After the Kansas City Chiefs released Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz to save $18.25 million in salary cap space, and Sammy Watkins signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens, it left gaping holes at offensive tackle and wide receiver.
Fortunately, the 2021 NFL Draft is set up for the Chiefs to address those areas.
“If they’re looking hard at offensive tackle and wide receiver,” said Dane Brugler, The Athletic’s NFL draft analyst, “this draft matches up well with the needs.”
Last year five offensive tackles were selected in the top 20 of the 2020 NFL Draft. This year’s crop might not be as top heavy, but it has depth that should span the first two days of the draft.
The consensus best tackles in the draft, Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, will be long gone before the Chiefs are slated to pick at No. 31 in the first round.
“Those two are kind of the top two,” said Brugler, who released his draft guide last week. “And then there might be a little bit of a drop-off.”
Christian Darrisaw, a 6-5, 322-pounder from Virginia Tech, is probably the third best tackle, and Brugler would be surprised if he’s still available at No. 31.
There, however, should still be good options left for the Chiefs.
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Teven Jenkins, who grew up in Topeka, Kan., is a good athlete for his 6-6, 317-pound frame, having run the 40 in under five seconds. The powerful lineman primarily played right tackle at Oklahoma State but also played left tackle. Scouts love his on-field demeanor.
“If there’s a kill shot, he’ll take it,” Brugler said. “He’s really good at showing that nasty temperament you want to see at the position.”
A fellow Big 12 product, Texas’ Samuel Cosmi was a three-year starter. He doesn’t have great arm length or power but is really quick for his 6-6, 315-pound frame.
Another three-year starter, Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg isn’t as athletic as Cosmi or Jenkins, but the 6-5, 302-pounder has point-of-attack toughness, good hands and sound technique.
“He checks all those boxes,” Brugler said. “He’s just got that veteran savvy to him.”
Alabama defeated Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff, and several, including The Kansas City Star’s initial mock, have projected that the Chiefs will select Alex Leatherwood, the starting left tackle at Alabama the last two seasons, in the first round.
But the Chiefs already have invested heavily at guard after signing Joe Thuney to a five-year, $80 million deal, and that’s where Brugler, who likes Leatherwood’s patience and strength, sees him playing at the next level.
“I actually projected him best at guard,” Brugler said. “But he could play left tackle — no question.”
There’s no doubt about the wide receiver talent in this draft.
Like with Sewell and Slater, there’s a clear top rung of wide receivers. Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle all will be selected early in the first round, but the Chiefs would still have plenty to choose from.
“There’s so much talent at the position,” Brugler said.
The 2020 NFL Draft saw a record number of receivers taken in the first two rounds, but this year’s draft could set a record for the most receivers in the top 100.
“There’s plenty of options on rounds two, rounds three, even rounds four,” Brugler said. “I would not be surprised if they bypassed receiver in the first for another position.”
If the Chiefs follow that strategy, they could select Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace, Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge or Louisville’s Tutu Atwell in the second or third round.
If they do target a receiver in the first round, Elijah Moore could add to their fleet of speedy receivers.
In Lane Kiffin’s offense at Ole Miss, Moore led all Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) receivers in catches and receiving yards per game.
Brugler compares the 5-10, 178-pounder with 4.35 speed to Mecole Hardman except with better hands and route running.
“Elijah Moore would be a great fit,” Brugler said. “He can do more things than Hardman.”
If the Chiefs want to add to Hardman and their Legion of Zoom, Auburn’s Anthony Schwartz has speed to burn and could be available in the third round.
Though raw on the football field, the 2018 Gatorade National Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year set a youth world record by running a 10.15 100-meter dash in the 2017 Florida Relays and posted a 4.26 40 at his recent Pro Day.
“He is the fastest player in this draft,” Brugler said. “If he trained for it, he could legitimately push for the Olympic Trials.”
A more polished but a bit less speedy deep threat is North Carolina’s Dyami Brown. A potential second-round pick, Brown averaged at least 20 yards per catch the last two years and is skilled at double moves.
“He can win down the field,” Brugler said.
That would work well with Patrick Mahomes’ cannon of arm.
And with that superstar at quarterback, the Chiefs certainly don’t need to look at that position in a draft that almost assuredly will have Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson go No. 1 and No. 2 and be followed by at least three more signal-callers in the first round.
The rest of the 2021 NFL Draft should align well with what the Chiefs need.
“If you’re going to list the strongest positions in this draft, I think you have to start with quarterback,” Brugler said. “After that it’s wide receiver, offensive tackle.”