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Film review: Carlos Dunlap joins Chiefs to disrupt the pass game

The veteran defensive end can do many things, but affecting the quarterback should be his main function.

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Chicago Bears v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The free-agent signing at defensive end we’ve been waiting for all offseason has happened; it just occurred five months after we were expecting it.

The Kansas City Chiefs signed veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap on Thursday morning, securing him on a one-year deal to bolster a very young group of defensive ends. He is the most experienced in the room now, being drafted five years before Frank Clark.

What can we expect from an older player who went this long without being signed? I dove into the details here:

The basics

Dunlap is a 13-year veteran, but he’s as much a giant today as he was as an NFL Draft prospect. He measured in at 6 feet 6 and 278 pounds, with arm length in the 85th percentile for defensive ends historically. With that massive frame, he ran a 4.68-second 40-yard dash with a 10-yard split in the 73rd percentile.

That size makes him a heavy-but-traditional defensive end in a 4-3 front; he fits the Chiefs’ edge position very well with a long frame and heavy hands.

He has also been very durable; he has only missed three games since 2013 — including making an appearance in all 17 games last year for the Seattle Seahawks. That happened despite a foot injury that hampered him into the middle of the season.

Anecdotally, his production and impact increased once he was healthier — and that showed in his statistics: 7.0 of his 8.5 sacks came in the last four games of the season.

Run defense

In 2021, Seattle asked Dunlap to pass rush much more than they asked him to play against the run. He had 309 pass-rush opportunities, compared to only 129 run-defense snaps.

So he was more a situational pass rusher than he was an every-down starter; he was seventh among Seattle defensive linemen in total snaps. However, he can be an asset in either phase of the game.

Dunlap does a good job of not allowing his height and frame to be a detriment when setting the edge. Sometimes, too much length allows a lineman to win the leverage battle — and it’s hard to hold an edge while not winning the leverage. That said, Dunlap has shown an ability to anchor down and not get pushed around for the most part.

His length allows him to control blocks and see into the backfield as well, keeping offensive linemen’s hands from getting to his chest.

Pass rush

Getting after the quarterback has been the main function of Dunlap in recent years, and he’s been pretty good at what he does. He has totaled 14.5 sacks over the last campaigns and hasn’t had a year with fewer than six sacks since 2011.

In 2021, he earned pressure on 11.3% of his pass-rush snaps. For comparison, Frank Clark had a 10.1% pressure rate last year, and Melvin Ingram’s was 11.1%.

Dunlap’s experience shows up in how he approaches each pass-rush repetition. His bull rush is an asset for him — which may be obvious at his size — but he knows how to bring momentum to the initial engagement. That initial jolt can be enough to knock the offensive tackle off balance, and then Dunlap finishes through the player with the built-up momentum he’s had since the snap.

That experience gets paired with the rare length, and it becomes very difficult for an offensive lineman to completely stay in front of him. As he moves toward one shoulder of the tackle or the other, that long arm gets through and pries his way past the offensive lineman — with too much force for the blocker to correct and recover.

Similar to how it helps against the run, that length keeps him separated from the blocker — allowing him to make moves without the lineman getting to his chest and controlling him.

Throughout his career, Dunlap has always been one to get a hand on a pass; he has 69 career passes defended. Last season, he batted six passes, according to PFF. It was the third-most among all defensive linemen. On the Chiefs, Chris Jones had five — but no other rusher had more than two; Clark had zero.

This phase of Dunlap’s game can be attributed to good effort and sound awareness. Dunlap understands the unique advantage he has at his size, so he’s constantly active in throwing lanes — always throwing his hands up once he notices the quarterback winding up towards his direction.

How he fits with the Chiefs

In Kansas City, Dunlap will be penetrating a rotation at defensive end that is headed by Clark, rookie George Karlaftis, and Mike Danna. It’s not likely that he’s a starter if everyone’s healthy, but he should be able to eat a good chunk of snaps in either phase of the game.

Think about former Chief Alex Okafor; last season, he played 41% of the team’s snaps. That’s likely on the higher side of an expectation for how much Dunlap will play, but he should be a much more impactful player on those snaps than Okafor was, especially in 2021.

In this edition of Baldy’s Breakdowns, Dunlap is highlighted for the huge impact he made on this Seahawks win — despite only playing seven snaps. It’s a good example of how he disruptive he can be on any given snap, giving the Chiefs a higher ceiling of impact from their depth than they had prior to the signing.

On top of that, Dunlap has played in the NFC West the last two seasons — the same division that the Chiefs will be facing in 2022. Their season opener is against the Arizona Cardinals, who allowed Dunlap to earn two sacks in the Week 18 matchup last season.

The bottom line

Dunlap was brought in to improve the pass-rush unit. He will absolutely do that, giving them a more disruptive pass rusher — in both getting to the quarterback and getting his hands on passes — than they had before behind the starters; shoot, there’s no guarantee he won’t be more impactful than the current first-team players.

It’s very similar to acquiring Melvin Ingram last year, but this is happening before the season — giving the pass rush a full season to reach its potential, not just the second half of the year.