The NFL Draft brings with it more hype and hope for every NFL team than any other event all year. It also brings more angst and anger. Immediately following the draft, every fan base rushes to either defend their team’s picks or explain in nearly excruciating detail why they were the wrong options and have doomed said team to both short- and long-term failure.
In other words, the draft is a whole lot of fun.
The Chiefs drafted six players this year: Nick Bolton (linebacker, Missouri), Creed Humphrey (center, Oklahoma), Joshua Kaindoh (defensive end, Florida State), Noah Gray (tight end, Duke), Cornell Powell (wide receiver, Clemson) and Trey Smith (interior offensive lineman, Tennessee).
While general manager Brett Veach’s draft history in Kansas City has been somewhat controversial, this year’s draft class was largely praised, and for good reason. While it’s impossible to know how things will play out for the new Chiefs, the draft crop did a solid job addressing both short- and long-term needs and shoring up some areas the Chiefs really needed it.
By trading their first-round pick for offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., the Chiefs allowed themselves the freedom to let the draft board fall as it would rather than feeling the need to go after certain positions. Despite that, they continued the clear theme of revamping their offensive line and looked to address some potentially problematic areas of depth.
Let’s break down each Chiefs pick and that player appears to bring to the table, along with how they might fit in in the near and far future in Kansas City.
Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
Evaluation: It wouldn’t be a Brett Veach draft without a little controversy, and the Chiefs’ first pick of the draft is probably the one most disputed among Chiefs fans. One thing that everybody agrees upon, though, is that Bolton was an exceptional player during his college tenure.
Bolton brings a great deal to the table as an off-ball linebacker. The first thing that jumps out about him when watching Mizzou games is how quickly he closes on the ball and how often he seems to arrive before anyone else. Bolton plays downhill very well, and seems to diagnose where plays are moving a split-second faster than other defenders on the field. He rarely gets himself in trouble with misdirection and other gamesmanship, and attacks the line of scrimmage well. He also is very competent sifting through traffic and staying on course when trying to track down the ball carrier through a crowd.
In addition to being a smart player who seems to have some explosion on the field — that didn’t come through in his athletic testing, but we’ll get to that — Bolton plays with a surprising amount of power for a player who is slightly undersized. This is likely due to the fact that although he’s listed at “only” 237 pounds, he stands 5-foot-11 and thus has a very compact build. He also has that ability to somehow arrive just a little “heavier” and hit just a little harder than other defenders, even bigger ones. His hits seem to land flush on the ball carrier more consistently than most, and he’s able to deliver shots that stop ball carriers in their tracks.
On paper, Bolton is an ideal linebacker prospect if we go just by what we saw during games. While he doesn’t show elite sideline-to-sideline speed like second-year Chief Willie Gay Jr., he often looked like one of the faster players on the field when pursuing plays downhill or even laterally. He also looked comfortable in space and seemed to have an exceptional understanding of what Missouri needed from him in his (somewhat limited) zone concepts. He’s also a comfortable blitzer and has a knack for getting pressure when asked to fill that role. And most importantly, he played the role of “defensive quarterback” for multiple years and can be counted on to call out adjustments and line up fellow defenders.
With all that going for him, what’s the catch? Well, Bolton’s athletic testing was far below what one would call ideal.
Essentially, Bolton’s numbers in shorts make him appear to be a subpar NFL linebacker, and while he looked more explosive on film, there’s always the question as to whether that will translate to the next level. His shuttle, 3-cone and 10-yard split are especially concerning when you consider his coverage responsibilities are to handle that all-important first 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, often with a change of direction. In addition, while Bolton looked rather comfortable in coverage in college, his role was relatively understated in that area at Missouri; he rarely had to cover the seam or try to stick with a running backs one on one in space. That leaves us questioning whether he can do so and be a true 3-down linebacker at the pro level.
Bolton definitely has the skills to contribute, but here’s the problem: Kansas City already has a solid downhill linebacker who hits hard and leads the defense in Anthony Hitchens. If Bolton isn’t able to prove an athletic upgrade over Hitchens, they may have spent a valuable pick on a player who won’t provide anything new.
Role with the Chiefs: In the short term, the best guess is that Bolton will be the third linebacker this year behind Hitchens and Gay, likely playing the “Will” role.
In the long term, Bolton certainly appears to be a planned replacement for Hitchens, with the apparent idea being to get a player who checks all the same boxes but has more explosion and lateral agility. If he can prove those athletic scores don’t reflect who he is on the field and the Chiefs are able to get that upgrade they’ve been searching for (while saving a great deal of money, considering Hitchens’ contract), the pick will go from controversial to widely praised. If not, they’re stuck having spent a high-round pick on a relatively non-impact position to grab a player identical to someone they already have in-house.
Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
Evaluation: I haven’t exactly kept my feelings about Humphrey a secret since Kansas City took him in the second round and I had a chance to look at some of his game film.
The Chiefs continued their offseason focus of rebuilding their offensive line by selecting the longtime starter and two-time Big 12 offensive lineman of the year in Humphrey to compete at the center position. And let’s just say his tape makes it clear why they did so. Humphrey is a technician who consistently shows off excellent feet that provide a great base regardless of the situation he’s in. He also shows solid hands with a nice punch that can keep him clean and the ability to adjust when things don’t go well, even against elite competition.
On this play, Humphrey is facing Quinnen Williams, who is now one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL. Humphrey gives some ground at the snap thanks to Williams’ explosion and could be in trouble given Williams’ strength and ability to just plow his way to the quarterback. Instead, Humphrey keeps his legs sliding and resets his hands in order to re-establish some leverage and is able to guide Williams around the pocket. It’s a tough recovery that’s demonstrative of a player who doesn’t lose his cool in tough spots and understands the nuances of the position. And that was two years ago. Humphrey has only improved since then.