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3 mid-round defensive tackle prospects for Chiefs to target

If the Chiefs want to wait a few rounds before bolstering the defensive interior, there are a few intriguing names to consider.

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Texas A&M v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

At least we know the Kansas City Chiefs will have star power at the top of their defensive tackle position for the 2023 season.

Chris Jones is still leading the group, and his contract should be extended into future seasons sometime this summer. After him, it’s a mixed bag of players that could potentially start next to Jones in the middle of the defense.

The incumbent nose tackle is Derrick Nnadi, who was re-signed to a one-year deal earlier this spring. The other candidates to play the role are Byron Cowart — a former fifth-round pick that hasn’t started in two years — and a candidate for the practice squad in Danny Shelton.

Nnadi himself was a third-round selection, going off the board 75th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and asserting himself as a part of the Chiefs’ active rotation by the end of his rookie season. The Chiefs need to find their next Nnadi, a defensive lineman stout enough to eat space in the A-gap and dependable enough to play in every game over a season.

They could find that player in the same draft range, after the first 50 picks and into the third day of the draft. I have three prospects to consider for that scenario:

Byron Young, Alabama

Playing his high school football in Laurel, Mississippi, Young developed into a four-star high school recruit and accepted an offer from Alabama over Clemson, LSU, and Florida. After only 3.5 sacks through his first three seasons on campus, Young totaled four sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, two passes defended, and a forced fumble during his senior year. It led to him earning first-team All-SEC honors in 2022.

At the NFL Combine, Young measured in at 6 feet 3 inches and 294 pounds. His 11-inch hands were tied for the biggest paws of any defensive line prospect at the event while also showing good length with arms at 34 3/8 inches. He left a lot to be desired with his explosive testing, jumping only 26 inches in the vertical leap and 9 feet on the broad jump.

Young’s big hands and arms show up in the run game. He fires out his hands at the snap, controls individual blocks, and works his way toward the ball. He isn’t big enough to constantly absorb double teams, but he also isn’t small enough to be controlled by a center or guard. He never made it easy for blockers to stay in front of him.

When the offense is passing, Young actually shows some natural ability ripping through a lineman’s shoulder and bending his way into the pocket. He’s not winning with his first step, but he will with powerful hands and bullying his way to the quarterback.

Jaquelin Roy, LSU

Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, it was only fitting that Roy enrolled at LSU and became an impact player right away. As a true freshman, Roy recorded four tackles for loss and two sacks — then followed it up with six tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 2021. His junior season in 2022 didn’t bring much more production, but his reputation had built up enough to declare for the NFL Draft anyways.

As an NFL Combine attendee, Roy measured in at 6 feet 3 and 305 pounds, with 10 1/8-inch hands and arms that measured at 32 3/4 inches. His 30 bench-press repetitions were tied for the second-most among defensive line prospects at the event. Those numbers show off his strength, but his mobility scores were some of the worst among his group.

Roy has experience playing the nose tackle position for LSU, lining up either directly over the center or shaded to either side. His strength allows him to come off and control blocks at the snap, but he adds to that with good play recognition, keeping his head up and aware of his surroundings.

He has a better first step than most nose tackles and sheds centers and guards with emphasis.

Keondre Coburn, Texas

Playing his high school football in Texas, Coburn stayed home and attended the University of Texas as a four-star recruit. He broke onto the scene as a redshirt freshman, totaling 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble in 2019. Coburn steadily progressed from there, becoming a second-team All-Big 12 performer by 2022. He accumulated 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles over his college career.

At the NFL Combine, Coburn measured in at 6 feet 2 and 332 pounds, with 9 1/8-inch hands and very short arms of 31 1/2 inches. None of his athletic-testing numbers were overly impressive, although the 7.56-second three-cone drill he recorded at his Pro Day would have been faster than nearly all of the defensive line prospects weighing over 300 pounds.

Like Roy, Coburn was tasked with playing the traditional nose tackle spot for most of his snaps in the Texas defense. He wasn’t as much of a block controller because of his short arms, but he has an excellent first step that allows him to win the leverage battle off the snap. That combines with overwhelming mass to be an active player on any down for a defense.

How they fit with the Chiefs

Each of these prospects could immediately be a part of the Chiefs’ defensive line rotation up front. Young may not be as much of a pure nose tackle, but he can still eat up interior snaps — then possibly line up on the outside situationally.

Roy and Coburn could possibly compete for Nnadi’s job right away, having the size to play in the A-gap and also the experience from college. Coburn may also have some athletic upside, similar to former Chief Khalen Saunders.

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