When forecasting the contributions of the Kansas City Chiefs’ draft selections, fans envision players like speedy wide receiver Mecole Hardman streaking downfield to haul in pass and versatile safety Juan Thornhill creating havoc on defense.
Special teams coach Dave Toub views their athleticism through an additional lens.
Toub sees a potential kick return specialist in Hardman, a second-round selection from Georgia. In Thornhill, from Virginia and also taken in the second round, Toub sees participation on several special teams units.
“Right now, he’s a four-phase guy for us,” said Toub, referring to punt and kick coverage and return teams.
That changes if Thornhill becomes a starting safety, which is possible. In that case, “We will pull him back,” Toub said.
Toub has sculpted some of the NFL’s top special teams since joining the Chiefs with Andy Reid in 2013. According to one ranking, the Chiefs owned the league’s second-best collective special teams units in 2018.
Toub always has his eyes on the special teams ability of prospects and his input is valued during the draft process. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach mentioned after this year’s draft that Toub told him Hardman reminded him of Devin Hester. Toub coached Hester, one of the top return specialists in NFL history, with the Chicago Bears.
As the Chiefs work through organized team activities, or OTAs, Tre Smith, a draft pick from last season and the team’s top kickoff return man in 2018, remains in that role. Hardman has worked behind Smith in practice.
“Watching (Hardman) in college, you could see the burst and explosiveness after he catches the ball and separates from quality players,” Toub said. “We feel like he can do the same thing here at this level.”
The Chiefs have used a draft selection as a return specialist in all but two years since 2013. Knile Davis (2013), De’Anthony Thomas (2014), Tyreek Hill (2016) and Smith (2018) returned kickoffs and/or punts as a rookie.
All but Smith recorded a return touchdown as a rookie, and Smith logged a 97-yard kickoff return that ended just short of the end zone last year.
Another special teams development: The Chiefs have two punters on the roster. Undrafted free agent Jack Fox joins veteran Dustin Colquitt.
Fox, who led the nation in punting yards at Rice season last season, signed a three-year, $1.765 million deal with the Chiefs that included a $10,000 signing bonus and $55,000 guaranteed.
Colquitt, in his 15th NFL season, signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal in March, 2018. Is Fox being groomed as Colquitt’s successor?
“We had a really high grade on him coming out, a draftable grade on him,” Toub said. “It never hurts to have competition at every position. Punter is no different. He’s doing a great job.”