Opening night of the Kansas City edition of the NFL Draft finished with a story of the ages.
Chiefs fandom is so engrained in Anudike-Uzomah that — as is the case in the most passionate of Chiefs fans — he used the pronouns “we” and “us” to describe his childhood memories of the club.
“I remember going to my first Chiefs game back when I was 7 years old,” said Anudike-Uzomah on his initial conference call with local Kansas City media members. “From that, I just fell in love with this — back in the Matt Cassel days, back whenever we were like 1-12 and we beat the Green Bay Packers, and we’re all excited because we just beat the best, the Packers at the time. It’s a dream come true.
“I remember me and my friends just went up to training camp to go watch [Travis] Kelce and the Chiefs literally just play. It’s come full circle, which is crazy, and it’s unbelievable that I’m even in this position now. I’m a Kansas City Chief. Definitely going to celebrate with my family and everything else. I’m thankful for the Kansas City Chiefs fans because I was one of the Kansas City Chiefs fans, so I know how diehard we are for the Chiefs.”
The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder explained that earlier Thursday, he and his K-State teammate (projected Day 3 running back) Deuce Vaughn, stopped downtown to see the masses gather in front of Union Station as they awaited the start of the draft. Anudike-Uzomah laughed as he recalled that nobody knew who he was — something that has now suddenly changed.
Citing that he preferred a more subdued draft night, Anudike-Uzomah watched the draft at home among family and friends, who he said were more excited than him when general manager Brett Veach called to share the good news. By the time head coach Andy Reid grabbed the phone, it was too loud to have an audible conversation.
“Brett called him initially and talked to him,” said Reid. “By the time I got to him, he couldn’t hear me, [and] I couldn’t hear him. So I was just passing the phone on. He was obviously at a party.”
Veach had already shared the good news with Anudike-Uzomah, and it had made its way to the rest of the party. With the No. 31 overall pick, the Chiefs were bringing the Manhattan kid back home.
“He’s done nothing but grow and develop throughout the last couple years,” said Veach. “We’re excited for (defensive coordinator) Steve [Spagnuolo] and for (defensive line coach) Joe Cullen to get their hands on him now and continue that growth and trajectory uphill. Any time you can add a premium position, one of the youngest players in the draft and have that to work with for a long time is something we’re excited about.”
Getting Anudike-Uzomah in the first round means a fifth-year option down the road, something the Chiefs may be interested in should the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year develop as planned. The growth already started during his tenure at Kansas State.
After a modest freshman season in 2020, Anudike-Uzomah broke out in 2021, registering 50 tackles, including 14.5 for loss and 11 sacks. He added 46 tackles, including 11.0 for loss and another 8.5 sacks in 2022.
“The motor, the relentless effort — and a guy that had a ton of production at Kansas State,” added Veach. “A majority of his production was coming in a big-time conference at 19 and 20 years old. I think every year he’s been there, you could see the growth and development in being so young. I still think there’s a huge window for him to continue to grow and develop. We’re excited that we get him at this stage of his career and being so young. Got a lot of years to work with and continue to grow and develop him.
Anudike-Uzomah believes he can thrive in Spagnuolo’s scheme, which he described as “simple.”
“I love simple,” he said. “If you can just attack the ball and use your ability — there’s obviously certain stunts like that. And if you can attack the ball, [Spagnuolo] wants you. He liked how I had a great motor. He likes high-motor guys, and he likes everything about my playing style.”
The Chiefs suddenly have two high-motor players at defensive end, considering those were the most frequently used words to describe one of last year’s first-round picks, George Karlaftis. Veach beamed as he called Anudike-Uzomah and Karlaftis a good one-two tandem.
Anudike-Uzomah fills a void left by the offseason release of veteran Frank Clark.
“Frank Clark was one of my favorite pass rushers, watching him,” said Anudike-Uzomah. “And I was like, ‘Listen. If he left, I could definitely have input for the team, especially because I’m a young rusher, and I can learn from the people ahead of me.’”
Anudike-Uzomah will have proficient tutors in All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones, defensive tackles Derrick Nnadi and Charles Omenihu, Karlaftis, defensive end Mike Danna and a returning Turk Wharton. The veterans should respect Anudike-Uzoma’s built-in work ethic, a key component to the success of the defensive line.
When the world shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, Anudike-Uzomah looked at the situations New York Giants linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux and Washington Commanders defensive lineman Chase Young created for themselves. He sought to repeat their processes.
“The whole quarantine, I didn’t play any video games or really watch any shows,” he said. “The only thing I did was just watch their highlights over and over every day and then work out in my basement and eating a lot, so I could work on my body. Just get any tactics and stuff like that. Look at the pass-rush moves... that’s what I did the whole time. It’s just a dream come true, and all hard work pays off. And I’m glad I did what I did at quarantine instead of just sitting around watching TV.”
Those efforts led to greater college production and an eventual local pro day invite by the Chiefs, who never formally met with Anudike-Uzomah at the NFL Scouting Combine but did have a Zoom call with him. The now-former Wildcat said he connected with Reid at the local pro day, which could have made the difference.
“When you’re picking right there at 31, you try to take the best player that’s available to you on the board — and he was that guy,” said Reid. “And so we feel very comfortable bringing him into our program. [He’s a] great kid. [We] had a chance to hang with him here — during our local pro day — and enjoyed talking with him and visiting with him there.”
It all led to the perfect ending to Day 1 of Kansas City’s NFL Draft.
“It was just a wild experience... especially having the draft in KC, me coming out this year,” beamed Anudike-Uzomah. “I had a dream of this like four times in my lifetime. And it’s crazy how I’m living in the moment...”
Well, as best he can.
“[Friday], I’m going to probably wake up and check my phone to make sure I’m still on the Kansas City Chiefs,” he concluded. “It’s honestly surreal. I’m glad to be a part of the Chiefs. I’m glad to be part of a winning culture. I’m glad to be a part of Andy Reid and everything else. And I thank Veach so much for even having me on the Kansas City Chiefs.”