On Tuesday, NFL.com data analyst Cynthia Frelund published an article naming the most underrated player on every AFC team.
Frelund measured the snap-by-snap contribution every player made to their team’s win total throughout the 2020 season — and then used each player’s salary (along with Pro Bowl appearances) to measure their appreciation.
By her calculations, the Kansas City Chiefs’ most underappreciated player is defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi.
Kansas City Chiefs • Derrick Nnadi • DT · 25 years old
As measured by how many yards an opposing rusher gained when running within 3 yards of a defensive player, Nnadi was king last season, shutting down ball carriers at the highest rate among all interior defenders. PFF gave him a 81.7 grade in run defense, one of the best marks among interior defenders. The fit between Nnadi and Chris Jones is pretty masterful, which lends credence to the thought that Chiefs GM Brett Veach is underrated. Jones earned PFF’s second-highest pass-rush grade among interior defenders (93.1 — only Aaron Donald posted a higher figure at 93.6). This DT duo is even more productive than the sum of the parts because Nnadi and Jones complement each other so well.
I frequently read Frelund’s work. I don’t always agree with the way she sets up her data — which sometimes gives results that make little sense to me. In fairness to Frelund, though, this is a common reaction to NFL analytics: sometimes, results make little sense — because the process itself often challenges many concepts we take for granted.
However, this time, I think Frelund has hit the nail right on the head. Even if you don’t like PFF data, other measurements support her claims about Nnadi. Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value (AV) metric gives Nnadi a 5 (one unit above average) for his 2018 rookie season, in which he started just 11 games. In itself, that’s noteworthy for a third-round rookie. But he notched a 7 for both 2019 and 2020 under Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo — and in 2021, has a cap hit of just $2.4 million for the final year of his rookie deal.
It’s doubtful that the Chiefs’ coaching staff fails to appreciate Nnadi’s value — but it will be interesting to see how he is used in 2021.
Last season — as shown here — Nnadi was used much more commonly on running plays. With the addition of former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed, will Nnadi see an even smaller percentage of snaps on passing plays, or will the Chiefs — as head coach Andy Reid seemed to imply last week — keep Nnadi on the field alongside Reed, moving Jones to the outside more often than they did in 2020?