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).
When you think of an edge defender that fits the typical criteria for Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, you think of length and a big, strong frame — capable of holding his own on the edge of a run play from a three-point stance.
That doesn’t mean every player they add to the defensive-end group will fit that mold. Edge rusher Melvin Ingram broke it as a starter last season, looking like their best edge player at times; Mike Danna has given the defense quality play with a more stout, compact physique through his first two NFL seasons.
So be cautious cornering the Chiefs into taking what we envision to be their prototype at this position. One possibility early in the draft that goes against that status quo is Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie.
Ebiketie initially committed to Temple University as a three-star recruit from Maryland — although he was born in Yaounde, Cameroon, moving to the United States just before high school. After playing soccer his whole life, Ebiketie gave football a try for the first time as a sophomore at Albert Einstein High.
Across his second and third years with the Owls, he totaled six sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss — including three forced fumbles in the six-game season of 2020. At Penn State, his production only grew: he racked up 18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles while playing more snaps than any other edge defender in this class during the 2021 season.
At the Combine, Ebiketie was measured at 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds — showing off a wingspan in the 71st-percentile for edge defenders historically and a 78th-percentile hand size. He recorded a 38-inch vertical leap and a 128-inch broad jump; those results were in the 91st and 96th percentile, respectively.
College film evaluation
Throughout his college career, Ebiketie primarily aligned on the line of scrimmage and outside the offensive tackle; only 3% of his career snaps came from a further-interior spot. Penn State played him on all downs in all situations — including dropping him into short-zone coverage occasionally.
Arnold Ebiketie can fly off the snap and win around the corner with a mix of bend and good hand work— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 14, 2022
The two-hand chop without breaking stride towards the QB on the first play is incredible pic.twitter.com/8HZ2Vzpwy4
The first thing you notice about Ebiketie is how explosive he is off the snap and just in short areas generally. He uses it to his advantage on outside speed rushes, where his burst really puts pressure on the offensive tackle to get depth in his pass set.
Even when he doesn’t beat them to the corner, he understands how to pair together his hands and bending ability to win through the block and still affect the quarterback’s throw from the back of the pocket.
Ebiketie plays with high effort and energy, which can lead to pass-rush wins happening after the initial move— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 14, 2022
He just continues swiping those powerful hands and changing direction until he's at the QB pic.twitter.com/UhZT8wJevm
Overall, Ebiketie is a high-effort, high-energy player — almost using too much energy at times and playing erratically.
That said, the effort comes through on pass rushes — where he does not stop swiping hands and changing directions in his path until he gets past the blocker and into the quarterback’s face. He isn’t the type to give up after his first pass-rush move fails.
Ebiketie's speed on outside rushes helps set up a very effective inside counter move— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 14, 2022
Look at the initial jab step outside, then quickly exploding back to the inside shoulder before the OT can come back to balance pic.twitter.com/j890EpedLp
Ebiketie doesn’t have the most extensive palette of moves as a pass rusher, but he has developed a very effective counter move that takes advantage of his threat as a speedster around the outside.
In the above clips, you see Ebiketie threaten the tackle’s outside shoulder with a jab step — then he quickly bursts towards the inside gap before the tackle can recover from the initial jab step.
The move especially works because Ebiketie can quickly convert his burst to power, using that momentum to create penetration and get through tight seams in the blocking scheme.
The key flaw of Ebiketie when fitting him into the #Chiefs D is his lack of anchor as a true DE— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) April 14, 2022
Just doesn't have the mass to hold up against blocks well if he doesn't have a step or two of momentum going into the collision pic.twitter.com/mLZvb9vDKs
Where Ebiketie struggled as an edge defender was being a solid presence against the run. He’s just naturally not massive enough to win his side of a block engagement without a step or two of a head start like he gets as a pass rusher.
Unfortunately, Ebiketie doesn’t appear to have much more room to add on weight to his frame without losing explosiveness.
How he fits with the Chiefs
As a Round 1 selection, the Chiefs should expect some instant impact from Ebiketie — and I believe they’ll get it. He would immediately be their best option as an edge rusher to create pressure on any given passing down.
He fits as the weak-side defensive end of the formation, the position that Frank Clark has primarily played on early downs — but it’s likely that Clark and someone like Mike Danna would play more on run downs right away.
In the long term, Ebiketie has a chance to be one of the most dangerous edge rushers in the league — but there is room to develop his plan as a pass rusher and his overall play strength.
The bottom line
The Chiefs have lacked a truly consistent threat as a pass rusher at defensive end for the entirety of the Steve Spagnuolo era. Ebiketie offers a challenge opposing offenses will need to plan for on any third down or late-game passing situation.
He may not be a traditional pick for the Chiefs at defensive end, but his current strengths make him a difference-maker for the defense against the pass — the most important phase of today’s NFL.