Chiefs’ pinning draft hopes on game-changing speed

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — The fastest member of the Kansas City Chiefs was drafted in the fifth round a couple of years ago.

Second-fastest? He went in the sixth last spring.

Now, if defensive back Tremon Smith can perform anything like Tyreek Hill when he steps onto the field for the Chiefs’ preseason opener against Houston on Thursday night, general manager Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid will have hit on something special at a position of tremendous need.

“I’m curious to see how he does in the games,” Reid acknowledged. “He’s a talented kid.”

There are more similarities between Smith and Hill than just their draft stock.

Both were taken from small schools, though their routes there were very different. Smith was an overlooked-if-undervalued quarterback coming out of high school who landed at Central Arkansas because bigger schools were unwilling to give him a chance, while Hill began his career at Oklahoma State before a domestic violence incident landed him at West Alabama.

Both are dynamic special teams players. Smith has turned enough heads in camp that he could be the starting kick returner, while Hill remains one of the top punt returners in the league.

Then there’s that speed — that world-class, can’t-catch-me speed.

The kind that terrifies opposing coaches.

“He’s a cheetah, so we can’t even compare. I stay in my line,” Smith said with a smile and a shake of his dreadlocked head. “Maybe I’m a lion, a lion is pretty fast. Of course it’s not a cheetah but I’m a little heavier. Lion is more dangerous though.”

The numbers bear it out. When Hill was preparing for the 2016 draft, he ran a 4.24-second 40-yard dash at his college pro day. Smith was clocked at 4.38 at his pro day in March.

Either way, that’s some serious speed.

The popular Madden video game even acknowledged Hill’s wheels this year, when it granted him a 98 on its 1-to-100 scale for speed, making him the league’s fastest player.

“Only 98? I mean, I’m happy being the fastest but I feel like I was supposed to have 100,” Hill said. “Devin Hester had 100 and I’m faster than Devin Hester.”

Speaking of Hester, the longtime Bears special teams dynamo, he’s one of several players Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub has been showing Smith on video. Toub also tutored Hester in Chicago and thinks Smith has the instincts and, yes, top-end speed to have a similar impact.

“Tremon, he’s really coming on as a corner, but we’re also developing him as a kick returner,” Toub said. “The way he catches the ball and gets to the top speed so fast, it’s pretty impressive.”

The Chiefs were taking a flier on Smith by selecting him in the sixth round, clearly reasoning his speed alone made him a worthwhile gamble. But he’s also turned some heads on defense, working his way into the mix with the second team at a position that could be crucial to Kansas City’s success.

The Chiefs are breaking in all new starters at that position, and while David Amerson, Kendall Fuller and Steven Nelson are the front-runners, it could be hard to keep Smith off the field.

“I think he’s going to be a really interesting guy there,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said.

That shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise. Smith picked off 15 passes over four years at Central Arkansas, even though teams rarely threw his direction. He also held his own against Power Five schools, picking off a pass against Oklahoma State in 2015 and leading Central Arkansas in tackles against Kansas State — his team’s only loss before the FCS playoffs last season.

Smith acknowledged the adjustment from a small school was tough. He was star struck walking into the locker room and seeing safety Eric Berry for the first time, and the size of the playbook and the nuances that come with an NFL defense represented a whole new world.

No problem, though. Smith is getting up to speed.

As you’d expect, he’s doing it fast.

NOTES: LBs Reggie Ragland (knee) and Anthony Hitchens (hamstring) took part in some of Monday’s practice, working together for the first time in camp. … WR Sammy Watkins left practice early with a hip issue, though the extent of it is unclear. OL Dillon Gordon left with a shoulder injury.

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