The football analytics site Pro Football Focus has completed publishing its player rankings in advance of the 2023 season. We covered the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense on Tuesday, identifying seven members of the unit ranked in the top 32 players — with three of those ranked No. 1 at their positions. Let’s see which members of the team’s defense PFF has named among the league’s top 32.
No Kansas City players listed
No Kansas City players listed
These continue to be positions where the Chiefs are trying to build strength. A year ago, no Kansas City edge rushers were listed. PFF ranked Justin Reid seventh in its “all-around” tier, but the Chiefs’ safety is not listed in 2023.
The Chiefs have, however, made some investments in young players. At defensive end, George Karlaftis was solid (if unspectacular) in his rookie season, while 2023 first-round pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah also looks like he could be a solid player. Fifth-rounder BJ Thompson could be surprising this season — and it's still possible the Chiefs could add a rotational veteran before Week 1.
Late last season, rookie safety Bryan Cook played well enough for Kansas City to feel comfortable with Juan Thornhill joining the Cleveland Browns in free agency. The team also acquired former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards in the offseason.
24. Trent McDuffie, Kansas City Chiefs
The Sauce Gardner grading curve ruined all other rookies by contract, but fellow first-round rookie Trent McDuffie was excellent for the Chiefs after he got back in the starting lineup. McDuffie was immediately thrown into difficult assignments in the Chiefs’ defense and allowed just 10.1 yards per reception all year.
26. L’Jarius Sneed, Kansas City Chiefs
Sneed has been the Chiefs’ best cornerback since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2020, though he may need to make way now for Trent McDuffie. Sneed has played outside and in the slot for Kansas City and notched more than 40 defensive stops in each of the past two seasons, including the playoffs.
After years of devoting few drafts assets to cornerbacks, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach saw an opportunity to grab McDuffie in 2022’s first round. That move has paid off well so far. Veach’s Day 3 picks Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson also played significant roles during the championship run — and sometimes made big plays that suggested they could have higher ceilings. In 2023, the team took a swing on fourth-rounder Chamarri Conner. Given time, this group could end up being very good.
11. Nick Bolton, Kansas City Chiefs
Bolton improved on a solid rookie season to a 77.3 overall grade in 2022, thanks to a big jump in coverage. His passer rating allowed when targeted was down, as was his yards per coverage snap allowed.
27. Willie Gay Jr., Kansas City Chiefs
Gay doesn’t have as much coverage responsibility as his teammate Bolton, but when he was asked to cover, he yielded high completion and open-target rates.
During his rookie season, Bolton was seen as a player with the potential to be among the league’s best — and in 2023, he took a step closer to that tier. Gay also took a step forward, landing in the top 32 after being unranked last season. Backing them up is 2022 third-round pick Leo Chenal, who turned in a solid rookie season.
But the wild card for this season is former Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill, who was allowed to leave after turning in a very good performance last year. Kansas City believes Tranquill can be effective anywhere in the second level, so he could end up being an interesting (and perhaps important) chess piece for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
2. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
Jones may be on his way to surpassing Aaron Donald as the top interior defender in the NFL. His 92.3 PFF grade in 2022 was the best in the league at the position. With a career-high 97 pressures from 741 pass-rushing snaps, including the playoffs, Jones has established himself as a formidable force in the trenches.
Clearly, PFF believes Donald will return to his previous form after missing six games last season — but it’s also true that Jones might finally be ready to step away from the seven-time All-Pro’s shadow. Derrick Nnadi and Tershawn Wharton will both be back — and the Chiefs have acquired another player who is very much in Jones’ mold: former San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Charles Omenihu. Like Jones, the Chiefs see him as a versatile player they can use anywhere on the first level.