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Question of the Week: Revisiting the Chiefs’ first-round pick of Felix Anudike-Uzomah

Kansas City took the rookie out of Kansas State with the 31st overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

In this weekly series for Arrowhead Pride, I’ll ask one big question about the Kansas City Chiefs’ season. Last week, we discussed the second-half offensive issues that plagued the Chiefs.

This week, we’re talking about the Chiefs’ 2023 first-round pick;

Were the Chiefs right to draft Felix Anudike-Uzomah?

In the 2022 NFL Draft, the Chiefs selected defensive end George Karlaftis with the 30th overall pick. The Chiefs desperately needed a starting defensive end, and with limited resources through free agency, they decided to take Karlaftis to fill that role immediately.

As a rookie, Karlaftis couldn’t have done a better job. Karlaftis had six sacks as a rookie, which put him only behind Tamba Hali (8.0 in 2006), Jared Allen (9.0 in 2004), and Derrick Thomas (10.0 in 1989). Karlaftis finished second for all 2022 rookies with 48 pressures and finished fourth in pressure rate at 10.4%.

Karlaftis was able to come in and fill a starting position immediately, which is incredibly rare for the position. The Chiefs made the gamble that Karlaftis could pick up the NFL quickly enough to be a significant contributor to a Super Bowl defense, and he paid that off by the end of the season.

So, fan expectations were high when the Chiefs selected defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah with the 31st pick in this past draft. Suppose Karlaftis — a supposed limited athlete with a low ceiling — could come in and produce immediately. In that case, the high-ceiling terrific athlete should also be able to come in and produce immediately.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far. Through 11 games, Anudike-Uzomah has only played 136 snaps, which is 20%. Within that, Anudike-Uzomah’s snaps have dropped, mainly since defensive end Charles Omenihu returned in Week 7. Since Week 7, Anudike-Uzomah has only lined up for 10 snaps or more in one game.

Within those snaps, Anudike-Uzomah hasn’t been meaningfully productive. According to Pro Football Focus, in 93 pass rush snaps, Anudike-Uzomah only has eight pressures and one sack - an 8.6% pressure rate. Anudike-Uzomah’s pass rush win rate is only at 4.4%. In 52 “true pass rush” snaps, Anudike-Uzomah has five pressures with a 5.9% pass rush win rate.

Here are Anudike-Uzomah’s numbers compared to Karlaftis through 11 weeks:

Felix Anudike-Uzomah 2023 vs. George Karlaftis 2022

Name Games Pass Rush Snaps Pressures Sacks Hits Hurries Pressure Rate Pass Rush Productivity Pass Rush Win Rate
Name Games Pass Rush Snaps Pressures Sacks Hits Hurries Pressure Rate Pass Rush Productivity Pass Rush Win Rate
George Karlaftis 11 324 31 2 4 25 9.57% 5.3 8.40%
Felix Anudike-Uzomah 11 93 8 1 6 1 8.60% 4.9 4.40%

If we compare true pass rush snaps, here’s how Anudike-Uzomah measures to Karlaftis.

Felix Anudike-Uzomah 2023 vs. George Karlaftis 2022 (True Pass Sets)

Name Games Pass Rush Snaps Pressures Sacks Hits Hurries Pressure Rate Pass Rush Productivity Pass Rush Win Rate
Name Games Pass Rush Snaps Pressures Sacks Hits Hurries Pressure Rate Pass Rush Productivity Pass Rush Win Rate
George Karlaftis 11 147 17 0 2 15 11.56% 6.1 9.30%
Felix Anudike-Uzomah 11 52 5 1 3 1 9.62% 5.9 5.90%

In terms of pass rush production, Karlaftis has been more productive over his first 11 games - especially when accounting for sample size.

Now, Anudike-Uzomah not being a productive rookie isn’t uncommon. Even within his own class, there are multiple examples of defensive ends struggling to gain their footing in the NFL.

Here are the pressure stats for defensive ends taken in the top 100 in the past draft:

Pass Rush Stats for Rookies 2023

Name Team Draft Position Games Pass Rush Snaps Pressures Sacks Hits Hurries Pressure Rate Pass Rush Productivity Pass Rush Win Rate
Name Team Draft Position Games Pass Rush Snaps Pressures Sacks Hits Hurries Pressure Rate Pass Rush Productivity Pass Rush Win Rate
Will Anderson IV Texans 1-3 11 324 39 3 10 26 12.04% 7.1 15.20%
Tyree Wilson Raiders 1-7 12 187 9 2 1 6 4.81% 3.1 4.50%
Lukas Van Ness Packers 1-13 11 125 9 1 2 6 7.20% 4.4 6.20%
Will McDonald Jets 1-15 9 57 5 1 1 3 8.77% 5.6 13.00%
Myles Murphy Bengals 1-28 11 93 11 2 0 9 11.83% 7.5 13.80%
Nolan Smith Eagles 1-30 11 40 4 1 1 2 10.00% 6.8 5.40%
Felix Anudike-Uzomah Chiefs 1-31 11 93 8 1 6 1 8.60% 4.9 4.40%
Derick Hall Seahawks 2-37 11 108 8 0 3 5 7.41% 3.8 7.60%
Isaiah Foskey Saints 2-40 7 42 3 0 0 3 7.14% 3.8 5.10%
B.J. Ojulari Cardinals 2-41 12 99 15 4 2 9 15.15% 10.4 17.60%
Keion White Patriots 2-46 10 155 13 1 0 12 8.39% 4.7 7.40%
Tuli Tuipulotu Chargers 2-54 11 285 37 7 4 26 12.98% 8 12.70%
Zach Harrison Falcons 3-75 11 111 5 0 0 5 4.50% 2.5 1.00%
Byron Young Rams 3-77 11 310 35 5 10 20 11.29% 7 8.40%
DJ Johnson Panthers 3-80 8 71 3 0 0 3 4.23% 2.3 4.60%
Yaya Diaby Buccaneers 3-82 11 161 13 5 1 7 8.07% 5.7 5.70%

If we break it up by true pass sets, here is how it breaks down for those players.

