learn, I’m going to do everything I can to become the quarterback I need to be," he said.
Whoever starts in Week 1, it will mark the first time since the 2005 regular-season finale that Philip Rivers will not be the Chargers' quarterback. Rivers, who started 235 consecutive regular-season and playoff games over the past 14 seasons, signed with Indianapolis after LA went 5-11 last season.
Herbert started 42 games in his four seasons at Oregon, compiling a 29-13 record with 10,541 yards passing and 108 total touchdowns. He passed for 32 touchdowns and six interceptions in 14 games last season, leading the Ducks to the Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl victory.
Herbert is the fourth Oregon quarterback to go in the top 10 since 1999, but he is hoping to fare better than his predecessors. Akili Smith (1999, No. 3 to Cincinnati), Joey Harrington (2002, No. 3 to Detroit) and Marcus Mariota (2015, No. 2 to Tennessee) have a combined record of 59-97. Mariota was the only one who led his team to a playoff appearance.
The last time the Chargers took a quarterback from Oregon, it worked out pretty well. Dan Fouts, a third-round pick in 1973, led the franchise to four playoff trips and three division titles in a 15-year Hall of Fame career.
Telesco usually stands pat with his picks, but he moved back into the first round to select Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray. The Chargers didn't have a pick on Friday after sending their second- and third-round selections to New England for the 23rd pick on Thursday.
Murray gives the Chargers a solid run stopper with coverage skills, areas their linebackers have struggled with the past couple seasons.
WHO ELSE THEY GOT
The Chargers used two of their four Saturday picks on wide receivers. They took Virginia's Joe Reed in the fifth round and Ohio State's K.J. Hill in the seventh.
Reed was the first player in Football Bowl Subdivision history with 2,700-plus career kick return yards and a career kick return average over 28 yards. Hill set the Buckeyes record with 201 receptions in four seasons.
Lynn compared the versatile Reed to two players he used to coach — Joshua Cribbs and Brad Smith.
UCLA running back Joshua Kelley (fourth round) excels in yards after contact and gives the Chargers a between-the-tackles back they needed after Melvin Gordon signed with Denver.
Safety Alohi Gilman (sixth round) is the sixth Notre Dame player selected by Telesco in his eight drafts as Chargers GM.
“In the end on paper I liked the way we came out,” Telesco said. “We had some guys in mind with certain roles and we were able to get them. This team has changed a lot over last year.”
HOW THEY DID
With this year's class having quality quarterbacks at the top, Telesco needed to get one. Taylor is in the final year of his contract and the franchise needs someone to bank on as it moves into a new stadium. The Chargers just hope it was the right choice with Herbert.
“We drafted Justin to be our franchise quarterback but we’re not putting a time frame on him. It might be next year, it might be later this year, it might be immediate,” Lynn said.
They also addressed a major need at linebacker as well as building depth at running back and wide receiver.
Los Angeles' most critical need remains at left tackle. Telesco has mentioned Sam Tevi, Trent Scott and Forrest Lamp as possibilities, but they could use a better option for such an important position.
-- By Joe Reedy, AP