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Under The Radar: Leo Chenal leaves an indelible mark

Kansas City’s second-year linebacker has already exceeded his rookie season.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs rekindled their winning momentum on Sunday, securing a 21-14 victory over the high-flying Miami Dolphins in Frankfurt, Germany. This impressive win improved the team’s record to a formidable 7-2, positioning it at the top of the AFC as it entered its bye week.

Throughout this season, the Kansas City defense has consistently displayed its prowess — and standout second-year linebacker Leo Chenal has been a silent (yet instrumental) figure in its success.

When Chenal was drafted out of the University of Wisconsin in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, he was renowned for his ferocious hits — along with unyielding physicality that often invited contact. He has lived up to that billing, showcasing unwavering tenacity and an exceptional work ethic — both of which make him a valuable asset in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnolo’s toolkit.

During his rookie season, Chenal underwent his fair share of challenges while adapting to the speed and strength displayed by fellow NFL players — while Spagnolo was learning how to best utilize his unique skill set. During his debut season, Chenal appeared in all 17 games — starting in eight of them — registering 35 tackles (19 solo, three for loss), a sack and three quarterback hits.

In the first nine games of the 2023 season, Chenal has shown remarkable growth. He’s already exceeded his rookie performance with 41 tackles (26 solo, six for loss), three sacks and four quarterback hits. In Sunday’s game, he collected seven tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit. He now ranks fifth on the team in both tackles and sacks — and shares the team’s top spot for tackles for loss.

The bottom line

In his second season, Chenal has notably improved in an area that was a cause for concern during the draft process: his ability to cover ground from sideline-to-sideline. Whether it’s through his menacing blitzes or his relentless pursuit of tackles while shedding blocks, Chenal has truly become a game-changer. His presence complements the Chiefs’ already-formidable linebacker corps. He is a player for whom opposing offenses must account.

As the Chiefs enter their bye week and prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles in their Week 11 Super Bowl rematch — notably without starting MIKE linebacker Nick Bolton — Chenal will undoubtedly play a crucial role.

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