Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs finally got the defensive end acquisition news they were waiting for — it just might not have been the player they had in mind. One day after the Pittsburgh Steelers signed free agent pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, the Chiefs signed veteran defensive end Alex Okafor to a one-year deal.
The appeal of Ingram was his ceiling as a player. He’s 32 years old now, but he’s made the Pro Bowl three times and has two seasons with 10.5 sacks. Meanwhile, Okafor has always been a solid starting-caliber player — but he has never made a Pro Bowl and hasn’t earned more than five sacks in a season since 2014.
Yet, I believe signing Okafor will benefit the team — maybe even more than a signing of Ingram would have. I’ll make the argument by detailing three ways Okafor can help the Chiefs:
1. Okafor provides much-needed experience at defensive end
Okafor has played eight NFL seasons; he turned 30 years old in February. Excluding starting defensive end Frank Clark, the combination of Taco Charlton, Mike Danna, Joshua Kaindoh, and Tim Ward has five years of legitimate NFL experience. Chris Jones may be a veteran as a defensive tackle, but he has a sliver of in-game experience at defensive end.
One way or another, the Chiefs needed more experience at a position that’s as important as any for a defense. Not only did they get a seasoned veteran, but they also got a player that’s as familiar as any Chiefs player with the defensive system: Okafor initially signed in the same offseason that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo joined the Kansas City coaching staff.
Even though he missed 14 total games over the last two seasons, he played a big chunk of the defense’s snaps when he was healthy. Not only can he be trusted to fill in right away, but he can also aide the younger defensive ends in learning Spagnuolo’s system.
2. He can be effective on all three downs
Before signing Okafor, the Chiefs’ defensive end position primarily consisted of players trusted in certain situations rather than on every single down. Excluding Frank Clark, the edge players are likely to be used as follows:
- Taco Charlton played on third down or in pass-rushing situations.
- Mike Danna was primarily used as an early-down run defender.
- Rookie Joshua Kaindoh has the raw tools to be a situational pass-rusher, but it’d be hard to trust him on run downs this year.
- Tim Ward showed the potential to be a three-down player in Week 17, but it was the only game he’s played in his NFL career so far.
Okafor has been trusted as an early-down edge defender and a pass-rusher on third downs during the last two seasons. In 2020, he had a pressure rate of 9.1% — higher than every Chiefs defensive end beside Charlton. He also led his position in run-stop percentage, a PFF metric that tracks how many of a player’s run defense snaps end in a “failure” for the offense.
I think the biggest part of the Okafor signing is it gives the #Chiefs another experienced, three-down DE. Clark was really the only one that we've seen trusted to play every down rather than be a situational player out there— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) July 21, 2021
A couple run stops and QB hits from last yr (#57): pic.twitter.com/dp556Lhgfe
3. He can take the pressure off of inexperienced defensive ends
Before the Okafor signing, the inexperienced defensive ends on the roster were going to put in many high-pressure situations — considering Clark would be the only player with more than a year’s worth of experience in the defense. Even Jones will likely go through a learning process at first.
Okafor gives the coaching staff an option it can be more confident in playing at any given moment. He also allows the other reserve defensive ends to be used on more situationally advantageous snaps rather than be thrown to the fire more than they might be comfortable with right now.
Plus, there is the possibility that Clark misses time for his off-field actions this offseason. If that were to happen, Okafor could likely be relied on more than any other defensive end because of his experience.
It’s a better plan than to throw the green edge defender group into the fire.