Chiefs GM Brett Veach talks Lonnie Johnson Jr., team loading up at cornerback

There’s an old NFL cliché: “You can never have enough cornerbacks.”

That’s true for any team out there, but this offseason, it appears the Kansas City Chiefs are testing that theory out to its fullest extent.

After selecting a cornerback and safety in the first two rounds, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach continued adding to the position — selecting three other defensive backs on Day 3 of the draft. On top of that, the Chiefs acquired Houston Texans’ defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. via trade on Monday.

Johnson has been on the Chiefs’ radar for longer than this last weekend. He was brought in for a pre-draft visit during the 2019 NFL Draft process before the Texans selected him in the second round. Then, as late as last year, Veach showed interest in Johnson.

“There was a little bit of dialogue at the trade deadline [last season],” Veach revealed to reporters during his press conference on Tuesday. “He was a guy whose name got brought up. We did have some extensive experience with him, (former linebackers coach Matt House) was here, and went through the [pre-draft] process with Lonnie coming out; he was with him at Kentucky — then obviously Justin [Reid] played with him in Houston.”

It’s not too much of a shocker that Veach has had his eye on Johnson; He fits exactly what the Chiefs usually like in their cornerbacks — even though he hasn’t been strictly played at that position in his NFL career.

“Lonnie was in a situation where he was bounced around from corner to safety, back to corner, then back to safety,” Veach acknowledged. “I just said, ‘Look, we’re pretty good here at safety.’ Between Justin, Juan, and now Bryan Cook and Deon Bush, we’re good. We have some corners we like, but we also like big, long press corners; we know he can press, we know he’s physical. I think he’ll come in here and compete.”

Compete will be the bare minimum for what any of the newly-acquired cornerbacks will have to do. The jam-packed room includes three draft picks: one of them being first-round selection Trent McDuffie — and another being fourth-round pick Joshua Williams, a graduate of Division-II Fayetteville State.

Like Johnson, Williams boasts traits of size and aggression; unlike Johnson, he wasn’t showing those traits against NFL offenses. Either way, Williams intrigued Kansas City from the beginning of the offseason.

“The small-school guys are always a little tricky because of the level of competition,” Veach admitted. “When you go back to the Senior Bowl, it’s always encouraging to see a guy struggle — I think he struggled early on, he looked like he didn’t belong there — but as the week went on, you saw that grit and toughness play out. It’s easy for a small-school guy to come in there and not have success early on, and kind of go in the tank: the hamstring’s sore, the calf’s sore so we’re good… it wasn’t like that. He struggled early on, but kept fighting and battling.”

That first impression stuck with Veach enough to be an official pre-draft visit for Kansas City. He was one of a handful of cornerbacks that got brought in and continued making a good impression on the Chiefs’ decision-makers.

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“Then we brought him in for an in-house interview, and he’s a really smart individual,” Veach praised. “He understood a great deal of our playbook. When (defensive back coach) Dave [Merrit] gets his hands around these guys and [defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] gets to work with him, we think it may take some time — but he’s a big corner, he’s smart, he’s athletic, he’s got size; the size and length you can’t coach.

“We just think he’s got a real shot — how he’s wired, how he progressed over the spring season in the evaluation process, and then meeting him in person; we felt good about him.”

On top of Johnson, Williams and McDuffie, the Chiefs drafted Washington State prospect Jaylen Watson in the seventh round; he also has length and physicality traits that fit him into the same mold as Johnson or Williams. With their last pick, they drafted safety Nazeeh Johnson from Marshall — who played the majority of his college career in a slot-cornerback alignment.

“From what we did at the end of the draft to the late-round picks,” Veach recalled. “I think we’ll have a ton of competition now for those three, four, and five spots.”

The competition will only make every player involved better, and that’s what the Chiefs are hoping happens with this cornerback room. Needless to say, whoever emerges from the offseason battle will have absolutely earned that right.

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