Who will be the cornerbacks for the 2022 Chiefs?
Chiefs Focus @Chiefsfocus
The Kansas City Chiefs once again will head into the 2022 NFL season considered one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. After losing cornerbacks Charvarius Ward to the 49ers and Mike Hughes to the Lions in free agency, The Chiefs aggressively upgraded their cornerback room this offseason. They traded up in the first round for Washington’s Trent McDuffie before
selecting two more corners on Day Three of the 2022 NFL Draft. A few days after the draft, Kansas City also traded for former Houston Texans cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. Physical cornerbacks are something that Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo really likes.
I love Veach’s Moneyball approach, which is buying players at a low cost but who will replace the productions of the previous star players — pretty smart considering the Chiefs’ pass defense was the sixth-worst statistically in the NFL last year. That should obviously help. But mostly, the Chiefs are hoping a younger, fresher approach will lift the team out of the realm of four straight seasons of counting on Mahomes to do it all. Veach hopes that the change — and investment of new defensive players — will be enough to help Mahomes to lead them on championship runs for many years to come. The cornerback room made some adjustments with new guys mixed in
with the current guys and with that I’ll be previewing what to expect from the 2022 Chiefs cornerback unit.
It’s my belief that McDuffie together with Sneed and Fenton, could be as good as any trio of corners in the league. Sneed enters his third year with the Chiefs after an up and down 2021 season. Not because of his skill set but what he was going through at the time. Sneed had to
deal with the tragic loss of his older brother in November of last season. I believe Sneed will use these moments as motivation to move forward and help his team get back to the Super Bowl. I can see Sneed getting four picks this season and 10 plus pass defenses. Those stats to go with his 58 tackles per season average and 5 tackle for losses per season would make him an All-Pro in 2022.
Then there’s the team’s longest-tenured veteran cornerback, former sixth-round draft pick Rashad Fenton. Fenton finished 2021 with the sixth-best overall grade of 77.3 in the league among cornerbacks with at least 500 defensive snaps according to Pro Football Focus, He was the only Chiefs cornerback to not allow a touchdown in coverage during the regular season last year, also allowing less than 70% of passes to be completed in his coverage. It’s my opinion that Fenton is the team’s best shutdown corner. Fenton plays with the same aggressive in your face style of Marcus Peters but has the intelligence and skills to make the play like Charvarius Ward. His tackling and aggressive style backs that up, as he has missed just twice tackles since 2019. The Bills Divisional game where Gabriel Davis scored four touchdowns is proof why I believe Fenton is the team’s top cover man because his style would’ve disrupted Josh Allen’s timing to find his receivers helping the pass rush get to him.
There’s my guy, Trent McDuffie. Who was one of the best cornerbacks in college football last season. He allowed just 16 catches on 36 targeted passes for 111 yards and no touchdowns surrendered on the year. He actually hasn’t surrendered a touchdown since 2019 and has only allowed two receptions of more than 20 yards in his entire college career. Of course the media would call out McDuffie for his size, but Packers corner Jaire Alexander went through the same criticism but he’s one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks. Just like Alexander coming out of Louisville, McDuffie is a playmaking defensive back with upside. Despite their sizes, Both are very fast and can stay with deep threats downfield. McDuffie and Alexander both consistently make plays on the ball, and are solid tacklers. I predicted McDuffie will have a Pro Bowl-caliber season making the All-Rookie Team list.
That brings me to the depth behind Sneed, Fenton, and McDuffie. I’ll start with newly required cornerback/safety Lonnie Johnson Jr. Johnson was picked in the second round back in 2019 by the Houston Texans. Before he was drafted by Houston, Johnson was a Top-30 visitor for the Chiefs during the 2019 NFL Draft process. He was drafted as a cornerback and mostly played
there as a rookie. In his sophomore season, the Texans moved him to safety and carried that experiment into his third year. Some believe he’s better off as a corner than safety however, his versatility to play both positions are a strength. I feel the Chiefs have the coaches to help Johnson reach his potential. Johnson is a willing tackler like Sneed, Fenton and McDuffie and his physical build at 6-2 205 pounds is what will keep him on the field in defensive sub packages. He’s also reunited with newly signed safety Justin Reid as well.
The Chiefs also boosted their cornerback room by drafting Joshua Williams from Fayetteville State who was the first HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) player selected in this season’s draft and Washington State’s Jaylen Watson. Williams is a tall, long, press-man corner (6-3, 195) who had a good college career at Fayetteville State. Williams is almost identical in size to former Chiefs corner Sean Smith. Both are physical corners who fight receivers and have the ability to play press man. They also have speed limitations and can struggle with receivers downfield. Williams will have a steep learning curve in the NFL coming from Division II, but his size and athletic ability will give him a chance to adapt. If he can adjust to the speed and physicality of the NFL, he might prove once again that Brett Veach is a wizard. Williams has the skills to start in the NFL probably late in the season for the Chiefs depending on injuries occurring.
Washington State corner Jaylen Watson was also one of the many interesting defensive selections by the Chiefs. The seventh-round pick comes with plenty of upside and much to prove. In 2021, Watson posted 31 tackles, two interceptions, three pass breakups, and ranked second in the FBS with four fumble recoveries at Washington State. The Chiefs hosted him on a Top 30 visit almost three months ago. I know that he is a long (6-3, 204) press corner that gives the team not only one but three corners over 6-1 with Johnson, Williams and Watson. Some national media football experts say they had Jaylen Watson projected to the fourth round. Because of that, The tall cornerback is a great value for the Chiefs.
That leaves Deandre Baker and DiCaprio Bootle who play some significant limited snaps in 2021. Baker is former Thorpe Award winner (Best college defensive back award) from 2018 playing College ball at Georgia. I hope he can return close to that form but I believe with additions of McDuffie, Williams, Watson and Johnson and because of the versatility of Johnson, Fenton and Sneed, it’s a long shot for Baker to secure a roster spot but I can easily see the Chiefs bringing him and Bootle back on the 2022 practice squad.
All in All, the Chiefs have a talented cornerback unit that many will underestimate. That’s okay. The cornerback play of L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie and Rashad Fenton, if healthy, not only be an important factor in the success of the Chiefs secondary but the whole defense as well. All three are solid coverage players and tacklers, but they must prove they can be physical for the defense to improve. Spagnuolo uses a lot of press-man coverage. This unit’s style of play within this scheme will allow safeties Justin Reid and Juan Thornhill to sort through the plays and be
aggressive as tacklers and pass defenders. Like I said on Twitter, don’t sleep on this secondary, especially our cornerback room.
L’Jarius Sneed: https://youtu.be/GJejz99lt-U
Rashad Fenton: https://youtu.be/8QGgkR7DFuA
Trent McDuffie: https://youtu.be/GQolGIfk7zE
Joshua Williams: https://youtu.be/83EU5EOuKDY
Jaylen Watson: https://youtu.be/ezLcs_51d0w
Lonnie Johnson: https://youtu.be/DGIUXchSglM