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Tanoh Kpassagnon review: Giant edge for the Chiefs

When the Chiefs took Tanoh Kpassagnon in the second round, I’m not ashamed to admit that I had no idea whatsoever who he was. All I knew was that his name was hard to spell and even harder to say, and that he’s built like a statue meant to show man’s true potential.

Beyond that, I had nothing. So I reviewed what little college film he had available, including the Senior Bowl, and formed all my opinions from there. While Kpass’s regular film came against such inferior competition as to make real analysis almost impossible, his performance in the Senior Bowl impressed me a great deal. Additionally, I came to the (unforeseen) conclusion that regardless of whether Bob Sutton and John Dorsey saw Kpass as a defensive lineman, nearly all of his best snaps against the run and the pass came from the edge, not the interior.

Moving forward a few months, we all heard reports that the Chiefs were moving Kpass all up and down the defensive line and even at linebacker. Then, in the first preseason game of the year, we saw Tanoh line up mostly as a defensive lineman in the Chiefs’ 3-4 or as an interior rusher in the nickel two d-lineman sets. I reviewed his snaps, and walked away thinking that there was a lot of work to do before he could realize his considerable potential.

While watching the final preseason game, I noticed that Tanoh was playing exclusively as an edge, either as OLB in the base or essentially a defensive end in nickel formations. Because I’ve wondered how he would do in such situations, it thought it might be good to look and see if he fared better as an edge than as an interior player.

He did.

Try to ignore Chris Jones and Frank Zombo for the purposes of this article (though seriously, imagine Justin Houston in that same combo. It’s gonna get real, folks, and fast), and take a look at Tanoh.

What I like about Tanoh on the edge is that one of his better traits (explosion at the snap) gets emphasized. He also has some good upper body strength, which is demonstrated in the long arm he gives the RT here as he gets ready to bend around the edge. And speaking of bend, Tanoh actually has some. Which is pretty astonishing when you think about his size, but it’s something he demonstrated time and again on the edge against the Titans.

Is he still very, very raw? Without a doubt. However, the materials are there for a guy who might be able to get after the quarterback around the edge sooner rather than later. Which is a long ways from what I saw from him as a defensive end or interior pass rusher.

But before we get into that, let’s talk numbers. Here’s what Tanoh did from the edge, and you can compare to this article of his first game to see the difference between how he did on the edge vs on the DL proper, as well as how he’s progressed in the short time between said games.

So based on the numbers alone, it’s pretty apparent that Tanoh had more success from the edge than he did as a DE or interior rusher. His win percentage was significantly higher, his loss percentage was a bit lower, and he had a hit on a QB to go along with three pressures (as opposed to zilch in the first game).

Now make no mistake, that loss percentage is still higher than I’d like, and the win percentage is still lower than I’d like ... but we’re getting a lot closer to acceptable numbers from the edge. And before you think that’s just a result of playing scrubs” in the final preseason game, it should be noted that he was playing against second and third stringers previously as well.

No, this wasn’t luck. This was a case of Kpass looking much better from the edge than on the interior.

As I mentioned earlier, Tanoh has good acceleration and explosion at the snap, and he does a better job than you’d think of bending around the edge (or dipping and ripping, in this case). He was able to claim the edge against tackles multiple times, either getting some pressure or forcing a hold, like in the GIF above.

Tanoh played mostly on the left side, but he did slide over to the right for some snaps as well. From both places he had some decent rushes, and was such a nuisance that the Titans actually began using tight ends and running backs to chip him on their way to their routes as the game went along. That’s the ultimate acknowledgement that you’re doing a good job getting after the quarterback: when the opponent feels the need to give the tackles help.

Kpass isn’t particularly nuanced off the edge. I saw a dip and rip, some long one-armed rushes, and a few bull rushes. It’s all clearly still very new to him. But his combination of strength and explosion definitely helps win the day when he’s got an edge to play with, and on one play allowed him to close on the QB (on a stunt) with great speed.

Overall, Kpass was much more impressive as a pass rusher from the edge than he was from the interior. He flashed enough raw talent to win at an OK rate despite having virtually no variety in his moves, and that’s impressive at the NFL level regardless of whether you’re doing it against backups.

Another reason I’m now completely sold on the idea of Tanoh as an edge player is the impact he was able to make against the run. His length and strength was way, way too much for tight ends (who are often asked to take on OLBs in a 3-4) to handle.

Generally speaking, when tight ends are going up against a 3-4 OLB, they’re taking on a guy who weighs less than they do or roughly equivalent. Kpass weighs in at around 290 pounds, at least 30 pounds more than all but the biggest tight ends, and often more like 40 or even 50 pounds.

Here, the TE even has a running start to try and move Kpass out of the way, and he just goes nowhere. Kpass uses his considerable upper body strength and long arms to just shove the TE backwards, then makes a play on the runner. It’s an impressive snap all the way around, and it gives you a glimpse into what Tanoh could bring on the edge once he’s upped his technique and recognition: he really could be the type of edge player you just can’t run at and expect success very often (ala Justin Houston).

And speaking of recognition, that’ll be where Tanoh needs to improve if he wants to become a good run defender, at least consistently. At times he seems to lose the forest for the trees.

Now, it could well be (and likely is) that Tanoh’s first assignment here was to squeeze the blocking tight end into the rest of the line, preventing blockers from reaching their assignments. As to that part of the job, Tanoh does wonderfully, again demonstrating that he’s simply far too strong for a tight end to handle.

On the flip side, Tanoh doesn’t keep his eyes up and doesn’t look at the runner until he’s too far away to make a play. While he’s not the only defender who appears tasked with manning the edge (corner had that responsibility, it appears, and got handled), he absolutely could have prevented the runner from getting past the line here by being more alert to where the ball was headed. I want my edge defenders to squeeze blockers AND still maintain control of the edge. Houston has spoiled me like that.

However, Tanoh absolutely has the strength to dominate the run game at the edge the way Houston does, and the recognition will come if what we’ve seen so far is any indication. In fact, although Tanoh lost contain a few times in the first half, he had a couple of solid snaps in the second half where he appeared to be focusing on maintaining discipline with his eyes and body and held the edge because of it. He seems to be a guy who learns quickly, though only time will tell.

Tanoh was also placed in coverage on multiple snaps. While he’s not a guy who has good lateral movement or change-of-direction skills, he has the athleticism to keep up in space for limited amounts of time. Also, his height and reach in zone coverage creates a problem for quarterbacks when he drops into a zone (which he already looks more comfortable doing, though there’s a LONG way to go). In short, while he doesn’t look good in coverage, you can see the materials there to at least get by.

To sum up, Kpass flashes some real potential as both a pass rusher and a run defender on the edge, and I believe he’s athletic enough to handle the requisite coverage responsibilities. I don’t think we’ll see a ton of him this year, but given the improvement in his comfort in the two-point stance over just a few weeks (it’s night and day), I have a lot of hope for next season for Kpass. Being a strong rusher AND tough against the run would be a major benefit for the defense, so hopefully he develops as quickly throughout the season as he appeared to develop during preseason.

Giant edge ... it could be a thing, guys. And I definitely want it to be a thing.

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