The veterans for the Kansas City Chiefs are in the building, and training camp is fully underway. While some opt-outs have occurred, the Chiefs defense looks to be full strength going into the 2020 season.
Meanwhile, we of the AP Nerd Squad continue to churn through positional previews for the 2020 season. We’re taking a look at the stars and the up-and-coming contributors — and making a sleeper pick for each group.
Today’s offering is a locked-down group with few surprises, but one that could see a few players take a big leap in 2020: the defensive tackles!
The Chiefs defensive tackle group is pretty set in stone after the Chris Jones contract was put in place earlier this offseason. Jones leads a group that returns all its key contributors from the 2020 season. Derrick Nnadi is expected to continue the high level of play that closed out the season and a Super Bowl.
Mike Pennel was the Chiefs “diamond in the rough” in the 2019 season, stepping in to help shore up the run defense on a banged-up defensive line. Second-year Chief Khalen Saunders was thrust into a role earlier than expected and ended up playing a pivotal role in getting the team over the hump in 2019.
The Chiefs round out the group with Devaroe Lawrence and Tershawn Wharton — both long shots to make the roster ahead of the four players listed above.
Week after week, Chris Jones lives in the opposition's backfield. Against the Seahawks, it was no different. Over 16 percent of his snaps were pressures, sacks, or TFLs this week -- an OBSCENE rate. He's been an absolute monster for this Chiefs team. pic.twitter.com/9AhZDgOyFM— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 26, 2018
Of course “the guy” at defensive tackle is the Chiefs’ newest 20 million dollar man. An absolute impact player, Jones will be expected to carry even more of the load as a major Brett Veach investment in 2020.
Jones has always come up with splash plays, especially as a pass rusher. His quickness and body control give even the best interior offensive linemen fits, and he requires as much attention as any player in the Chiefs rush rotation.
Jones has spent much of this training camp period discussing the Chiefs ability to create a dynasty and the impact that he and Frank Clark can have on the opposing offense. Both players’ flexibility along the defensive line should prove key for Brendan Daly’s pressure packages, and there’s little reason to expect that Jones won’t have a career year in 2020.
New kid on the block
Favorite trait of Saunders is his balance/body control— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) June 11, 2020
Explodes into OG to set LoS, reads OZ and works feet and hips around the block. Ins hand gets under the armpit of the OG and he drops his pads to get leverage and control.
Takes the double push but is able to plant & turn. pic.twitter.com/F3bRJNbiqW
Saunders is an agile, strong player with a very high ceiling — but one that had a lot of work to do when he was drafted in 2019. Some expected Saunders to have a redshirt year in his rookie season, but injuries forced him into the lineup earlier than expected. He ended up contributing to the Chiefs’ championship run and delivered on some of the hype that made the Chiefs invest a third-round pick in him.
Saunders still needs some development. He’ll need work on his snap reaction, as he is too often the last player off the line. He’ll also need to develop a bit more technique and more of a rush plan to keep the opposition off balance throughout the game. A full season and an offseason under Daly and Steve Spagnuolo should help Saunders to round out his game and contribute in an even bigger way in 2020.
He's still got a lot of work to do as a rusher, but Speaks beats a bad LT like a drum on this play. The tackle gets into his set, expecting a bull rush (Speaks' go-to), and Speaks swipes his hands, throwing the LT's weight forward. Speaks clears and forces a bad throw w/ a QB hit pic.twitter.com/aRonveFL17— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) November 13, 2018
Yes, I can already see the comments developing below: “Breeland Speaks isn’t a defensive tackle, he’s a defensive end!” The Chiefs obviously list him at end as well, and that’s where he’ll play in the base defense.
However, I expect Speaks’ biggest contribution to the defense to be as a defensive tackle — in the Chiefs’ sub-packages. Speaks’ blend of power and motor match up extremely well on the interior against slower, stubbier guards. While Speaks has struggled to consistently beat offensive tackles, he has shown some flashes with his bull rush and his two-hand swat.
While Speaks will be listed at defensive end — and fits there in the base — I think that he can find more success inside as a pass rusher. Spagnuolo prefers to utilize his defensive ends inside on passing downs, and Speaks has the inside/outside flexibility to still play the run on second-and-medium situations. While it may not be the first name that comes to Chiefs fans’ minds in 2020, it may be the best option for Speaks going forward.
Realistically, there is no battle at defensive tackle on this Chiefs team. The first four are pretty locked in and should make the team, barring injury, opt-out, or suspension. From a pass-rush perspective, Chris Jones is going to pace the group — even with the defensive tackle reps the Chiefs defensive ends will get.
So let’s take this year’s battle out to the end of the year, and something that’s a little less tangible: run defense.
The Chiefs will need to improve from the start of the year in their run defense to live up to the expectations they’ve put on themselves. That should be easier with another year in the system, but also with a little more health up front.
Nnadi and Pennel are the traditional run-stuffing linemen, and Jones is a splashy run defender. Saunders showed an ability to split doubles in 2019 and should be developing as a run defender in 2020.
With a locked-in position group, let’s get abstract and see where the Arrowhead Pride community is going into this season.
Who is the Chiefs best run defending DT in 2020?
This poll is closed