L’Jarius Sneed wants to kill you.
Well, if you’re the opposing receiver. Sneed, 24, is a rookie sensation playing cornerback for the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs, and he’s ready to announce himself to the football world.
Playing in his first Super Bowl come Sunday, Sneed was gracious enough to speak exclusively with FanSided over the weekend. We touched on a litany of topics, including his mentality. Simply put:
“Kill ’em,” Sneed said. “That’s what I want to do. Kill ’em.”
Listed at 6-foot and 192 pounds, the small-school defensive back from Louisiana Tech was both intriguing and uncertain entering the draft process last winter. A three-year starter with the Bulldogs, Sneed played corner before switching to safety for his senior season.
“Our choice to move him to safety was a schematic change,” said Jeff Burris, Louisiana Tech cornerbacks coach and former 10-year NFL defensive back. “We had a new defensive coordinator and we switched some things around. We wanted our fill safety to be a guy who could cover. In our defense, the fill safety and boundary corner were two players we needed to take care of, and our boundary corner was Amik Robertson.”
For some teams, this made evaluating Sneed tricky. For the Chiefs, it meant nothing.
Heading into the 2020 Draft, general manager Brett Veach and his staff were looking for a boundary press corner who had a combination of size, length and speed. In its evaluation of Sneed, Kansas City’s personnel department disregarded his senior season, instead focusing on the prior two years and a Scouting Combine which saw Sneed test in the 92nd percentile or better for the broad jump, vertical jump and a 4.37 40-yard dash time.
Based off his junior tape, Kansas City felt Sneed’s tools provided its coaching staff with the potential to develop him into an impact player.
They were right. The Chiefs took Sneed with the No. 138 overall pick. It came as a surprise to the Louisiana native.
“I had no idea the Chiefs were going to get me,” Sneed said. “I was looking towards the Cowboys or Raiders, somewhere like that. I didn’t think the Chiefs. I only had one or two talks with them.”
Every rookie has a learning curve, but one changing positions and doing so during COVID? Near impossible. Yet as training camp began, the Chiefs had an opening on the outside with star cornerback Bashaud Breeland being suspended for the first four games of the regular season.
Sneed progressed well enough to earn the spot, and made an immediate impact with two interceptions over his first two games. Unfortunately, he broke his collarbone on a Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3, knocking him out for the next seven games.
Internally, Kansas City has been pleasantly surprised with how natural and instinctive Sneed was at corner early on following his transition back to his natural position. Once healed from injury, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his staff felt Sneed needed to play, regardless of Breeland’s return from suspension.
However, with Breeland playing well and Charvarius Ward on the other side, the Chiefs were stuck. They ultimately decided on playing Sneed in the slot, a place where the team hadn’t given him snaps during summer practices.
Kansas City’s conviction to play Sneed has paid off, as the rookie has blossomed into what the team believes is its most talented and versatile corner despite having no OTAs or preseason to get acclimated.
“It wasn’t a hard adjustment, I’ve been doing it all my life, switching positions,” Sneed said. “Once I got in with the Chiefs, I knew they had that swagger to them. I knew I’d fit in with them.”
Going forward, the Chiefs believe Sneed will eventually move back outside with the potential to be a true shutdown corner. For now, he’s thriving in the slot.
Quietly, Sneed has already become one of the team’s most important pieces. Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked rookie corner, Sneed has been a crucial chess piece for Spagnuolo, both in coverage and as a blitzer. Over his last four games? Four sacks.
“I’ve never blitzed in my life,” Sneed said. “This is my first time. I knew I have speed so the big linemen can’t keep up with me off the edge if I’m coming full speed.”
In the AFC Championship Game, Sneed took his turn playing man-coverage against Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs in the slot, allowing zero receptions on his snaps against the league’s leading receiver.
According to PFF, Sneed allowed one catch all year over 20 yards despite being in 259 coverage snaps. Furthermore, USA Today’s Doug Farrar points out the Louisiana native is third in opponent passer rating (58.1) among cornerbacks who played at least 20 percent of their team’s defensive snaps.
Does any of this immediate success come as a shock, or at minimum, a surprise? Not to those who know Sneed best.
“We’re scratching the surface of what he can be,” Burris said. “When he’s locked in, he belongs. He belongs. He fits in. … Now the world is able to see what he’s capable of.”
Entering the Super Bowl, Sneed is about to play an outsized role. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have Tom Brady at the controls, with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at his disposal. Sneed is likely to face Brown and Godwin in the slot with little help, as Kansas City blitzes at a top-10 rate.
If the Chiefs win, Sneed will be critical inside, taking away hot routes and quick slants against pressure looks.
“I know Tampa has two guys who are fast who play in the slot, but I like my guy,” Burris declared.
Throughout our conversation, Sneed emphasized confidence, something permeating throughout the defense. This is for good reason, as the Chiefs allowed only 17 points to the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisionals before shutting down Buffalo last weekend, limiting the Bills to 15 points — including a drive which began inside the Kansas City 5-yard line — until garbage time.
While the unit is rife with leaders, Sneed had particularly effusive praise for another Louisiana guy patrolling the secondary.
“He helped me out a lot,” said Sneed of All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu. “I look up to him like a big brother. As I came in, he gave me the ropes, the ins and outs. I like the energy he plays with. I know everybody else on the defense loves that too. I love how he loves the game.”
Now, Sneed, Mathieu and the Chiefs enter Super Bowl LV looking for football immortality.
For Sneed, it’s about his first ring. For the team, it’s about continuing their assault on becoming a dynasty.
“We’re the underdogs, we know who we are as a group,” Sneed said of the Chiefs’ defense. “We all know if we play together, we can’t be stopped.”
There should be no doubts remaining about L’Jarius Sneed.
If there are, he’s ready to kill ’em.