Kansas City Chiefs fans should be proud of the selection of defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft — not because he’s a Kansas City kid who played college football at Kansas State, but because his selection demonstrated a good process from general manager Brett Veach.
The first round of any draft always includes dynamic trades and surprising selections. After 2023’s 19th pick — when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected defensive tackle Kalijah Cancey — things looked amazing for Kansas City. Not a single wide receiver had been taken. The very talented class of tight ends was still untouched. Other players at positions of need that might have been gone by then — including edge rushers Myles Murphy and Nolan Smith, defensive tackles Mazi Smith and Brian Bresee and tackle Anton Harrison — remained on the board.
The next eleven picks, however, felt like gut punches to fans watching at Union Station — and at home. Murphy, Bresee and Harrison — along with both Smiths and the draft’s top four wideouts — all disappeared.
Veach didn’t panic. He didn’t overpay to trade up — especially in what many viewed as a weaker class. When he finally went on the clock at 31, he avoided the temptation to make a value pick (such as safety Brian Branch or tight end Michael Mayer), choosing instead to take the player he later said was the best on his board — one who played what he called a “premium” position for Kansas City.
And now that Anudike-Uzomah is on the Chiefs’ roster, what should we expect from him?
Edge rushers are often among the NFL’s most highly-coveted players. Elite EDGEs (like Will Anderson Jr. and Tyree Wilson in this draft) tend to be selected in the first 10 picks. First-round picks taken after that are usually in the next tier; they have some flaws in their games.
It’s common sense, right? The best players go first.
Still, first-round picks are valuable; if a team spends one on a prospect, it’s reasonable to expect an immediate contribution. Unfortunately, there’s not really a track record of big contributions from players taken after the first 10 picks. While there are outliers (such as third-rounder Maxx Crosby of the Las Vegas Raiders), they are the exception — not the rule.
Love the FAU pick. But this is a nice little reminder that end of the 1st round edges traditionally are role players at best.— Price Carter (@ArrowheadPrice) April 28, 2023
Here's the last 6 years of edge prospects drafted between 20-32. Chiefs now have 2 of these players (having a super star in Chris Jones matters) pic.twitter.com/4RwskPsi2S
To illustrate this, I took a look at the last six years of edge rushers drafted between picks 20 and 32. Reading through this list, the most obvious star is T.J. Watt, who was selected at 30.
Here’s to hoping that in Anudike-Uzomah (and 2022’s 30th selection George Karlaftis), the Chiefs are getting three-time All-Pros (and defensive players of the year) from these two late first-round picks. But the rest of the list is fairly underwhelming; a lot of the players on it have never really put it all together.
Overall, these 12 players have combined for 520 games and 197.5 career sacks. But if you eliminate Watt (and his 77.5 career sacks in 87 games), the numbers are much less palatable: 120 sacks in 433 games. That averages out to about five sacks in a 17-game season — which is close to the six sacks Karlaftis collected in his rookie season.
Truth be told, it’s hard to get impactful pass rushers outside the draft’s top 20 picks. Consider a team like the Buffalo Bills. Its defensive line is filled with late first-round (and early second-round) pass rushers — including top-10 overall pick Ed Oliver. But the team still needed to give a big contract to 33-year-old Von Miller to get a consistent pass rush.
In defensive tackle Chris Jones, the Chiefs have their own version of Miller. As long as he remains in Kansas City, Jones will always be the driving force behind the team’s pass rush. Players like Anudike-Uzomah and Karlaftis could be considered “auxiliary pass rushers.” We can expect them to win one-on-one matchups (and occasionally give us glimpses of greatness), but they will only rarely reach (or eclipse) double-digit sacks in a season.
As long as Kansas City has a player like Chris Jones on the inside, having outside pass rushers who can put up that kind of production will be great. If nothing else, this is a reminder that at least for now, the Chiefs cannot expect Anudike-Uzomah and Karlaftis to be the team’s entire pass rush; Jones needs a contract extension.