Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo revealed a potential suspension to start the year for defensive tackle Mike Pennel. At the moment, we don’t know the full details, including the length of the suspension.
Even if the suspension is only one game, this would be a big blow to the Chiefs’ defensive line rotation. Pennel was a key contributor in the Chiefs’ turnaround — particularly in run defense. With that in mind, let’s focus on the run-stuffing aspect of the current Chiefs defensive tackles and who can shoulder the load.
As Derrick Nnadi will be occupying the majority of the Chiefs’ nose tackle reps, Saunders is the natural fit to step into Pennel’s spot as a run-stuffer. He’s a large, agile player who started to pick up the nuances of Spagnuolo and Brendan Daly’s run fits toward the end of the year. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Saunders was a key rotational contributor to the Chiefs’ defensive line.
If Pennel is forced to miss a short amount of time, Saunders is likely the go-to to fill the role. Year two in the system — with another year to add mass and power to his game — should make Saunders an even better fit than he was at the end of the year. I expect Saunders to get the first crack at Pennel’s opportunities.
Devaroe Lawrence coming in HOT #DETvsCLE @Browns pic.twitter.com/5EUdydb2zx— NFL (@NFL) August 29, 2019
Lawrence is in his fourth year in the league and second year with the Chiefs. After being waived by the Cleveland Browns in November of 2019, Lawrence landed on the Chiefs’ practice squad through the Super Bowl.
Known primarily for his block-splitting pass-rush capabilities, Lawrence isn’t a true like-for-like substitution for Pennel. He’s lighter and plays as more of a penetrating lineman — similar to Chris Jones. The Chiefs could look to keep more of a play-making type of pass rusher to rotate in, rather than Spagnuolo’s traditional run-stuffers inside.
Lawrence had only had eight tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in his 11 games in Cleveland. However, his preseason hurries, sacks and tackles for loss against the second-string offensive linemen he faced were enough to turn heads and land him a spot on a roster. It’s quite possible that he could do the same in Kansas City during Pennel’s suspension.
Tough to understand how athletic/freaky this is from @snacks— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 31, 2018
When you get 350lbs moving laterally, and then can put foot in the ground, change directions, stop 350lbs of momentum, and flatten a RB... Whoa
Snacks Harrison. pic.twitter.com/cvYnER5LGw
The Chiefs could look at some outside options if it appears the Pennel suspension will be for a long period of time. There are still multiple veteran defensive tackles on the free-agent market that could be very interested in a one-year deal — particularly on a Super Bowl-contending team.
Damon “Snacks” Harrison is near the top of any defensive tackle list that involves Steve Spagnuolo. The two were together with the New York Giants, and Spagnuolo was able to maximize the 350-pound monster in the middle. Coming off an underrated two-year stretch with the Detroit Lions, Snacks sounded like a player ready to hang them up and retire. However, he has stated that he would still play for the right team — and that might be in Kansas City for a Super Bowl contender.
Another option still on the market is the 330-pound Marcell Dareus. Dareus fits the size and build of a typical Spagnuolo defensive tackle. He started his career off with a bang as an impact pass rusher and run-stuffer for the Buffalo Bills before being traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. Dareus has had injury and suspension issues of his own throughout the past four years and is a bit of a question mark from an availability standpoint. If the Chiefs just needed a plug-and-play option for Pennel for a small handful of games, that could take the risk out of a Dareus signing.
The final player that I’ll highlight is a bit of an under-the-radar option for the Chiefs — second-year player Daylon Mack. (Writer’s note: Daylon Mack signed with the New York Giants moments after this article was published) Mack was a fifth-round pick for the Baltimore Ravens in 2019 coming out of Texas A&M as a former five-star recruit. He is a bit shorter than the typical Spagnuolo defensive tackle, but he plays with immense power and good technique. He anchors well against double teams and played the run in college exceptionally well, much like Pennel did in Kansas City last year.
Mack was released by Baltimore earlier this month without playing a snap. He was picked up on waivers by the Lions before being released again with a failed physical. If the Chiefs truly are looking for a player to groom in Pennel’s likeness, Mack’s raw talent is there for the taking. He likely wouldn’t be expected to seriously contribute during Pennel’s suspension but could be a young player to stash on the roster and move to the practice squad to maximize his talent under Daly and company.
Who replaces Mike Pennel’s snaps during his suspension?
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Outside free agent