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Pro Scouting Series: Tanoh Kpassagnon

Is Kpassagnon capable of growing into a starter for this Chiefs team?

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Tanoh Kpassagnon is often one of the first names mentioned as a “[John] Dorsey pick” in reference to a player that is a good athlete without a real position who’s upside was bet upon.

And while Dorsey did, in fact, make the selection of Kpassagnon, his vision of the player appears to be different than what the current staff had, or now has, in mind for him. Almost as quickly as Dorsey was let go last year, Kpassagnon’s position changed from defensive lineman to outside linebacker. This took an already-raw player coming from a smaller college program (Villanova) and put him even further behind in his development. This year, there should be no last-minute position switch and a dedicated coach for Kpassagnon to work with all offseason as he improves his craft.

The 2017 season may seem like a relative waste for the Kansas City Chiefs’ second-round pick, but with the future seeming brighter, was that season as useless as some seem to think?

Tanoh Kpassagnon: EDGE

6’7” 280 lbs Exp: 1 Year

Key Skills/Traits

Explosion

When looking at explosion for a pass rusher, the main focus is the distance covered, and how quickly, as soon as the ball is snapped. Secondary to this linear acceleration off the line of scrimmage (LoS) is lateral explosion when trying to skip around a blocker or shoot out into the flat.

To get the area of improvement out of the way quickly and simply, that secondary goal is something Kpassagnon struggles with most of the time. He moves well for a player of his size and looks passable working out to the sidelines, but when asked to make split-second lateral cuts, he looks labored and slower than he needs to be to effectively pull it off.

On the flip side, Kpassagnon shows a good burst off the LoS, allowing him to get upfield quickly and into the blockers bubble before they get fully into their pass set. His long legs allow him to deceptively cover more ground as he works upfield in very few steps. Despite that length, he’s often able to stay low coming out of his stance. Kpassagnon’s explosion is more consistent and a little better coming out of a three or four-point stance than it while standing, which he often uses a small gather step before exploding upfield.

Kpassagnon explodes off the line of scrimmage to get into the left tackle’s body before he can finish his full pass set. Due to early engagement and power produced by the pass rush, the LT has to drop a hard anchor and can’t keep skipping his feet. Kpassagnon takes this opportunity to pull with his inside hand and push the outside shoulder oft he forward-leaning LT. While the usage of leverage and his hands is impressive, the early explosion into the pads of the blocker how this play was set up.

Raw Score: 68.25 (Average Starter)

Hand Usage

Hand usage, much like explosion, is exactly what it sounds like: how well a player utilizes their hands when engaging another player.

Focusing on the timing of a player’s hands, his placement and the ability to react accordingly to what the opposing player is doing with his hands. Transitioning to Kpassagnon specifically, his hand fighting is definitely a work in progress. From the moment he first saw the field last to the final regular-season game vs. Denver, there was quite a bit of improvement.

On this play, Kpassagnon comes off the line with a quick inside feint before working back across to the outside of the right tackle. As he gets the RT to limit the depth on his kick slide, Kpassagnon shoots his inside hand into the chest of the RT. Rather than trying to punch with both hands, he catches the RT’s outside wrist with his outside hand which keeps his chest clean. Not stopping there to fight through the block from this advantageous position, Kpassagnon drops the inside shoulder that jarred the RT back a few inches and dips under before ripping up through the outside arm of the RT that was never allowed to make contact with his chest.

If Kpassagnon was able to consistently get this level of hand quickness, placement and reactive ability, he would most likely have seen the field more often. Unfortunately, at this point for Kpassagnon, he has only been this clean with his technique on a few snaps per game, usually when the original pass rush plan he tries is working. The foundation for a pass rusher with good hand usage is there but it needs to be seen on a more snap-by-snap basis than last year.

Raw Score: 58.5 (Rotational Player)

Cornering

Cornering is a phrase that gets used a lot in the scouting community, and most people understand it as the ability to get around the corner. What rarely gets explained is exactly what “being good at cornering means.”

In it’s simplest form, it’s the ability to run the “arc” (or path) around a blocker and get to the quarterback behind him, but there is a lot more that goes into it rather than just running a curved line. In order to be good at running this arc, a player has to be able soften the corner before trying to turn the corner. This is just a fancy way of trying to say that a player has to make the angle of the curved path they are taking less sever.

