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2020 Chiefs positional preview: defensive end

Even with the losses of Emmanuel Ogbah and Terrell Suggs, the Chiefs have good options to step in at defensive end.

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

As training camp progresses over the next few weeks, the AP Nerd Squad continues to break down the Kansas City Chiefs roster position by position. We’re working from the top of the depth chart to the bottom, briefing you about how we think each position group will set up.

Defensive end is one of the few positions where the Chiefs were unable to retain nearly all of their main contributors from their championship season; through two important stretches of last season, Emmanuel Ogbah and Terrell Suggs accounted for a lot of the defensive end snaps. The Chiefs were, however, able to bring back Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Tanoh Kpassagnon and Demone Harris — and bring in some few new faces, too.

Let’s see where the position group now stands.

“The guy”

The Chiefs spent major capital to bring Frank Clark to the team last season. It turned out to be an excellent decision.

Clark is not only the top-tier defensive end that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme requires, but he’s also the leader of the defensive front. During the second half of the season (and the playoffs), it was easy to see the intensity and mentality Clark brought to the line. He brought a major improvement to the unit’s toughness — and by itself, that may have justified his price tag.

Despite playing injured for half the season, Clark did everything Spagnuolo could ask from a defensive end. His ability to hold a strong edge — dominating against the run — is an often-overlooked aspect of his game. Teams like the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers specifically ran away from him — or had significantly worse results. Early in the season, Clark’s pass-rushing production wasn’t what a lot of fans expected — but once he was fully healthy, his ability to rush the passer was on full display. Using his power and length, he was consistently able to affect the comfort level of opposing quarterbacks.

New kid on the block

Hopefully, Clark’s former college teammate Taco Charlton will help him take the next jump.

Another Michigan product — Mike Danna, who was taken in the fifth round of the draft — - might have taken this role, but early on, Charlton should be ready to contribute more. He has the size and strength the Chiefs have been looking for — and has shown he can play well against either the run or the pass.

If the unit around him can help drive him to his highest potential, he could make a good replacement to Ogbah. Charlton’s hand technique — and how he uses his length — are the best parts of his game. While he hasn’t been yet been able to live up to first-round expectations, he could be in for a quality year with the Chiefs.

Sleeper candidate

Tanoh Kpassagnon made huge strides in 2019, becoming one of the players who helped the Chiefs defensive line hold strong.

Kpassagnon didn’t always have flashy roles where he could make highlight-level plays, but he played a big role. Showing major improvement as a run defender on the outside, he finally learned how to utilize his length — which allowed him to get on the field more often. Kpassagnon showed that as a pass rusher, the game is starting to slow down for him.

Coming off a good year, it’s hard to call him a sleeper candidate — but if he pushes for more starting reps in 2020, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Best battle

Alex Okafor should start the season across from Clark — but Kpassagnon could provide serious competition. In passing downs last season, Kpassagnon was often utilized as the first defensive to kick inside on passing downs. That’s likely to continue, but with Charlton (and a now-healthy Breeland Speaks), the Chiefs will have other options, too.

If Kpassasgnon can continue to improve his mental processing — making it easier for him to read blockers — his physical skills give him the best chance to push for a starting role. Given the investment the team has made in him, Speaks also has to be considered — but his size, lack of length and limited athleticism make him less likely to be a starting player. But if he shows up in the best shape of his life, he could be part of the competition, too.

Poll

Who wins the "other" starting DE position?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Alex Okafor
    (1425 votes)
  • 40%
    Tanoh Kpassagnon
    (1559 votes)
  • 5%
    Breeland Speaks
    (220 votes)
  • 15%
    Taco Charlton
    (602 votes)
3806 votes total Vote Now