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Examining Chiefs DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah’s progress after one season

Kansas City’s first-round pick hasn’t played as much as we might have expected this season.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In 2023, the Kansas City Chiefs have had defensive linemen Mike Danna, Charles Omenihu, George Karlaftis and Chris Jones all playing as situational edge rushers.

They made up a strong group of players in that role. Karlaftis has taken a sizable jump in 2023, while Danna and Omenihu have had career years as Jones continued to polish his outside game.

And while having 3.5 terrific defensive ends is cool, that also left first-round rookie defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah in a bad spot. After Omenihu returned from his suspension in Week 7, there just weren’t many opportunities for him to earn snaps.

But in Sunday’s season finale — a meaningless 13-12 win over the Los Angeles Chargers — we finally got to see a large sample of snaps from the former Kansas State pass rusher.

Let’s take a look at his film.

Run discipline

One thing I found encouraging was Anudike-Uzomah’s overall discipline against the run. The Chargers tried using motion and misdirection to throw him off, but he displayed good eye discipline — and the speed to tackle in space.

It’s clear that he’s already received good coaching — and is receptive to instruction on how to defend against NFL rushing attacks. This kind of awareness (and IQ) will be a critical factor in earning more opportunities.

Signs of fluid flexibility and athleticism

In college, Anudike-Uzomah’s biggest strength was his tremendous flexibility and balance — even while playing in a tight alignment that wouldn’t allow him to get upfield. He could turn at extremely tight angles around the corner.

Anudike-Uzomah doesn’t win on this play. He tries hitting Chargers left tackle Rashawn Slater with a cross-chop move around the corner — but his get-off is poor, which gives him a bad angle around the corner.

Throughout the game, Slater consistently beat Anudike-Uzomah with his grip strength — and the Chiefs’ rookie had trouble countering. But as we see here — after multiple attempts — Anudike-Uzomah finally gets a good chop-rip move, gets under Slater’s pads and turns a tight corner before being held.

Here’s another play where Anudike-Uzomah’s process isn’t good. His get-off is poor — and so is his recognition of the pass set. But when he decides to turn inside, you see him get his shoulders and pads super low, making a very tight turn to get upfield.

While he is still honing his pass rush plan, it’s encouraging to see Anudike-Uzomah’s natural flexibility translate to the NFL. This gives him a solid foundation moving forward.

Poor get-off

I’ve already brought it up, but it bears repeating: Anudike-Uzomah’s first-step get-off is flawed. I don’t think it’s poor athleticism; he’s just late getting off the snap. His pass-rushing path gets weird, and it takes him a while to get into the opposing tackle.

My theory is that because Kansas State had him playing so tightly to the tackle, he doesn’t have a lot of experience in rushing wide and turning upfield. At this point, he just doesn’t feel comfortable in those situations.

Luckily, this is entirely fixable. Most rookies struggle with their first step — and have to learn how to deal with quick tackles. While this can be coached, Anudike-Uzomah will still need to do a lot of work. His first step is good — albeit not electric. He’ll have to improve his timing off the snap to unlock more moves.

Lack of power

We knew this before the draft, but Anudike-Uzomah’s game doesn’t display much power. On Sunday, Slater was beating Anudike-Uzomah to the top of the rush, showing his chest and daring the rookie to bull-rush him. Anudike-Uzomah complied, but presented almost no power; he was consistently being stood up. This was an issue all day — and it limited his production.

But here is a play where Anudike-Uzomah hits Slater with a good bull rush — and it looks fantastic! He times his get-off well and presses the top of the arc — but takes a better angle to get into Slater’s chest, lower his pads and utilize his length to push the tackle backward.

Granted, this is taking a lot from one rep — but we see the foundation for a power rusher. Anudike-Uzomah has long arms and can lower his pads extremely well. He just needs more weight to add strength to his game. It might be a multiyear process, but he has the frame to do it. His physical maturation is critical to determining his NFL success.

What can we expect in 2024?

Overall, I thought Anudike-Uzomah’s pass-rushing process looked good on Sunday. He showed some understanding of what he’s doing — and he’s trying to vary his pass-rushing moves. But he needs work in two critical areas:

  1. Improving his get-off, so he can do more with his first step
  2. Adding weight — and improving his functional strength

The first part is something he can fix in an offseason just by continuing to work with defensive line coach Joe Cullen. He’ll need more time and experience to hone that in — but he’s off to a good start.

The second part is going to take more time. While Anudike-Uzomah has the frame to add weight, he has no power. He needs a lot of work in the weight room. That will help him add power counters to his game.

So while he continues to work on these issues, I would expect Anudike-Uzomah to be a situational pass rusher in 2024. The Chiefs should be able to use him on third downs where he can pin his ears back and rush the passer. Then in 2025, I think we can reasonably expect his physical development (and practical experience) to form the basis of a Year 3 breakout.

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