The two most common ways a player makes this a softer corner is through lateral agility/explosion and by power. Both of these tactics have the pass rusher work to half-man relation with the blocker but do so through different ways. If a player can explode laterally faster than the blocker can, with or without hand contact, he can get that half-man relationship with less contact and flip his hips towards the QB with less interference.

If a player lacks the kind of lateral agility needed to get to that point, he has a secondary option of softening the corner through his power and hand technique. Powerful, well-timed punches remove the outside arm/shoulder of the RT from the equation, creating that softer angle around the edge.

On this play we, again, see good hand placement and solid timing out of Kpassagnon in regard to when and where he puts his hands. As mentioned above, a pass rusher has two options for softening the corner and getting around the edge: lateral movement or power.

Kpassagnon does a good job work to the half-man relation with the RT and just needs to soften the corner to shorten his path around the edge. The chop needs to have more violence behind it and a fist rather than the open-handed slap or more distance has to be covered with the lateral crossover step with the slap. It’s a 95 percent effective pass rush that is 5 percent away from looking fantastic, even with the quick pass.

Kpassagnon is capable of softening the corner and turning it with either tactic, although last year doing so through his hands and power was more effective than when trying to use pure athleticism. To continue to improve his ability to create a soft corner, he will need to work on his lateral explosion as well as ensuring he attacks violently with his hands.

There is a third way to “corner,” or run the arc that requires less softening of the corner at times, and that is having great flexibility. If a pass rusher has great ankle and hip flexibility, he can run further up the arc, and then lean back into the blocker, creating a tighter angle with just as little surface area exposed to the blocker.

Specifically for Kpassagnon, this wasn’t much of an option, as he can drop his hips to dip under contact but doesn’t have much lateral bend and didn’t showcase quality ankle bend.

Raw Score: 61.75 (Below Average Starter)

Rush Plan & Arsenal

Pass-rush plan and arsenal is just combining all the individualized pass-rush traits discussed above and how they are utilized throughout a game. When the snap starts, is there a clear plan for how the player is going to attack the offensive tackle and does that clear plan consist of multiple moves throughout the game? Or, is it the same sequence of moves over and over?

For Kpassagnon, early in the year, there was less of a plan for each snap that he took than you want to see out of an NFL player. As the year progressed, he developed a more solid understanding of what he was trying to do on any particular play and even how to attack specific blockers differently. His rip move is his most effective and favorite move to go to, but he sets it up with multiple different engagement techniques and on the back of other moves. He doesn’t have the widest array of pass-rush moves but he has enough moves to keep them fresh throughout a game.

Even early on in the year, Kpassagnon was able to execute a plan when he actively had one. On this play, he immediately shoots his hands into the chest of the right tackle as he attacked straight into the outside shoulder.

As he pushed to extend, he released his inside hand but kept his outside hand locked on the shoulder pads of the RT. He used that for leverage as he pulled his own arm up and under the arm of the RT. The act of punching, extending, releasing one hand and using the other as leverage to pull through showcases how well he can execute a specific plan.

To see examples of understanding the blockers he was facing and how to attack them, the Denver game was our only sample size. During this game, he often attacked the RT, using his length to force hand fights from a distance while trying to close the distance on the LT.

Raw Score: 71.5 (Average Starter)

Accessory Skills and Traits

Run Defense

Trying not to linger too long on quite the negative topic for Kpassagnon last year, run defense simply refers to the ability to set a proper edge, disengage from the block and make plays near the LoS.

As it stands, Kpassagnon struggles with recognition in the run game, fighting off blocks even from tight ends, squeezing down running lanes to his inside shoulder and keeping his outside shoulder free to hold contain. There were a few snaps in which he showed good fundamentals to be a solid run defender using his length and athleticism but not enough consistency to expect mass improvement.

There is quite simply too many plays that follow the same script as this one.

Kpassagnon shows no recognition of the type of run play and which blocker or blockers he is responsible for and how he can positively affect the play.

He just stretches with the outside zone motion but never attempts to make a move to either get to the runner or to take up as many blockers as he can.

