Ethan Hewett | June 10th, 2019
There is a breath of fresh air as OTAs are underway for the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2019 season. With new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, a new scheme, and new faces, the Chiefs are looking to make a return to the AFC Championship Game, and hopefully, with a better defense. Besides returning leaders Chris Jones and Kendall Fuller along with Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu being added to the squad, there are a few players who you may or may not know of, that could be stepping up into bigger roles in 2019.
I have looked into three young veterans who haven’t seen a lot of playing time over the past couple of seasons, but with a new scheme that fits their playing styles better, we could see them more often. Along with two rookies who will most likely make an immediate impact on this Chiefs defense.
Charvarius Ward, Cornerback
The undrafted rookie out of Middle Tennessee State, after being traded from the Cowboys to the Chiefs at the end of the 2018 preseason, didn’t make his first start at cornerback until week 16 against the Seahawks. However, he quickly showed that he has potential. He has great speed and fluidity in his hips which allows him to make quick transitions. Of course, since he only started four games last season, the sample size is not very large. So we are mostly going off of potential and skill set.
In the four games that Ward did start, he didn’t have any interceptions, but he did manage to rack up three pass deflections and constantly played above average to great man coverage. A double move from wide receiver Daurice Fountain on the Colts in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs caused him to get beat pretty bad, but with an offseason refining his craft, Ward should make a solid outside defensive back for the Chiefs defense.
Dorian O’Daniel, Linebacker
O’Daniel is going into his “sophomore” season with the Chiefs, and he made some plays in 2018. The speedy linebacker out of Clemson has a great ability to cover ground and almost always takes great lines to the ball carrier. He has a knack for getting after the ball and rarely misses tackles along with a good ability to man up against running backs and receivers in coverage. O’Daniel is another player who will most likely see a lot more playing time next season, and will most likely be one of the three starting linebackers on the team.
With the switch to a 4-3 defense, O’Daniel’s abilities could be more on display since his role will be much more about making tackles, and dropping back into coverage. The competition will also be high at the linebacker position with the Chiefs bringing in a couple of players such as Darron Lee, who they traded for early this offseason. With great potential and a healthy amount of competition, I expect O’Daniel to make a large jump in his second season in the league.
Tanoh Kpassagnon, Edge
Kpassagnon was drafted in the 2017 by the Chiefs as a defensive end. However, with the 3-4 scheme that the Chiefs were running at the time, Kpassagnon decided to make the transition to outside linebacker. Unfortunately, due to the presence of Justin Houston and Dee Ford, he didn’t see the field a whole lot these past two seasons. Kpassagnon weighs in at 6’7” and 289 pounds. This is a fit you would think of for a 4-3 team, and it just so happens that the Chiefs just made that transition to a 4-3 front. Along with the switch and with the depth that they are acquiring, we can assume that they could be taking a rotational approach to their defensive line as well.
Kpassagnon has great size and length, and he also has decent speed and strength. All attributes that you look for in a player. However, his pass rush moves could use a lot of work but with an offseason to grow, and defensive coordinator Spagnuolo, who isn’t afraid to spend one on one time with players, I expect a lot of growth from Kpassagnon this offseason, and I look forward to potentially getting to see him more often on Sundays.
Khalen Saunders, Defensive Tackle
Saunders did well for himself at the FCS level at Western Illinois. He racked up18 sacks along with 34.5 tackles for loss. What the Chiefs needed when they took Saunders in the third round was run defense. He can bring that, with great athletic ability to get after the quarterback and in the running game. Saunders possesses great quickness and athleticism, which allows him to stun blockers and get outside their reach and penetrate. Especially for his size, he has very quick feet and hands and can really do well against one-on-one blockers inside.
What Saunders lacks is if he loses the initial battle with a blocker, he tends to struggle against double teams and often will give up ground. However, with the talent around him in players such as Jones and Clark who demand offensive lines attention, Saunders could prove very useful in both pass and run defense. Endurance is the other factor that some scouts worried about, but he has great athleticism, and with a good strength and conditioning program, Saunders could develop into a great interior defensive linemen for this Chiefs team.
Juan Thornhill, Defensive Back
Thornhill saw a lot of success at Virginia, where he had 13 interceptions over his career along with 26 pass deflections. Thornhill racked up stats in college grabbing six of those 13 interceptions in his senior year alone. This is part of the reason that the Chiefs selected him with a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The other part has to be his versatility; Thornhill was listed as a safety, but he succeeded from several positions on the field. Whether it be as a single-high center-fielder, outside corner, box safety, or a nickel corner, Thornhill is a playmaker.
Thornhill also is an athlete, putting on a killer combine which included a 44” vertical jump which nearly broke the combine record. I believe that Thornhill is exactly the type of defensive back that Spagnuolo and this Chiefs team are looking for. Someone who they can put anywhere on the field and succeed. There is also a healthy amount of competition in the safety room with the return of Armani Watts, along with Mathieu and Jordan Lucas. Look for Thornhill to most likely be lining up next to Mathieu early on in his career.
With the star power listed early on, and the role players that are available to the Chiefs defense, I expect great things from them in 2019. I believe that the scheme change will benefit them, and if any of the five players listed above could play at an all-pro level, this Chiefs defense could easily break the top 10 in the NFL. The future is bright for this Chiefs team with a power-house offense, and a revamped defense don’t be surprised to see the Chiefs making another legitimate run for the Super Bowl in 2019.
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