Pass Rush Stats for Rookies 2023 (True Pass Sets)

Name Team Draft Position Games Pass Rush Snaps Pressures Sacks Hits Hurries Pressure Rate Pass Rush Productivity Pass Rush Win Rate
Name Team Draft Position Games Pass Rush Snaps Pressures Sacks Hits Hurries Pressure Rate Pass Rush Productivity Pass Rush Win Rate
Will Anderson IV Texans 1-3 11 169 28 3 8 17 16.57% 10 20.00%
Tyree Wilson Raiders 1-7 12 88 6 2 0 4 6.82% 4.9 4.90%
Lukas Van Ness Packers 1-13 11 54 3 0 1 2 5.56% 3.1 4.20%
Will McDonald Jets 1-15 9 26 4 1 0 3 15.38% 10.9 26.10%
Myles Murphy Bengals 1-28 11 44 7 1 0 6 15.91% 10 20.00%
Nolan Smith Eagles 1-30 11 19 3 2 0 1 15.79% 16.7 20.00%
Felix Anudike-Uzomah Chiefs 1-31 11 52 5 1 3 1 9.62% 5.9 5.90%
Derick Hall Seahawks 2-37 11 49 6 0 2 4 12.24% 6.4 12.80%
Isaiah Foskey Saints 2-40 7 16 2 0 0 2 12.50% 7.7 15.40%
B.J. Ojulari Cardinals 2-41 12 43 9 2 1 6 20.93% 13.8 27.50%
Keion White Patriots 2-46 10 55 8 1 0 7 14.55% 8.5 11.30%
Tuli Tuipulotu Chargers 2-54 11 161 27 6 3 18 16.77% 10.7 14.90%
Zach Harrison Falcons 3-75 11 33 1 0 0 1 3.03% 1.7 0.00%
Byron Young Rams 3-77 11 164 27 5 7 15 16.46% 10.7 12.00%
DJ Johnson Panthers 3-80 8 16 2 0 0 2 12.50% 6.7 13.30%
Yaya Diaby Buccaneers 3-82 11 71 9 4 1 4 12.68% 9.3 11.40%

Some players — such as Tuli Tuipulotu of the Los Angeles Chargers or Byron Young of the Los Angeles Rams — are playing many snaps and producing as rookies. Anudike-Uzomah’s productivity isn’t concerning based on other rookies.

Other first-round rookies, like Tyree Wilson, Lukas Van Ness, Will McDonald, Myles Murphy and Nolan Smith, haven’t had opportunities to stand out or play great. Most of Anudike-Uzomah’s peers have also struggled to get consistent snaps and rush the passer well, so I wouldn’t fret about Anudike-Uzomah’s production more than any other player that was taken.

However, we can’t just compare Anudike-Uzomah to fellow edge rushers. The Chiefs had the opportunity to select any position with their first-round pick. A year after taking Karlaftis, they decided to take another defensive end, even with Karlaftis, Omenihu and Mike Danna on the roster. The defensive end certainly wasn’t their most significant need at that moment.

Looking back at the draft, there are a variety of players the Chiefs could’ve taken that would’ve helped out more right now. The Chiefs could’ve taken a tight end, such as Detroit Lions’ tight end Sam LaPorta. Wide receivers, like Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jayden Reed, were on the board. There were a variety of strong defensive backs on the board, such as Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joey Porter Jr. or Lions safety Brian Branch. Even a nose tackle like Keannu Benton from the Steelers would’ve made sense. The opportunity cost of taking Anudike-Uzomah was that other positions the Chiefs desperately needed — such as a wide receiver or nose tackle — would take a hit to take a longer-term player.

To be clear, I am not saying Anudike-Uzomah was a bad pick. I had a first-round grade on Anudike-Uzomah. To date, I haven’t seen anything in his film that concerns me. His developmental arc was always going to take a bit longer. Anudike-Uzomah needed to add play strength before becoming the best version of himself. He also had to learn how to rush from a wider angle, compared to the tight 3-3-5 alignment Kansas State had him run. It’s impossible to say whether Anudike-Uzomah was a good pick or not - we need multiple years of sample size to determine that.

However, the consequence of taking a project player is that other positions on your team will wane. For a Super Bowl contender like the Chiefs, that might be a problem. Once they get into the playoffs, they may regret that they don’t have a better wide receiver or enough defensive tackle depth to stop the run.

So, was Anudike-Uzomah worth it? Was the opportunity cost of viewing that draft pick from a long-term lens worth the short-term loss? If the Chiefs had used that pick on a player who could contribute quicker at a position of higher need, would they be a better team right now?

Anudike-Uzomah’s selection is what makes the draft so interesting. You have to be able to weigh short-term needs with long-term aspirations. I’m still incredibly high on Anudike-Uzomah’s future, but if the Chiefs don’t win a Super Bowl this season, there will be criticism over the fact that their first-round pick wasn’t a contributor to this team.

Fair or not, the team has put themselves in that position. Hopefully, Anudike-Uzomah will improve over the rest of the season and the upcoming offseason.

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