Then he ends up being completely stopped by a solo TE block and is mostly unable to squeeze the running lane or get off the block.

Raw Score: 48.75 (Good Backup)

Space

The ability for a pass rusher to play in space is a requirement often thrust onto the player whether as a pass rusher from a wide technique, trying to defend a receiver out in the flat or just holding contain on an outside run.

Like many of these categories, this skill is tightly woven with other traits like explosiveness and mental processing but important enough to earn its own category.

For Kpassagnon, it’s easy to see that he moves very well in space for a guy his size and often fares well for a near 300-pound man out in the open field. The issues arise for Kpassagnon when he’s asked to cover a lot of ground quickly, or even more so, when asked to change directions quickly.

When asked to drop into coverage or play hard-contain, he often looked segmented in his movements and a step slower than he needed to be. Part of that is being asked to play more in the open field than he has been in the past but the other is him being a tick behind in how quickly he processes the play followed by a gap in athleticism between him and most of the opponents attacking him space.

Raw Score: 61.75 (Below Average Starter)

Mental Processing

Mental processing for an EDGE player is very similar to any other defensive position playing in the box in that they are trying to read the nearest offensive lineman and determine run or pass. Recognizing blocking schemes that the offense will throw at them is something else important for EDGE players to comprehend, as they are often force players on the outside tasked with contain.

This is another area that Kpassagnon struggled pretty heavily with during his early-season snaps. Far too many plays early in the year, Kpassagnon gave up his back to blockers trying to engage a different player or just never saw the block coming on rushing downs. There were also a handful of plays, on limited snaps, that he seemed to have no pass-rush plan and it appeared to take him by surprise when players aggressively attacked him while in pass pro rather than sitting back and letting him be the aggressor.

As the year progressed, Kpassagnon got a better understanding of reading plays in terms of runs or passes and recognizing how a blocker was trying to block him on that particular play. As players tried to quick-set on him and attack him off the LoS, he was able to use his length and get around the edge rather than simply trying to outmuscle them.

When they got a lot of depth in their set, he did a good job attacking straight into their chest. He still struggled to recognize blocking assignments and was often caught off guard by blocks coming from his outside or pulling linemen.

Raw Score: 52 (Rotational Player)

Versatility

Versatility, in this sense, is referring to the ability of that EDGE player to play multiple different techniques (positions) along the defensive front as well his ability to stay on the field as much as possible. Obviously, early in his career, Kpassagnon is lacking in the latter specifically in regards to his early down ability when teams often run the ball more. On passing downs, he is capable of playing anywhere from the four to nine-technique, offering plus pass-rush potential from any spot.

One of the few snaps from inside the OTs for Kpassagnon resulted in one of his sacks on the year. Lined up as a four-technique, he fires straight upfield threatening the outside shoulder of the offensive guard. As he forces the OG to set wide to stop the speed rush, he works a simple inside counter by driving the inside shoulder of the OG upfield.

Kpassagnon should have come over the top with a swim or arm-over to limit any chance the blocker has to recover. As it stands, the OG is able to drive him past the QB initially before Kpassagnon is able to pivot and rip away for the sack. This ability to kick inside for passing downs makes him a versatile piece for a team that now has three to four players with that kind of versatility.

Raw Score: 74.75 (Above Average Starter)

Bonus Points: 0 Points

Overall Score: 62.87

Grade: Below Average Starter


Quick Outlook Going Into 2018:

Kpassagnon is going to find himself in a crowded outside linebackers room kicking off the start of the 2018 season, assuming everyone is healthy.

Justin Houston is cemented as a starter and Dee Ford, if healthy, should be the next in line in terms of pass-rushing snaps. Then it’s a bunch of young players competing for those third-level snaps.

Through camp thus far, Kpassagnon seems as likely as any of them to be next in line. The growth shown from training camp last year to his final game and only start vs. Denver should instill plenty of promise as should the less “stacked” (professional term being very muscular).

If Kpassagnon continues the same pattern of growth in his comfort level, planning of a rush attack and hand usage while also adding some more flexibility and lateral wiggle to his game, he could make strides in his second year as a pass rusher.

It’s still very early into his career to call for major growth, but the line of progression should be trending up at this point in time.

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