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3 middle-round EDGE sleepers the Chiefs should consider

Let’s take a look at some middle-round edge rushers who could contribute in Kansas City.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Central Arkansas at UAB Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas from April 28-30, we’re taking a look at some of the players the team could be targeting with their 12 draft picks: Round 1 (29 and 30), Round 2 (50 and 62), Round 3 (94 and 103), Round 4 (121 and 135) and Round 7 (233, 243, 251 and 259).

With all the attention on the players Kansas City will be selecting with their first few picks, we shouldn’t lose focus on some other prospects who may be available in the later rounds. They could become nice depth on a roster that needs to be injected with more athleticism and talent.

Rounds 4-7 may be where general manager Brett Veach has had his best selections. Cornerback Rashad Fenton and utility lineman Nick Allegretti were late-round selections in 2019 who were contributors on a Super Bowl team. 2020 draftees L’Jarius Sneed and Mike Danna have made major contributions. And 2021 picks Trey Smith and Noah Gray both seem primed for improved seasons in 2022.

When it comes to the edge rushers, the conventional wisdom is that potential All-Pro, Pro-Bowl caliber players are found not just in the first round but in the top 15 overall. But this time around, there are some developmental edge defenders who could be contributors even in their rookie seasons. Let’s take a look at three of them.

Alex Wright · University of Alabama-Birmingham

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Liberty at UAB Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wright’s physical potential is abundant. He has the physical frame that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo likes in his edge rushers: 6 feet 7 and 270 pounds. Primarily serving as a stand-up EDGE for the Blazers, Wright has a lot of appealing physical traits. — including good burst, great long-track explosiveness and exceptional bend capacity (not to mention hip and ankle flexion) for his size.

Wright can accelerate around the edge while reducing his surface area. He rolls through contact, working past blockers at tight angles to pinch the corner and get upfield. His bend — especially at his size — is rare. It affords him a great deal of upside.

In addition, Wright has proven hand-usage ability and is also very proactive against the run. Even when he can’t quite free himself, he can use his length to disrupt plays — whether that’s by forcing back-side fumbles or deflecting passes at the line.

His area for growth will be in his first step and counter-move timing when an offensive lineman gains the upper hand. Despite his size, he can lose contain on double-teams due to inconsistent balance while anchoring. With his high-cut, long-legged frame, he often comes off the snap too tall; at times, he’s too upright heading into contact. This limits his leverage — and thereby, the force he can exert. When blockers can get under his pads, he doesn’t always have the strength to compensate.

But Wright still checks far more boxes than he misses. After playing mostly against C-USA teams, there may be questions about how he will translate to the NFL. Even so, Wright made his presence felt against higher-level teams. With a year or two to get stronger, hone his snap anticipation and keep refining his technique, Wright could be a dangerous two-phase playmaker worth an early fourth-round pick.

Isaiah Thomas · Oklahoma

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Iowa State at Oklahoma Photo by David Stacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

His tape immediately shows that Thomas possesses incredible explosion from the line of scrimmage, routinely beating offensive linemen with an impressive first step. He’s also got fast hands that eliminate blocks with both speed and power. This allows him to quickly disengage from blockers and penetrate gaps.

When aligned on the inside, Thomas uses this ability to scrape across the offensive line to make plays against the run on the edge. As a pass rusher, he displays a potent bull rush, a disruptive push-pull technique and swim moves to make his way to the quarterback. We also see flashes of bend in which he is able to ghost underneath offensive tackles.

His athleticism doesn’t always show up on film — and once engaged, he doesn’t have the pass-rushing counters to shed blockers. While Thomas has shown that he can win at the point of attack, he needs to ensure that he converts those plays into actual production. There have been multiple plays where Thomas beat his man, got within arm’s length of the quarterback and still couldn’t impact the play in time. Thomas also needs to improve his balance to prevent slipping when attacking the ball carrier. Too often, he ends up on the ground.

Ultimately, Thomas is a solid rotational player who can raise the floor of the defensive line — but doesn’t elevate its ceiling. As an athletic prospect who stands out as a pass rusher and makes plays in space, Thomas comes with an upside — and he will only get better as he physically matures and adds strength to his game. For my money, he’s worth a late fourth-round pick.

Micheal Clemons · Texas A&M

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Texas A&M at LSU Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Clemons is an older prospect (he will turn 25 during his rookie season) who has the prototypical frame and body type Spagnuolo prefers. He has a long, strong frame — and plenty of power. With his overwhelming wingspan and above-average burst, he can easily convert speed to power.

As a result, Clemons has had some absurdly disruptive college reps. He can stab a blocker’s torso and use his power (and leg drive) to blow them back. Clemons’ explosiveness is another vital part of the speed-to-power equation. He has a good first step — and when he has a runway, he shows great long-track explosiveness. With a wide tackling radius, he can overtake players just with his reach.

Even with all of his experience, Clemons will still need refinement. He needs to work on the timing of his hands on his punch and counters — as well as setting up his attack on passing downs.

But outside of his power, Clemons doesn’t have any arguably elite traits. His first step isn’t quite there, so he won’t always win against athletic offensive tackles. He doesn’t have the sheer speed to get outside and challenge the corner consistently, nor does he display a lot of bend. He has decent ankle flexion, but his hips get locked up fairly easily at the corner — and his high-cut frame can make it hard for him to shrink his surface area. His change-of-direction ability isn’t great — which at times, can leave him lurching. Finally, injuries have caused Clemons to miss significant time in three of his seven college seasons.

He does, however, possess NFL strength — as evidenced in his 3.5 sack game against LSU and his clinical tape against first-round offensive tackle prospect Evan Neal of Alabama. Given Veach’s draft history — and Spagnuolo’s preferences — Clemons coming to Kansas City could make a lot of sense.

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