The Kansas City Chiefs used the No. 84 overall pick in the third round on Western Illinois defensive tackle Khalen Saunders. Unless they trade back into the third round, the Chiefs are done with picks until the fourth round begins Saturday morning.
DT Khalen Saunders
Western Illinois • 6’0” • 324 lbs
(report powered by the KC DRAFT GUIDE, published on 4/8)
EXPECTED DRAFT RANGE: Top 100
BACKGROUND: Limited interest and offers coming out of high school, so he opted to stay close to home and attend Western Illinois. Played sparingly as a redshirt freshman before starting the rest of his college career. Named to the FCS All-American second team as a senior.
STRENGTHS: Saunders has a thick lower half and upper body to match but moves incredibly fluid. Good explosion and lateral burst while remaining light on his feet to allow for quick change of directions on counter rushes. He has good body control to avoid contact and slip through gaps with fast arm-over or euro-step pass-rush moves. His motor stays on and very active hands in passing lanes. Saunders has a strong natural punch and core strength to shed blockers. Holds well at the point of attack when head up and penetrates gaps when shaded off blockers.
WEAKNESSES: Saunders struggles with length due to his short limbs. His conditioning level may not be pro ready and he often stops mid-rush in an attempt to bat passes down. Pass-rush plan is set in stone upon the snap and he rarely shows the reaction skills to peel off as the play develops. Blockers can quick-set Saunders as his hands are often late and being carried too low. Against the run, Saunders’ length shows up as he struggles to punch-extend blockers off his chest. Easily reached and turned based upon a late get-off and he stands upright while trying to read the ball carrier. Saunders doesn’t have the power currently to withstand double teams or quality down blocks without giving ground.
HOW HE FITS WITH THE CHIEFS: Saunders is a developmental player that is going to take some time to adjust to the level of competition. The good news in that regard was his impressive performance at the Senior Bowl, in which he looked every bit as good as Power 5 prospects. Even so, in the NFL, his conditioning and hand technique all need improvement to make him more than just a good athlete. As he progresses, he will provide a dynamic interior option that can play behind the line of scrimmage. For the Chiefs, Saunders’ potential is a perfect fit to rotate in with Chris Jones and the nose tackles to provide a second interior rusher, even if there is a time commitment to his development.
PLAYER COMP: Darius Philon
Reaction: The 84th pick in the draft was the 84th ranked player in the KC Draft Guide. Saunders is one of the more fun players and stories in this entire draft. He was a Senior Bowl participant who became a father in the middle of the event. You’ll find him on social media showing off his ability to do backflips.
He might be my favorite pick of the draft. Big, fluid athlete that should thrive executing the stunts and twists in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme. The value is solid and the fit is obvious. The Chiefs have only Derrick Nnadi under contract in 2020. They have more depth now. Saunders has a ton of potential and could be an excellent value down the road.
Chiefs 2019 NFL Draft picks (six picks)
- Round 2: Pick No. 56 overall — Georgia WR Mecole Hardman
- Round 2: Pick No. 63 overall — Virginia S Juan Thornhill
- Round 3: Pick No. 84 overall — Western Illinois DT Khalen Saunders
- Round 6: Pick No. 201 overall — South Carolina CB Rashad Fenton
- Round 6: Pick No. 214 overall — Utah State RB Darwin Thompson
- Round 7: Pick No. 216 overall — Illinois C Nick Allegretti
Selection time limits
- Day 2: Round 2 (seven minutes per pick) • Round 3 (five minutes per pick)
- Day 3: Rounds 4-6 (five minutes per pick) • Round 7 (four minutes per pick)
- (Compensatory picks = four minutes)
Grade the pick of Western Illinois DT Khalen Saunders at 84.
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