Midway through his 2021 season — his third in the NFL — new Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Charles Omenihu could have been characterized as severely out of place.
The Houston Texans had drafted him in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft — and what had once felt like the perfect place for a Texas native to be had morphed into an unenviable situation. Houston had fired Bill O'Brien — the man who had selected Omenihu — from his executive/head coach position, filling the void with Nick Caserio.
Caserio realized the unproductive Omenihu needed a change of scenery — and he needed more draft picks to make his mark. Caserio called the San Francisco 49ers and flipped Omenihu for a sixth-round draft pick.
Omenihu's unenviable situation would soon take a drastic turn.
"The trade was... it was good, actually," said Omenihu, speaking to the Kansas City media via Zoom for the first time after signing his two-year, $20 million contract. "I was kind of nervous about it because I never thought I was going to leave the state of Texas. But it ended up being the best thing that happened for me in my career, honestly. Being traded to the 49ers gave me a fresh start, a new look on uplifting my confidence as far as just how my third year in the league was going. And it was good and then carried over to my best season yet in the league. And I feel like I'm only going up in the aspects of my play."
The trade led to Omenihu meeting Kris Kocurek, the longtime Detroit Lions defensive line coach who had joined San Francisco in 2019 after a year in Miami. Kocurek changed the trajectory of Omenihu's career.
"Coach Kocurek really, I feel like, made me into the player I am today," said Omenihu. "[He] taught me a lot of things about how I should look in the outlook of my rush — and definitely gave me my confidence again. And he shot me straight. That's the biggest thing I always wanted [from] a coach: just to be super, super honest — and he was brutally honest."
As Omenihu mentioned, 2021 wound up being his best season yet, as he registered 3.5 sacks and 62 pressures (according to Pro Football Focus). That caught the eye of general manager Brett Veach, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his new defensive line coach, Joe Cullen.
Sacks incoming We have officially signed DE @charless_94! pic.twitter.com/bU9jtu8w99— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) March 16, 2023
"I talked to him [Wednesday], and I get the same vibe from him [as I did Kocurek]," said Omenhiu. "[Cullen's] a guy that loves his players, wants his players to succeed bad, wants to stop the run because he wanted to take the quarterback, too. He told me how they went from, I think, 31 sacks to like 60-something (55.0) this year. And I talked to Veach and (head coach) Andy [Reid] and some of the scouts and stuff about that Raiders game that stuck out to me about last year's team — as far as I think they had like 7.0 sacks, and it just looked like everybody was getting a piece of the quarterback. So I [saw] that — and getting the energy from coach Cullen — and it just all [made] sense."
Of course, this week was not the first time Omenihu appeared on Kansas City's radar. The Chiefs were very interested in him ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft.
"I did have a formal meeting with the Chiefs," said Omenihu. “It was good, actually... I was talking to Mr. Veach and coach Reid [Wednesday] night, and I was telling them about how I just remember that meeting being the most positive meeting I had — definitely felt the energy from Spags, too.
"I remember that meeting very, very vividly. So it was good, almost to the point where I thought I was going to be drafted by them, but I mean, now, circle back four years later I'm here, so it all worked out."
Chiefs DL Charles Omenihu measurables (via Mockdraftable) pic.twitter.com/9Bd4AL3TrN— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) March 15, 2023
Standing at 6'5" and 280 lbs. with an 85-inch wingspan and 36-inch arms, Omenihu can play all over the place. He took the majority of his reps during 2022 outside, but he also spent plenty of time inside.
That makes Omenihu the prototypical Spagnuolo-Cullen, positionless defensive lineman.
"I can rush inside, can rush outside and rush over center — whatever you need me to do. I've shown that I can do it throughout my career," he said. "What I think I bring to the table is a guy that can do that."
Omenihu is willing to line up outside the tight end, outside the tackle or inside next to defensive tackle Chris Jones — perhaps the most attractive vision through the Veach lens.
"I think the versatility is what I bring to the table — a guy that's going to play hard, very much I just want to stuff the run because I know when you play the run well, you can have some fun [by] rushing the quarterback."
For all of his measurables, Omenihu also brings the intangibles to the table. He does not shy away from the work, which is something the Chiefs' personnel department usually wants to find. For the record, Omenihu declined to talk about the legal situation stemming from his January arrest, instead choosing to elaborate on his enthusiasm for the game.
"The detail — and just being a great player — is a lot more than showing up in the building and going to meetings," said Omenihu. "It's from the time Monday starts until kickoff on Sunday, and then there's adjustments throughout the game. So the detail and winning — the detail and preparation — you see how much preparation an organization that knows what winning looks like.
"You can see the detail. You can see the just-everything-matters mentality, strategy and scheme — all of it matters. All of it takes detail, all of it takes time — and then you as an individual have to do the extra [work] as well, with maintaining your body, maintaining your strength. How you eat, sleeping — all those different things — you just got [to] really detail it up and really know that this is something you have to take very, very seriously."
Playing for one of the NFC's most successful teams the past one-and-a-half seasons has also helped.
"I think being in an organization like that (the 49ers), I was fortunate enough to go to back-to-back NFC Championship games," concluded Omenihu. "This organization has gone to five straight AFC Championship games.
"I think it would just be a smooth transition — as far as that mentality."