Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs wouldn’t be here without incredible draft success rate

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes is in year two of a 10-year, $450 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. For the 2022 season, he single-handedly gobbled up 17.2% of the team’s salary cap, according to

Mahomes is the most talented player in the league, so neither the Chiefs, nor any other team if given the chance, would hesitate to allocate so much to a single player. He is the exception to the rule.

Yet what goes to one player cannot go to all the others, namely the other 52 needed to win games.

That’s why there remains the theory that the winning formula for teams is to have a great quarterback on a relatively cheap rookie deal — like Kansas City’s Super Bowl opponent Philadelphia (Jalen Hurts, $1.6 million cap shot) or championship game rival AFC Cincinnati (Joe Burrow, $9.8 million) take advantage. Then you spend some of that extra money on several important pieces.

And that’s probably true.

Well, unless you’re the bosses and can find an old-fashioned way around this conundrum; namely by absolutely crushing the draft of the past three years and filling the roster with key contributors who come on the cheap, even if the quarterback doesn’t.

Kansas City has made 22 selections in the last three NFL Drafts. Due to his success in that span, the Chiefs have never had a selection above 21st overall (2022). They didn’t have a first round in 2021 and chose the 32nd in 2020.

Still, general manager Brett Veach and his staff have been on a heater. As much as Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones and head coach Andy Reid get deserved praise, it was truly an organizational trip to the Super Bowl.

The Kansas City Chiefs drafted running back Isiah Pacheco (10) in the seventh round, and he was a key contributor in the playoffs as a rookie. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Seventeen of those 22 caps have played in the AFC title game, 10 of which have played at least half the snaps. And they came from all over the draft, from the first to the last round. There was even undrafted free agent rookie Jake Cochrane, who featured in 18 special teams snaps.

Additionally, two other draft picks — running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and defensive end Joshua Kaindoh — are on the injured reserve list. One pick — cornerback Thakarius “Bopete” Keyes, a 2020 seventh-round pick, was traded after one season.

Another receiver, Cornell Powell, a fifth-round pick in 2021, is on the practice squad but has seen action in three games this season. Rookie Darian Kinnard has seen limited duties this season, but the team sees a future for him as an inside offensive lineman.

It’s fair to say that Kansas City has made 20 of its last 22 draft selections.

Consider some of the highlights from Sunday’s AFC title game win over the Cincinnati Bengals of the 2022 class alone:

  • Running back Isiah Pacheco, who went 251st on Rutgers, had 85 rushing and receiving yards in a game they were hard to come by.

  • Defensive end George Karlaftis, Purdue’s 30th pick, had a big sack and added depth to a dominant defensive front.

  • Washington State cornerback Jaylen Watson, who came out 243rd, had an interception for the second straight playoff game.

  • Cornerback Joshua Williams, Fayetteville State’s 135th selection, had his own pick as he landed a brilliant point from fellow freshman defensive back Bryan Cook, a second-rounder from Cincinnati.

  • Washington’s first-round corner Trent McDuffie deflected two passes and six tackles while taking 98% of the snaps.

  • And finally, there was receiver, and more importantly, returner Skyy Moore, a second-rounder from West Michigan, who caught just three passes for 13 yards but delivered the huge punt return 29 yards last minute to set up KC’s play- winning drive

Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach (center) has found all sorts of hidden gems in recent drafts to help bolster the roster around Patrick Mahomes.  (AP Photo/Reed Hoffman)

Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach (center) has found all sorts of hidden gems in recent drafts to help bolster the roster around Patrick Mahomes. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffman)

It’s an amazing and critical group performance from the rookies. As of 2021, linebacker Nick Bolton (four tackles) and offensive linemen Creed Humphries and Trey Smith were on the field for every defensive or offensive snap, respectively.

The Chiefs are, without a doubt, a top team. There’s Mahomes, the game’s biggest star. And tight end Travis Kelce, a future Hall of Famer. The pass-rushing duo of Chris Jones and Frank Clark combined for seven tackles and 3.5 sacks. Offensive linemen Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown Jr. were expensive additions the team brought in to protect Mahomes.

Those six alone combine for 53.58% of the Chiefs’ salary cap. Comparatively, on the wealth-sharing Eagles, the top 25 players combine for 53.13% of the salary cap.

Next season will be more difficult for Kansas City. Brown can leave by free agency, but the other five are expected to eat 63.71% on their own.

Still, that might not matter. At least not if Veach and company can continue the hot streak and use their dozen 2023 draft picks to find players to come and contribute in even the biggest games.

Kansas City may be powered by a star, but it wouldn’t be in the Super Bowl, let alone potentially winning it, if it weren’t for the relatively low-paid young guys from the Chiefs who step in again and again and again.

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