Every week during the 2021 NFL season, we’re going to — just being honest here — overreact to what we’ve seen on the field for a different NFL team and begin projecting NFL draft prospects at positions of concerning need.
Think of it as a mini one-team mock draft, with early (Rounds 1-2), middle (Rounds 3-4) and late (Rounds 5-7) prospects at each team’s respective position of concern.
This week’s NFL draft makeover is for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs have lost thee games in their first five outings in 2021. With Patrick Mahomes as their starting quarterback, the team's third loss had typically taken a lot longer to arrive — in Week 16 in 2018, in Week 8 in 2019 and in the Super Bowl last season.
It has been an atypically tough start for the team, even if their losses came to three current division leaders. Mahomes remains on pace to throw for more than 5,000 yards and 54 touchdowns, so he's not really the issue.
The problem lately has been that Mahomes has been asked to cover up the Chiefs' other shortcomings. Some games he can, others it's just too big an ask.
And in no way are we writing off a team that can flip the switch to nuclear mode at a moment's notice. Some might argue they remain the team to beat in the AFC until further notice, even after the Buffalo Bills' tide-shifting victory at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
But if the Chiefs don't repair their defense for the long term, as well as insulate Mahomes better, it's also not hard to see the team slip into a post-championship lull, much the way that great quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Troy Aikman (and others) fell into for similar reasons.
The Chiefs have most of their draft capital in 2022 after making some trades prior to the 2021 NFL draft. Next spring they'll have most of their own original selections, swapping out their fifth-rounder for Baltimore's sixth-round pick (via the Orlando Brown trade) and a sixth for a seventh-rounder (Mike Hughes trade). If they receive a compensatory pick, it likely will be a seventh-rounder.
So how can the Chiefs keep their championship window open? One draft class alone might not be able to do it, but we think it actually could be the start of an important refortification period.
Ohio State EDGE Zach Harrison
The Chiefs have lacked a second pressure player up front. Chris Jones has been asked to play more outside, and it has reduced his footprint on games. The struggles of Frank Clark since he received a big payday have been well-documented.
There simply are not enough candidates on the roster to replace Clark fully now. The Chiefs have drafted only two Day 3 EDGE players (Joshua Kaindoh, Round 4, 2021; Mike Danna, Round 5, 2020) since taking Dee Ford in Round 1 in 2014. Alex Okafor, a replacement-level edge rusher who turns 31 soon, has received fairly robust snaps this season.
Hence the need for new blood here. And unlike the past few years, it appears to be a good draft class to have a need on the edge. Depending on where the Chiefs ultimately end up picking in Round 1, they could have their choice of a few options.
If you look at the Chiefs' defense, it's easy to see they desire mass, length and high-level athleticism in their edge defenders. Harrison checks all those boxes off at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds and with the athletic burst of a player 20 to 30 pounds lighter.
Has he set the college football world on fire? Not yet. But Harrison was an elite high-school recruit who has played at a respectable level for the Buckeyes the past two-plus seasons, often generating a high rate of pressures and hits, even his if sack total (7.5 in 26 career games) and disruptions (one forced fumble, three passes defended) are moderate at best so far.
Still, a team like the Chiefs would be smart to bet on Harrison's traits. Even if his production doesn't spike down the stretch, he could vault higher than wherever the Chiefs pick if he blows up the NFL scouting combine, as expected. Some scouts believe Harrison will run in the high 4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash and perform very well in the jumping drills.
Maryland WR Dontay Demus Jr.
Entering the season, Demus earned mostly third- and fourth-round grades from NFL scouts. He was the Terrapins' best offensive weapon the past few seasons and had been off to a great start in 2021, catching four or more passes in every game and averaging 18.1 yards per catch at 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, all while earning extra attention as the one skill-position player opponents felt they needed to stop against Maryland.
That all changed two weeks ago when Demus suffered a season-ending knee injury in the loss to Iowa. It was a crushing blow for player and program alike.
Demus is a height-weight-speed prospect who can stretch the field vertically. The Chiefs have been seeking this type of big-framed, clean-moving target for some time now. They brought in Josh Gordon as a dart throw and still have Demarcus Robinson, but adding a receiver in this mold feels like a priority.
When Demus was being carted off the field following his injury, he mouthed the words "I'll be back" to his teammates. It's possible he feels like there is unfinished business. But we also wouldn't blame him for declaring early if he felt like the injury and rehab wouldn't set back his ability to work out for NFL teams during the next draft cycle.
If he does enter the 2022 class, Demus could still be available in the middle rounds because of the injury. It might scare off other teams, but the dice-rolling Chiefs typically will bet on elite traits and likely wouldn't be scared off by his medical limitations.
West Florida S D'Anthony Bell
The Chiefs have shown an affinity for taking gambles on FBS-level prospects (and lower), such as Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, James O'Shaughnessy, Tyreek Hill (who spent a year at West Alabama after being dismissed from Oklahoma State), Ukeme Eligwe and Tremon Smith. They've had a pretty decent hit rate on this type of projection pick.
Bell fits that mold. The redshirt senior has taken a circuitous route to this point, committing to Maryland (and leaving before taking a snap), spending a year at Albany State in 2015, transferring to Iowa Community College, followed by a year off, a season at Coffeyville CC and then landing with the D2 Argonauts in 2019.
Settling down there, Bell has established himself as one of the best D2 prospects in the country. He's a big hitter at a shade under 6-1 and 210 pounds, and scouts estimate he can run in the high 4.4s. Bell has the explosive athletic ability and production (three INTs, 15 PBUs, four fumble recoveries) to draw NFL scouting attention, even if he's an older prospect.
Bell led UWF's defense to the D2 title in 2019, collecting two pass breakups and one fumble recovery in the title game. This season, the Argos are the unquestioned No. 1 ranked team on the D2 level with Bell leading the way on defense.
Although Bell might not quite get the attention that second-rounders Kyle Dugger and Jeremy Chinn received two years ago, he's a Senior Bowl candidate whose postseason workouts could put him very much in the Day 3 picture.
The Chiefs really need to find players at safety, a position where their depth and talent have been stretched almost as far as they can go.