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Chiefs Draft Profile: Boye Mafe is a high-ceiling defensive end

Heading into the NFL Draft, Kansas City has no greater need than edge rushers.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Guaranteed Rate Bowl - West Virginia v Minnesota Photo by Kevin Abele/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).


When it comes to strengthening their defensive line, the Chiefs’ front office still has a lot of work to do. But after watching Kansas City sit out of the bidding wars for excellent pass rushers at the top of the free-agent market, we are getting ever closer to seeing the team’s plan come into focus.

While the team could still use a defensive tackle for 2022 and beyond, it is at defensive end where the team is most likely to add multiple quality players. Sure... later in the summer, Melvin Ingram might return to the fold — but to improve on a group that wasn’t very productive last year (Frank Clark’s 4.5 sacks led the team’s edge rushers in 2021), it will take wise draft selections.

Enter a potential target for late in the first round: University of Minnesota defensive end Boye Mafe.

Background

Early in his evaluation, Mafe’s measurements are polarizing. At 6 foot 4 and 261 pounds, his build is standard. But at 23 years of age (he will turn 24 late in his rookie season), he is an older prospect — and his arm length (32 5/8 inches) is not encouraging. This does not rule him out of Kansas City’s potential draft plans — after all, the team has put defensive ends like Ingram and Mike Danna on the field with even shorter arms — but it is a measurement that some consider critical for edge rushers. Still... if you can play, you can play.

On the plus side, Mafe posted a 9.91 relative athletic score (RAS) in his pre-draft assessments. That’s an indication of elite athleticism for his size. His draft stock soared at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, where he put together a dominant week on the field — and won the National Team MVP award.

The raw athletic profile says Mafe could become a top-flight pass-rushing threat. So what about his game tape?

College film evaluation

At Minnesota, Mafe was primarily used as a stand-up edge rusher who went up against both left and right tackles. Then at the Senior Bowl, he spent most of his time with both hands in the dirt as more of a true defensive end. This change improved both his pad level and knee bend, making him harder for offensive tackles to control. This could be because of the naturally lower leverage the change created or because had to do less mental processing — or some combination of these things. Regardless, I don’t foresee that many NFL teams (if any) will want him to return to his college stance.

More so than his strength, Mafe’s athleticism was a significant part of his game in the Big 10. While he will never be a shutdown strong-side run defender, some teams will think they can squeeze more potential out of his run-defense techniques.

As a run defender, Mafe’s ceiling will probably be average — and his floor could be well-below average. Really powerful offensive tackles (like Orlando Brown Jr.) will often be able to move him while drive-blocking right at the point of attack.

In the passing game, however, Mafe is a ball of clay that several NFL defensive line coaches are surely interested in manipulating. The unteachable explosiveness and power in his legs, hands and upper body are already there. It’s just a matter of making sure it all is being used to the fullest extent.

Mafe’s footwork off the snap (and his pre-snap pass-rushing plan) could be better. In pass-rushing reps, I don’t know that he always has an idea of what he is doing with his hands — but what I do know is that they are always working. Mafe’s hand usage is violent.

Mafe’s strong progression while being coached during Senior Bowl week has raised some eyebrows in a positive way. If chosen by a team that has good defensive coaches (and veteran leaders) to help refine the technical aspects of his game, Mafe looks like someone who is more than worthy of a gamble.

How he fits with the Chiefs

While I wouldn’t consider it likely that Mafe will wear a Chiefs uniform, the logic behind such a pick would be quite simple: bring a rare, freak athlete into the defensive end rotation, positioning him to learn his professional craft with the help of veterans like Clark and Ingram.

In particular, the potential match with Ingram fascinates me — because there are some similarities in the two players’ physical profiles. If the former Pro Bowler can help bring Mafe along — teaching him how to slow the game down mentally, attack as a pass rusher and improve his hand technique — Mafe could reach his NFL ceiling.

The scheme fit would be simple, too. Any team drafting Mafe will expect him to work primarily as a run-and-chase weak-side run defender who can close from the back side with very rare quickness and explosion. But with more grooming from coaches and veteran players, it is the passing game where Mafe’s highest potential exists. Within his first three years, he could become a player who brings double-digit sack production to a defense. But during the very beginning of his career, expectations should remain reserved.

In a perfect world, Mafe lasts into the second round, where Kansas City could consider trading up from pick 50 to acquire him. But since he plays a premium position — and possesses rare physical traits that could result in massive swing plays at the next level — Mafe will likely hear his name called by the end of the first round.

What matters from here is whether that call is from the Chiefs.

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