KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There were times last year, shortly after the draft, when the five Kansas City Chiefs rookie defensive backs looked at each other and wondered how they might survive training camp, much less the season.

It wasn’t always pretty as they raced to get ready for the regular season, trying to digest defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s often complex playbook and figure things out in real time on the practice field.

“There were so many days where at the end of the night it was just all the rookies together just going over and over and over playbook language, because to us it was all new and it was difficult,” said cornerback Trent McDuffie, a 2022 first-round pick.

“The biggest thing was just we just continued to push each other and continued to just be those guys to be like, ‘You know what? We got your back. Yeah, you may have a bad play, you may make a mistake out there,’ but at the end of the day it’s a brotherhood and I think we just all really stuck together really well.”

Eventually they figured things out, and demonstrated that with four of the five rookies playing significant roles in the Chiefs’ second Super Bowl win in four seasons. Cornerbacks Jaylen Watson and Josh Williams, drafted respectively in the seventh and fourth rounds, each had an interception in the AFC Championship Game to help the Chiefs to a three-point win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The defensive backs were part of a bigger group of rookies from a 10-player class that also included defensive end George Karlaftis, second on the Chiefs in sacks with six, running back Isiah Pacheco, the team’s leading rusher, and wide receiver Skyy Moore, who scored the Chiefs’ final touchdown in the Super Bowl.

The success they garnered from last year’s draft class has the Chiefs hopeful they can get similar results from this year’s 10 picks.

“Any time you have all these young guys that have made it, it does give you some flexibility,’’ coach Andy Reid said. “[Last season’s rookies] will be better than they were last year because those guys had an opportunity to play.’’

In recent years, the Chiefs have drafted several of their top players in the middle to late rounds. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed arrived in the fourth round in 2020. Guard Trey Smith was selected in the sixth round the next year. Pacheco was a seventh-round selection last year. Watson, another seventh-round choice last year, started only six games last season but had one of the season’s biggest plays, a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown in a Week 2 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chiefs lost several significant players during the offseason, including defensive end Frank Clark, offensive tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie, wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman and safety Juan Thornhill. In free agency, they replaced Brown with Jawaan Taylor and Clark with Charles Omenihu.

This offseason the Chiefs will look to refill their lineup with players already on the roster or players from this year’s draft class. Lucas Niang (third round, 2020) could replace Wylie, Moore is scheduled for more playing time at wide receiver and Bryan Cook (second round, 2022) is first in line to start in Thornhill’s spot.

Because of quarterback Patrick Mahomes‘ current contract, it’s more essential now than ever for the Chiefs to draft well and find good players on inexpensive contracts.

Mahomes’ contract became far more expensive for the Chiefs last season than it was when he played on his rookie deal. In 2021, he cost the Chiefs $7.5 million against their salary cap, but it ballooned to about $36M last year and almost $40M this season.

But general manager Brett Veach said the process of finding valuable players even into the later rounds is easier because of his familiarity with Reid and other coaches, including Spagnuolo. Veach has worked with Reid for more than a decade going back to their time together with the Philadelphia Eagles. Spagnuolo has been with the Chiefs since 2019 and coached for the Eagles for a time before that.

He said that helps him know what the coaches want — and more importantly what they don’t want — in a player.

“It just helps in that process because you know the scheme and the vision and the fit,’’ Veach said. “We’re all on the same page and I just think the fact that [Reid] and I have worked together for so long and even Spags and I have been together for a long time now, I think that continuity is something that has really helped us transition to our second part of [Mahomes’] contract, where it is difficult.

“But I think you saw last year that all the rookies that we drafted were major contributors. It’s very difficult to do but I think the continuity plays a huge role in our success.”

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The Chiefs are hoping to hit on their draft class again in 2023 – ESPN – Kansas City Chiefs Blog