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Why the Chiefs still need more defensive ends

Despite Kansas City’s recent acquisition of Charles Omenihu, GM Brett Veach has work to do.

NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After releasing veteran defensive end Frank Clark in early March, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach added a defensive end in the early stages of free agency, making an aggressive move to sign defensive end Charles Omenihu — formerly with the San Francisco 49ers — to a two-year, $16 million contract that could reach $20 million with incentives.

Omenihu brings potential and talent to Kansas City’s defensive line. His combination of length, explosiveness and power fit what defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wants in his defensive ends. Even though he finished 11th in pressures among defensive ends last season, it is believed that Omenihu could be even more productive. According to Pro Football Focus, Omenihu’s 2022 pass rush productivity score was 7.8 — the same as the Las Vegas Raiders’ defensive end Maxx Crosby. On a per-snap basis, Omenihu was one of the league’s more disruptive defensive ends.

During his early seasons with the Texans, Omenihu played about one in three of his snaps on the inside (lined up as a defensive tackle or nose tackle) and the rest outside — as a defensive end over an offensive tackle (LE/RE) or out wide from the tackle. For both the Texans and 49ers in 2021, he played on the inside less often. But in 2022 — arguably his best season as a pro — the 49ers used him on the outside on about four snaps out of five.

Charles Omenihu Snaps by Position 2019-2022

Pos 2019
DT/NT 37.1% 41.2% 4.6% 3.6% 21.0%
LE/RE 26.0% 35.8% 14.6% 0.5% 21.9%
Wide 36.9% 11.5% 80.8% 95.9% 55.4%

Data from Pro Football Focus

This suggests that the Chiefs might want to use Omenihu more in the way they tried to use Chris Jones in 2021 — that is, by having him play mostly on the outside while still playing some snaps on the inside. While it didn’t work very well for Jones that season, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t work well for a different player — especially if Jones plays mostly on the inside, as he did in 2022.

Omenihu believes he can fulfill that kind of role.

“I can rush inside, can rush outside and rush over center — whatever you need me to do,” he told reporters during his first Kansas City press appearance. “I’ve shown that I can do it throughout my career. What I think I bring to the table is a guy that can do that.”

But the player who will actually be missing from the lineup will be defensive end Frank Clark, who played only a tiny percentage of his snaps on the inside.

This means the team will still need to replace Clark’s snaps. While his play was up-and-down, there’s no denying that for years, he was an innings-eater in Kansas City. Clark was consistently on the field and played a large percentage of snaps. Without him, the Chiefs have to find someone to fill that role.

At this point in free agency, the options at defensive end are limited. Players like Jadeveon Clowney and Leonard Floyd are still available, but both would be costly to bring in — and profile more as rotational players. Someone like Minnesota Vikings defensive end ZaDarius Smith might be available on the trade market. Acquiring a veteran would require the Chiefs to open up some more cap space, but it’s still an option that should still be pursued.

Or Kansas City could be considering drafting at the position. This EDGE class is deep and talented. Prospects like Georgia Tech’s Keion White, Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Auburn’s Derick Hall or Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness all fit Steve Spagnuolo’s general archetype — and could be available when the Chiefs go on the clock. If the long-term plan is to pair a rookie with second-year defensive end George Karlaftis, there are plenty of players who could do that.

But it’s doubtful that Kansas City is finished with its search for defensive ends. While Omenihu will be a valuable, versatile player on the line, the Chiefs will still have plenty of outside snaps that will need to be replaced. It will be interesting to see how Kansas City ultimately deals with Clark’s absence.

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