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Chamarri Conner: The Perfect Chess Piece for Steve Spagnuolo’s Defense?

With the 119th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Defending World Champion Kansas City City select… Chamarri Conner, defensive back, Virginia Tech.

(Photo by: Ryan Hunt/USA TODAY Sports)


After rumors linking the Chiefs to defensive backs Mekhi Garner, Jerrick Reed, Jason Taylor II and Cam Smith – who’s name picked up steam in recent days – Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo decide on versatile DB Chamarri Conner.

With the rising popularity of spread offenses in college and three-receiver sets in the NFL, the slot defender is increasingly important, and an role where the rookie defensive back should find instant success. Conner is the movable chess piece that Steve Spagnuolo was looking for and he’ll be incredibly valuable to the success of this defense.

Who is Chamarri Conner?

Originally from Jacksonville, FL, Conner was a 4-star recruit and the number 17 overall safety in the country according to ESPN in 2017. He committed to Virginia Tech and appeared in 61 games (48 starts) for the Hokies from 2018-22, earning a starting role as a sophomore that he never looked back. Conner was an honorable mention All-ACC pick as a junior in 2020, pacing his squad with 81 stops (3.5 for loss), intercepting two passes and breaking up four others in 11 starts. During his time in Blacksburg he built a reputation as a big-hitter and playmaker during his time in school, Conner performed to a high standard.

Conner predominantly played in the slot during his five years with Virginia Tech. His 4.51 speed, intelligence and aggression were utilized in and around the line of scrimmage.

In 61 games he logged 4 interceptions, 23 passes defended with 314 tackles (the 10th-most in school history), 21 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. A four-year starter (and five-year contributor) at Virginia Tech, Conner started 48 consecutive games without missing a single snap. In addition to his contributions on defense, Conner was a standout on special teams throughout his time in Blacksburg, logging 802 snaps as a special teams ace. 

Conner will soon sign a million dollar deal, transforming both his and his family’s fortunes. The Chiefs drafted an intelligent and focused player at number 119, who’s impeccable character was partly the reason Brett Veach and Spags felt so comfortable drafting him there.

How Will Spagnuolo Use Him?

Conner’s key strength is his versatility. He recorded significant snaps as a slot corner, a free safety (Deep) and a strong safety (Box) during his career at Virginia Tech, demonstrating an ability to play anywhere in the secondary. I think of him as a “swiss army knife” and with two starting cornerbacks in L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie, it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs will utilize Conner in the slot.

Conner’s potential is similar to that of Steelers star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Both players have a similar build, scored similar in athletic testing, with Conner having a slight edge in total strength (Conner has 6 more BP reps than Fitzpatrick) and were both projected as slot corners/ free safeties coming out of college.

As a Slot Corner

The slot corner is now one of the most important starting positions in today’s NFL; with NFL defenses spending the majority of their time in nickel and dime packages – Conner spent most of his time in the slot in college. Since the Chiefs utilizes the Cover 2 defense, Spags could use Conner as a slot corner back in key situations or use his athleticism and size (6’0″, 202lbs) to bully smaller receivers off the line who could give the Chiefs problems (i.e. Hunter Renfrow). Conner has the long, lean frame with very good height and length, good weight, and good athletic ability with good quickness, agility, explosiveness and solid balance to play the slot in Kansas City.

Conner has the size to play outside, but served as the Hokies’ de facto slot corner, able to mirror slot receivers from off-man coverage or in Zone, showing very good understanding of route combinations, reads through the WR to the QB and plays with proper leverage, knowing when to press up to the short flat and when to bail deep depending on the location of his LB/S help. Has good timing to get his hands in to deflect passes in the short to intermediate when facing the line of scrimmage and attacking forward. Conner playing significant snaps in the slot will also benefit Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed because Spags trusted both as his best cover corners and will line both of them up on the outside which is McDuffie’s natural spot which will produce more pass deflections and better yet, interceptions. 

As a Safety

Chiefs plays a Cover 2 scheme primarily to utilize the strengths of star safety Justin Reid. The “split safeties” in Cover 2 defenses don’t need to be quite as rangy as prototypical free safeties or lay the wood like classic strong safeties, but they must do some of everything. As deep defenders, they are still providing vital pass coverage on the back end, and since there’s no strong safety in the box, they must be quick to assist in run support. The cornerbacks have more help deep so they don’t need the top physical traits of single high corners, but they can sometimes have more run responsibilities, particularly in Cover 2.

Conner has all the necessary physical and mental capabilities to excel as a free safety. While Justin Fuente and Brent Pry may have utilized him around the line of scrimmage, this does not mean he will not excel as a free safety in the NFL. 

He has an excellent understanding of zone coverage and is great at reading patterns and feeling/anticipating where the quarterback is going to go with the football. Like in college, Conner could be an aggressive hard hitting free safety who makes tight ends and slot defenders think twice before driving up the seams to make a contested catch.

If the Chiefs use Conner as a free safety, newly signed LB Drue Tranquill could play as a the Safety/Linebacker (Dirty Dan) role due to his LB size with safety like ability around the line of scrimmage. Tranquill, Nick Bolton, Willie Gay and Justin Reid in and around the box gives Kansas City plenty of speed on defense.

As a Chess Piece

Conner’s experience playing in the slot and around the line, as well as an occasional yet highly effective blitzer, adds yet another string to his bow. Spags can get creative with an excellent chess piece for his young, 11th total NFL rated defense. Conner has the versatility to play in the slot in spot-duty against “big slot” WR’s and TE’s, due to his play strength, good run support ability, and very good open-field tackling. 

When I see Chamarri Conner, yes I see Minkah Fitzpatrick but he reminds me of another versatile DB from Virginia Tech, Commanders CB Kendall Fuller. According to Next Gen Stats, Fuller was a key piece for the Chiefs defense during their Super Bowl LIV run. Fuller aligned all over the field for the Chiefs, seeing snaps at slot CB (46%), safety (32%) and in the box (20%).

The Chiefs drafted a versatile play maker who can play virtually any position in the defensive backfield to a high standard. It appears before he was drafted, Conner earned Brett Veach’s approval and it should be fun to see how he is deployed and utilized in Kansas City. Conner wins with size, physicality, strength through the route stem, and vertical speed. He can play safety, corner, nickel—every position on the gridiron he can play. He looks like very selfless guy who will be a valuable chess piece in this process.

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