After spending their first three picks on offense, the Kansas City Chiefs led off the final day of the NFL draft looking for some help on defense.
The Chiefs grabbed Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson with the second selection in the fourth round Saturday, and then picked Georgia defensive back Sanders Commings early in the fifth round.
Kansas City added California (Pa.) center Eric Kush in the sixth round, and a compensatory choice later in the round went to Kansas State fullback Braden Wilson. The Chiefs wrapped up their draft by taking Princeton defensive end Mike Catapano in the seventh round.
“You’re not going to fill every hole with All-Star players. I don’t think you need to do that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You need worker bees there, guys who bust their tail. We’re adding guys who do that.”
The Eagles traded up three spots to the first pick in the fourth round, and chose Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley. That led to speculation that the Philadelphia brass thought the Chiefs might be interested in Barkley with the No. 99 overall pick.
Reid said the Chiefs were going defense all the way.
They wound up picking Johnson, filling a need at linebacker by choosing a natural fit for the defensive system Kansas City intends to keep under new coordinator Bob Sutton.
“They run something similar to what we do at Alabama,” Johnson said. “I watched them a couple times throughout the years. I know they got a Pro Bowl linebacker there I can learn from, and I’m just ready to get there and learn as much as I can from him.”
Johnson was the first defensive player chosen by the Chiefs. They’d already drafted offensive tackle Eric Fisher, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Knile Davis the first two days.
Johnson said his inspiration came from his mother, Mamie, who died in June 2010 at the age of 49 after long-term complications from Type-2 diabetes. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and dozens of his teammates attended the funeral in Andalusia, Ala.
“This day is really for her,” Johnson said. “I put in so much work, not only for my teammates back in Tuscaloosa, but also for her, because she wanted me to not only get a degree, but take advantage of every opportunity that I had. It just means the world to me.”
Johnson will get his degree in criminal justice next month, becoming the first of Mamie’s five children to graduate from college.
“That’s a blessing in itself,” he said.
Commings played primarily cornerback during his time at Georgia, but his size (6 feet, 216 pounds) and physical nature mean he could shift over to safety in the NFL.
“We’ll start him at free safety, let him work there, see how he picks things up,” Reid said. “He was a great baseball player, center fielder in baseball, so he knows how to track the ball.”
The Chiefs aggressively retooled their secondary this offseason, acquiring cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith in free agency. But they were still looking for some depth, particularly behind starting safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis.
“I’m just willing to go in and help the team, wherever it is — safety, corner, special teams,” said Commings, a former college teammate of Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston.
Commings said he spoke to the Chiefs at the scouting combine, the Senior Bowl and then during a private workout. During those meetings, team officials asked about a domestic violence charge that resulted in a suspension last season, but came away convinced of Commings’ character.
“I think they touched on it for a second. It wasn’t much,” Commings said. “They did their research, talked to all the people in Athens, Ga. After they got to know me for a bit, they got to know what kind of person I was, so that wasn’t a topic we spent much time on at all.”
Reid called Kush, who played in Division II, one of the “sleepers of the draft.” The coach raved about the center’s athleticism, and said he could play multiple positions.
Wilson was regarded as the top blocking fullback in the draft, and could be another late-round steal. He helped protect Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein at Kansas State, and should become a battering ram for Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles with the Chiefs.
Catapano, who played defensive end at Princeton, will be an outside linebacker in Kansas City’s 3-4 defense. He was the third player from the Ivy League taken in the draft.
“We filled some needs, not that that’s the way we went in there thinking,” Reid said. “But the way the board went, it allowed us to fill some spots we were short on numbers, and at the same time give us good football players that we felt were a good value.”