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KC Chiefs’ Sophomore Success


By Thomas Minor Chiefs Focus

Entering the 2022 NFL season, the Chiefs had a lot of question marks surrounding their defense.  With preconceived notions of an offensive demised with the loss of Pro Bowl wideout Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs defense was under an even greater magnifying glass.  Six notable rookies contributed last year.  They are cornerback Trent McDuffie, cornerback Joshua Williams, cornerback Jaylen Watson, safety Bryan Cook, linebacker Leo Chenal, and defensive end George Karlaftis.  It is safe to say that those question marks had turned into major concerns for the Red Kingdom by the start of training camp.


In hindsight, those concerns were short-lived, because each rookie was able to contribute to the overall improvement of the Chiefs’ defense.  With that said, the journey to contributing was not easy.  There were plenty of bumps along the road, and learning curves that were not friendly.  Overall, each rookie went through the process of maturation at their own pace and was able to grow in a defensive scheme that is not kind to rookies.  Let’s look at their stats, their growth in year one, and how they will fit into the Chiefs’ defense in their sophomore campaign.


Trent McDuffie -Cornerback

McDuffie-Athlon Sports
Athlon Sports


At pick number 21 in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Trent McDuffie from the University of Washington.  Injured early on in training camp, Trent McDuffie was unable to play in the first six games of the season.  With the type of stats, he was able to compile during his rookie season, McDuffie is poised to be an impact player for the Chiefs secondary for years to come.  Trent McDuffie was on the field for 809 snaps in year one.  That is the most of any rookie in the Chiefs rookie class.  Again, he missed the first six games of the year.  That is an insane stat!  Also, he was able to amass 33 solo tackles with six assists and one quarterback sack.


Where does McDuffie need to grow?  If he knows it or not, he is being groomed into the Chiefs’ number 1 cornerback position aka Mr. Shutdown Corner.  Currently, that title belongs to L’Jarius Sneed.  With Sneed only having one year left on his contract after the 2023 season, his future with the club is uncertain.  If they can retain L’Jarius and McDuffie continues his growth, the Chiefs could have the best tandem of cornerbacks they’ve had in decades.


Joshua Williams – Cornerback

J. Williams-The Fayetteville Observer
The Fayetteville Observer


With the 135th pick in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Joshua Williams from Fayetteville State.  Of all the rookies, Joshua Williams had the most extensive hill to climb.  It is difficult for any player transitioning from college football to the National Football League.  Only 1.6% of all NCAA football players ever make it to the professional level, and most of these players come from the Division 1 level.


Williams surpassed all expectations by being drafted by the Chiefs as a Division II football player.  During his rookie season, Williams was on the field for 499 snaps.  He amassed 31 solo tackles and one interception.  Where does Joshua Williams need to grow?  His confidence.  This is the obvious answer, and probably the answer for most rookie players going into their sophomore season.  This is truer for Joshua Williams than most players because he must overcome the doubts in his head that he belongs even though he came from a Division II college.  He can be a major contributor in the secondary as the nickel cornerback this year.


Jaylen Watson -Cornerback

Jaylen Watson -The Kansas City Star
The Kansas City Star


With the 243rd pick in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Jaylen Watson from Washington State University.  Watson is best known by people outside the Kansas City area for working at Wendy’s.  Inside the Kansas City area, he is best known for picking off Justin Herbert in the season opener and returning it 99 yards for a touchdown and game-clinching score.   Jaylen Watson was the biggest surprise of all the rookies on the defensive side of the ball.  He amassed 719 snaps on defense in his first year.  He collected 39 solo tackles and one interception.  Watson’s contributions were highlighted in the playoffs.  He produced consecutive games in the playoffs with an interception of Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow.


Where does Watson need to grow?  The answer is consistency.  As with most rookies, Jaylen Watson flashed signs of shutdown corner abilities and then was out of position on consecutive plays.  With that said, the kid is a seventh-round selection with low expectations but has overachieved thus far.   If he continues his growth and becomes consistent, he could be a Charvarius Ward-type cornerback, and I’ll take that!


Bryan Cook -Safety

Bryan Cook-The Athletic
The Athletic


With the 62nd pick in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chief selected Bryan Cook from the University of Cincinnati.  Needing to fill the hole left by the departure of Tyrann Mathieu and the eventual departure of Juan Thornhill, the Chiefs made safety a priority pick in the draft.  With the signing of Justin Reid, the learning curve for Bryan Cook was allotted more time to take place.  In his first season, Cook played in only 387 defensive snaps and amassed 19 solo tackles.  His maturation was on display during the AFC Championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Bryan Cook was able to diagnose a play the defense was burned on earlier in the game.  In doing so, he was able to deflect a pass by Joe Burrow that was intercepted by Joshua Williams.


Where does Bryan Cook need to grow?  He needs to stay hungry and continue to develop as a leader in the secondary.  He has already established himself as a vocal leader and needs to continue that path.


Leo Chenal -Linebacker

Chenal- The Kansas City Star
The Kansas City Star


With the 103rd pick in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Leo Chenal linebacker from the University of Wisconsin.  Known for his freakish athletic ability and ability to blitz the quarterback, Chenal was added to strengthen the depth at the linebacker position for the Chiefs.  Not known for his pass coverage abilities, Leo Chenal would be utilized as a run-stopper in his first year.  Being a passing league, his opportunities were minimized.  He only amassed 18 solo tackles and seven assists in 278 defensive snaps.


Where does Leo Chenal need to grow?  He needs to improve his pass coverage and understanding of the defensive scheme.  Currently, he sits third on the depth chart but needs to be prepared to step in for a defense that is poised to be the best it’s been in over a decade.


George Karlaftis -Defensive End

Karlaftis-Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs


With the 30th pick in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected defensive end George Karlaftis from the University of Purdue.  There is no doubt that this selection was a severe need for the Chiefs.  Understanding that today’s NFL defenses need a steady diet of capable pass rushers to be successful, the Chiefs were not going without.  Karlaftis had a solid rookie season.  He was able to amass 791 defensive snaps which is second among the rookie class (McDuffie 809).  In those snaps, Karlaftis collected 19 solo tackles, six assists, and seven sacks.


Where does Karlaftis need to grow?  He needs to continue to perfect his technique at his position.  His raw strength is evident, but at this level, you cannot sustain success with strength alone.


In closing, the Chiefs will be entering the 2023 season with the best defense they have had in over a decade.  That defense has a young nucleus that is anchored by a First Team All-Pro defensive lineman in Chris Jones.  If the Chiefs’ offense wasn’t enough for NFL teams to deal with, add a potential top-10 defense to the mix.  The Chiefs look poised to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions in almost two decades!


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