By Brentley Weissman
One of the things that makes scouting and the overall draft evaluation process so fun and fulfilling is when you see a late-round prospect or an under-the-radar player greatly outplay their draft position when they make it to the NFL. If your team has a good general manager, then this is something that is a pretty common occurrence. Good general managers are able to turn their Day 3 picks into meaningful, quality starters, and build out a team with young and inexpensive talent. Perhaps no general manager in the league is better at hitting on late-round guys than the Kansas City Chiefs' Brett Veach.
Veach, who is most famously known for being the one who banged on the table for Patrick Mahomes back in the 2017 NFL Draft, has quickly become one of the best talent evaluators in all of football. His ability to evaluate and find talent in the later rounds has allowed Kansas City to have key contributors on very team-friendly rookie deals so that they can continue to maximize their Super Bowl window. Finding gems late in the draft like guard Nick Allegretti, or even trading for UDFA Chavarious Ward, a talented young starting corner, are moves that separate Veach from other general managers around the NFL—and it would appear that the 2020 NFL Draft may have been Veach’s best one yet.
Kansas City’s rookie class has a chance to be special. The team has seen significant contributions from most of their rookie class, and many of these players project to be key pieces moving forward. While first-round running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has more than lived up to the hype as being the first running back off the board, one could argue that the most important and perhaps best pick for the franchise’s long-term success was fourth-round corner L’Jarius Sneed.
Sneed was drafted in the fourth round out of Louisiana Tech and was expected to be a solid depth player in the secondary while also contributing on special teams. The plan changed when usual starting corner Bashaud Breeland was suspended for the first four games in August. Sneed wound up starting the first three games of the season at outside corner, and he had about as good of an NFL debut as you could ever ask for. Sneed recorded two interceptions in his first three starts this season, and at one point led the NFL in picks. He showed really good toughness, instincts, and movement skills to cover some of the league’s best and proved that he belonged in this league.
Sneed faced his first real test of adversity in the NFL in Week 3 as he suffered a fractured collarbone injury that landed him on injured reserve. After rehabbing, Sneed fought his way back from injury and was activated back to the 53-man roster. However, Breeland’s suspension had ended and there was no longer a starting spot at outside corner. Rather than being OK with not starting or contributing, Sneed took it upon himself to learn nickel, a position he had never taken a rep at all of training camp, and had earned his way back into the starting lineup.
As good as Sneed was in his first few starts this season outside, it appears that he is even better inside. Sneed has been excellent playing nickel and has shown the toughness, instincts, burst, and tackling ability to excel inside. He is coming off of arguably his best game as a pro in Week 15 against the New Orleans Saints where he had three tackles, one sack, and an interception. What’s so impressive about Sneed is that corner is one of the hardest positions for rookies to succeed at, and he has done so now at multiple positions.
While the success of Sneed may come to a surprise for many outside of the Kansas City facility, The Draft Network’s own Joe Marino saw many of the traits that he is using to excel in the NFL back when he was a college player. In his scouting report of Sneed, Marino wrote:
Terrific athlete. Explosive and fluid with good size. From a matchup standpoint, he isn’t limited. Operates from a balanced base and under control. Springy feet and he can burst in any direction. His ball skills shine on tape and he is aggressive attacking the catch point, not just looking to disrupt but take the football away. Always finds the football. Has experience at cornerback and safety. No questions with his range. Has proven to be a secure tackler.
From the athletic ability, size, toughness, and ball skills, Marino definitely hit the nail on the head. Sneed truly has a chance to be one of the best corners in his rookie class, which is saying something as there were six corners taken in the first round alone.
The NFL draft is the lifeblood of long-term success in the NFL. Adding young and inexpensive players is vital in a league where teams have to be under the salary cap. This is why finding players such as Sneed, or even other late-round rookie players such as defensive end Mike Danna and defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton, become even more important for a team like Kansas City. Having already made Mahomes the richest man in NFL history, and paying top players such as tight end Travis Kelce and defensive tackle Chris Jones—who both received mega extensions last offseason—the team needs players like Sneed in order to continue to compete at the highest level.