Anudike-Uzomah was one of my favorite prospects in the entire draft class. His level of production and film for such a young pass rusher — Anudike-Uzomah is only 21 years old — is rare. Combine that with elite athletic traits such as bend and explosiveness, and I thought the Chiefs should feel comfortable taking Anudike-Uzomah in the first round.
However, not everything has been rosy for Anudike-Uzomah since becoming a Chief. He struggled with a wrist injury that hurt his ability to learn the playbook quickly, as well as the techniques the Chiefs wanted out of him. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo repeatedly mentioned how Anudike-Uzomah was behind on where they needed him to be and would need to catch up.
So far, Anudike-Uzomah has made substantial strides to get caught up to NFL speed. Through two weeks of the preseason, Anudike-Uzomah has played well in both weeks, flashing his high-end athleticism as a pass rusher. How has that athleticism translated to pass-rush wins?
Let's dive into his film to show some strengths — and weaknesses — for Anudike-Uzomah already.
Note: I couldn't access the All-22 film from the Arizona Cardinals game.
Recognizing and reacting to pass sets
Let's talk FAU preseason— Nate Christensen (@natech32) August 23, 2023
Liked how well he recognized LT66's pass set here. Tackle oversets horizontally and locks hips up trying to move FAU around the arc to cut his angle, but FAU reads where QB is and how inside arm is placed, wins with the inside swim to collapse pocket pic.twitter.com/JqdNXjJPs3
At Kansas State, one of Anudike-Uzomah's most underrated traits was how refined he was as a pass rusher. Kansas State plays a 3-3-5 defense and would put Anudike-Uzomah inside or over the tackle frequently, which isn't an advantageous angle to rush the passer. Instead of being able to fire off the snap with his first step, Anudike-Uzomah was forced to win with craft, angles and guile to get clean looks to the quarterback. Through two years at Kansas State, he was excellent at finding unique ways to rush the passer.
The ability to win late into a rep has already shown up on film. One area Anudike-Uzomah will have to work on is his get-off. Right now, Anudike-Uzomah is a bit late to explode after the rush. I feel he's still getting used to being able to pin his ears back and rush the passer, so it will take him time to hone in on his first step. The encouraging part, however, is that his craft is already translating.
On this rep, Anudike-Uzomah gets his angle around the corner cut off by the left tackle. The left tackle takes a horizontal set, hoping to cut off any power and push him wide around the arc. However, he overextends his set and locks his inside arm, which locks his hips to recover inside. Anudike-Uzomah quickly recognized this, shifting his weight to the inside and using an inside swim move to clear the inside arm of the tackle.
The quarterback navigates the pocket away from him, but this was a strong rep of Anudike-Uzomah winning by recognizing the left tackle's pass set and attacking him.
FAU gets cut off up the arc, LT has good control on his cross-chop, but look at the balance to slip inside on the spin. Lower body flexibility is tremendous and can lower body to win at tight angles pic.twitter.com/wF1MaEKRJn— Nate Christensen (@natech32) August 23, 2023
The left tackle does a nice job cutting Anudike-Uzomah in his pass set. He's able to get his hands on Anudike-Uzomah and push him around the arc. Anudike-Uzomah tries to hit the tackle with a cross-chop, but the tackle sits on it well and cuts off his angle around the corner. However, once again, Anudike-Uzomah reads the overplay by the tackle and decides to attack him inside. His hips become locked with his arms fully extended into Anudike-Uzomah's torso. Anudike-Uzomah attacks this, shifting his weight inside on the spin to get a clean angle inside to the quarterback.
The flexibility he shows to lower his pads and shift his weight is tremendous, but this rep once again shows his ability to recognize how the tackle is blocking him and have a smart counter that attacks his leverage.
Obviously the pass set is passive and poor from the RT but FAU already shows a pretty decent recognition of pass sets and his ability with his agility to stunt inside and maintain balance through contact is so impressive. For a skinnier guy, he can run through contact pic.twitter.com/Ggft4GGvJI— Nate Christensen (@natech32) August 23, 2023
This time, the right tackle takes a flat set, sitting with his feet stuck, ready for a bullrush. Anudike-Uzomah has a slower get-off here but still recognizes the tackle being flatfooted and attacks him with the inside move to get a quarterback hit. He also flashes impressive bend through contact, being able to maintain his rush as the tackle is trying to knock him off his path.
Winning around the corner
The level of dip that FAU shows here is the best dip I've seen from a Chiefs player since Justin Houston/Dee Ford. Runs on the side of his foot at one point. Mercy pic.twitter.com/QOXYLQaBTf— Nate Christensen (@natech32) August 23, 2023
Ball out quick but man this combination of the rip with the ankle flexion and dip to lower the pads to run around a tight arc. We haven't had this in a while, folks pic.twitter.com/8IgTZ6T3TZ— Nate Christensen (@natech32) August 23, 2023
One thing that attracted me to Anudike-Uzomah's game was his ability to win around the corner. Kansas State would align him inside the tackle, but he still had enough flexibility to win around the corner. Anudike-Uzomah doesn't have the quickest get-off, but his agility and balance compensate for that. He can win around tight corners, getting his hips around and collapsing on a quarterback.
That ability to corner showed up in his film immediately. Anudike-Uzomah showed an excellent ability to get his pads underneath tackles, which gave him an easier angle to turn his hips and run around the arc. To pull this off, Anudike-Uzomah shows excellent ankle flexion, being able to run on the side of his foot and crank his toes around the pocket.
The Chiefs haven't had the ability to win around the corner with flexibility since Dee Ford and Justin Houston were still on the team. Having that element in this defense will help give cleaner angles to the other pass rushers and provide the Chiefs with more space to rush the passer.
Lack of power
One area of FAU's game that is lacking right now is his power in his bullrush. Like the extension, length, and how low his pads got, but there's still a lack of functional strength in his game. Will need mass increases as he develops pic.twitter.com/HUMfAWzmA6— Nate Christensen (@natech32) August 23, 2023
Right now, the biggest concern for Anudike-Uzomah is his lack of strength.
Anudike-Uzomah has a good frame with long arms and plays with good technique and leverage. However, he still is on the thinner side of defensive ends, which shows up in his film.
On this rep, Anudike-Uzomah is trying to bullrush the left tackle and does a nice job getting full extension with his arms and lowering his pad level to gain leverage. Technically speaking, Anudike-Uzomah does exactly what he needs to do here to generate power. However, he currently lacks the mass and strength to affect the pocket with any power at this point.
If Anudike-Uzomah doesn't get a ton of responsibilities in his rookie season, it will come down to the Chiefs not feeling comfortable with his play strength. I'm not as worried about it, personally, but it's an area of his game that will need growth as he fills out his body more and gets used to the NFL.
The bottom line
It's tough to take too much away from Anudike-Uzomah's film, especially since he hasn't been able to rush against starting tackles often. His lack of play strength will likely be demonstrated more than elite tackles. Compared to fellow defensive end George Karlaftis, I expect Anudike-Uzomah to struggle more against NFL physicality than Karlaftis did.
However, I still feel good about him contributing immediately. It may come in a specialized role on third downs, but that's still valuable to the Chiefs. With Charles Omenihu suspended, it forces Mike Danna to take more interior pass-rush snaps, opening ample opportunities for Anudike-Uzomah in obvious pass-rush situations.
Anudike-Uzomah will need time to develop weaker areas of his game, but the elements of flexibility and balance in his game are something the Chiefs haven't had since 2018. Even if he struggles early, he should instantly be able to be a specialized pass rusher: something most rookie defensive ends can't achieve.