There’s an old NFL cliché: “You can never have enough cornerbacks.”
That’s true for any team, but this offseason it looks like the Kansas City Chiefs are testing that theory to its full extent.
After selecting a cornerback and a safety in the first two rounds, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach continued to add to the position — selecting three more defensive backs on Day 3 of the draft. On top of that, the Chiefs acquired Houston Texans defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. via trade on Monday.
Johnson has been on the Chiefs’ radar longer than last weekend. He was brought in for a pre-draft visit during the 2019 NFL Draft process before the Texans selected him in the second round. Then, just last year, Veach took an interest in Johnson.
“There was a bit of dialogue at the trade deadline [last season]Veach revealed to reporters during his press conference on Tuesday. “He was a guy whose name came up. We had a huge experience with him, (former linebackers coach Matt House) was here and went through the [pre-draft] process with Lonnie leaving; he was with him in Kentucky – so obviously Justin [Reid] played with him in Houston.
It’s not too shocking that Veach has his eye on Johnson; he’s exactly what the Chiefs usually like in their cornerbacks — even though he hasn’t played strictly in that position in his NFL career.
“Lonnie was in a situation where he was tossed back from corner to corner to safety, corner to corner and then back to safety,” Veach acknowledged. “I just said, ‘Look, we’re pretty good here at safety. Between Justin, Juan, and now Bryan Cook and Deon Bush, it’s fine. We like certain turns, but we also like big, long turns; we know he can press, we know he is physical. I think he will come here and compete.
Covered Lonnie Johnson for the past 2 years…Chiefs fans about him.. In truth he got no favors in his situation, 3 DC, 4 HC and position changes back and forth .. but a real talk, he brought some of the lack of success on himself. Lonnie easily has all the necessary physical tools https://t.co/WKnd9eEvXG
— Ron Hughley (@RealRonTheShow) May 2, 2022
Competition will be the bare minimum for what any of the newly acquired cornerbacks will have to do. The jam-packed room includes three draft picks: one of them being first-round pick Trent McDuffie — and another being fourth-round pick Joshua Williams, a Division II Fayetteville State graduate.
Like Johnson, Williams possesses traits of size and aggression; unlike Johnson, he didn’t show those traits against NFL offenses. Either way, Williams intrigued Kansas City early in the offseason.
“Small school guys are always a bit tricky because of the level of competition,” Veach admitted. “When you come back to the Senior Bowl, it’s always encouraging to see a guy struggle – I think he struggled at first, he looked like he didn’t belong there – but as the week goes on, you You’ve seen this game of courage and tenacity out there. It’s easy for a guy from a small school to get in there and not have success at first, and somehow go into the tank: hamstrings are sore, calf is sore so we’re good… it wasn’t like that He struggled at first but kept fighting and fighting.
That first impression marked Veach enough to be an official pre-draft visit to Kansas City. He was one of a handful of cornerbacks who were drafted and went on to make an impression on Chiefs decision makers.
“Then we brought him in for an internal interview, and he’s a really smart person,” Veach said. “He understood a lot of our playbook. When (defensive backs coach) Dave [Merrit] get your hands on these guys and [defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] gets to work with him, we think it might take a while – but he’s a big corner, he’s smart, he’s athletic, he’s got size; the size and length you cannot train.
“We just think he has a real chance – how he’s wired, how he’s progressed through the spring season in the evaluation process, and then meeting him in person; we felt good with him.
In addition to Johnson, Williams and McDuffie, the Chiefs drafted Washington State prospect Jaylen Watson in the seventh round; he also has length and physical traits that put him in the same mold as Johnson or Williams. With their final pick, they drafted safety Nazeeh Johnson from Marshall — who has played the majority of her college career in a slot-cornerback lineup.
“From what we did at the end of the draft to the end-of-round picks,” Veach recalled. “I think we’ll have a ton of competition now for those three, four and five spots.”
Competition will only make every player involved better, and that’s what the Chiefs hope will happen with this cornerback room. Needless to say, whoever emerges from the offseason battle will have absolutely earned that right.
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