The Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl in 50 years thanks in large part to their blazing speed on offense.
They spent the past weekend getting their defense up to speed, too.
The Chiefs only had five scheduled picks – they traded back into the draft to pick up a sixth – and made a point of using their choices to prioritize speed and athleticism. Second-round pick Willie Gay Jr. ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash among linebackers at the NFL scouting combine, and fourth-round pick L'Jarius Sneed not only had the fastest time among safeties at 4.37 seconds, but the fourth-fastest of any player who ran during the week in Indianapolis.
The run on speed even continued after the draft. The Chiefs signed five defensive backs and two linebackers as undrafted free agents, and one of them – Auburn's Javaris Davis – had the combine's second-fastest 40 time among cornerbacks
"It's certainly how those positions are played nowadays," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. "When you have guys that test extremely well and perform at the combine, or if they had pro days, those guys are certainly going to be – if you didn't like them on tape, those guys are the ones that are going to get second and third looks."
That was certainly the case with Gay, Sneed and seventh-round pick Thakarius Keyes. Gay only played a handful of games last season because of off-the-field issues while Sneed (Louisiana Tech) and Keyes (Tulane) mostly played cornerback against lesser competition, leaving all of them with a dearth of quality game film.
The speed they showed during the scouting combine wound up validating the looks the Chiefs did manage to get.
"When you see their performances on tape, you get even more excited," Veach said. "We certainly want to target guys that test well, but they don't just test well. They're football players that test well. Not testers that play football."
Of course, straight-line speed is one thing. But what gets Chiefs coach Andy Reid most excited about the fresh faces on his defense is that they play fast. They also have the burst, agility and quickness necessary in the modern NFL.
"We kind of have to formulate it and make sure we have the best group that can go in there and dominate on game day," Reid said. "Brett worked that whole thing and did it to perfection, and as you watch it, you're able to go back and look at this guy and go, 'OK, you could use this and you could use that.' But these kids just jump off the screen at you."
There is another reason the Chiefs wanted to get faster on defense: Every team in the AFC West spent the draft trying to catch them on offense, and that means more pressure on their defense when they play them six times each season.
Raiders general manager Mike Mayock acknowledged that was the case when they chose Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, the fastest player at the scouting combine with a 4.27-second 40-yard dash, with the 12th overall pick. They also added Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden and South Carolina's Bryan Edwards among the first three rounds.
The Chargers added Virginia's Joe Reid, another wide receiver with a sub-4.4-second 40, while the Broncos used their first-round pick on Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (4.45) and their fourth-round selection on Missouri's Albert Okwuegbunam, who had the combine's fastest 40 among tight ends at 4.49 seconds.
"We like guys, certainly in our scheme, that have some length and can run," Veach said. "If we had the first pick in Round 4 it would have been Sneed, so we were certainly holding our breath there. Our guys did a good job of helping me be patient and work through this, because letting the board play itself out and getting Sneed there at the bottom of four there certainly enabled us to use the other equity to go up and get Keyes (in the seventh round)."
Veach said the Chiefs had a fifth-round grade on Keyes, making it good value to trade a sixth-rounder next year to get him.
Arguably the biggest needs of the Chiefs, who used their first-round pick on LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, was at cornerback and linebacker. And they not only addressed those roster shortcomings, they managed to do it through the draft and with rookie free agents while acquiring the kind of speed they have been so sorely lacking.
Perhaps that is why Veach was so pleased with the way things transpired when he recapped the draft.
"Our guys did a really great job. Really excited about our draft class," he said, "and I think our guys really hit a home run after the draft. Some of these guys that we were able to land in free agency were guys that we were considering in the fifth round there, so a lot of these guys that were on the board for that final pick, we were able to stay aggressive and sign after the draft. Again, really excited about the future of the Kansas City Chiefs."