What Do the Chiefs Need to Add on Defense in the NFL Draft?

A breakdown of the Kansas City Chiefs' current situation on defense and how they should address it through the 2021 NFL Draft.
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Typically, in recent years, the main focus for Kansas City Chiefs fans during the offseason would be on the defense, as there have been several recent seasons in which the defense was the clear weak point of the team and it cost them in certain scenarios where they couldn't stop the opposing quarterback. This year, however, the main focus has been on the offensive line with a second-place spot for the receiving weapons outside of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, with the defensive holes being less clear and with some offensive holes opening up. As a result, there has been little attention paid to what the Chiefs need to address on defense. Despite bigger holes on the offense, the defense certainly has some work to do through the remainder of this offseason.

Defensive Line (Edge Defenders  and Interior Defenders)

At this point, the Chiefs' greatest weakness on defense happens to be their pass rush. Chris Jones still dominates from the interior, being the guy who most challenges Aaron Donald for the crown among interior pass rushers, getting 213 pressures and 33 sacks in the last three seasons, but there is no other consistent pass-rusher on the team.

Frank Clark has shown great flashes, mainly in the regular season for the Seattle Seahawks and in the playoffs for the Chiefs, but his pressure rate of exactly 10.0% is just not good enough for the salary he makes and the expectations he has attached to him. 

On the interior with Jones, the Chiefs have interior defenders Jarran Reed, who joins from the Seahawks with some good volume numbers, Derrick Nnadi, who does a great job in run defense, and Tershawn Wharton, who put up a really promising rookie season. On the edge, KC has Taco Charlton, who put up some nice numbers in limited snaps in 2020, and Mike Danna, who also did a solid job as a rookie. It still really feels like the Chiefs need a second starting edge defender, as I'm unsure that Charlton or Danna are capable of consistent quality production as a starter in 2021.

Options at Defensive Line (Edge Defender and Interior Defender)

In free agency, there are still a couple of intriguing available options to look at for edge defenders. Melvin Ingram made three Pro Bowls in the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, Ryan Kerrigan has had a storied career in Washington, Justin Houston has produced quite well in Indianapolis since the Chiefs released him two years ago and Olivier Vernon is the most likely to still produce high-level production, as he's the youngest of the group and the one who put up the best production in 2020.

NFL Free Agent ED 4 20 2021

The other primary option to fill the hole on edge defender is, of course, with the draft, with some interesting options who could be available for the Chiefs, such as Jayson Oweh and Joseph Ossai in the first round. There are some other solid ones later on, such as Daelin Hayes from Notre Dame. The Chiefs should certainly consider looking into some of these options to address what I consider to be the biggest weakness on the defense at the moment.

TDN ED Rankings 4 20 2021

Linebackers

The linebacker room is still pretty shaky for the Chiefs, but it is the best it has been since they had Derrick Johnson. Anthony Hitchens had easily his best season as a Chief, having his best grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) with the fewest missed tackles and fewest yards allowed in coverage. They also have Willie Gay Jr. and Ben Niemann as their other main options, both of whom had some good and some bad games last season, but Gay especially has tremendous potential for the future.

Options at Linebacker

At linebacker, I would not bother looking at any of the top available free agents, as there is not much still available, so that takes us to the draft where the Chiefs have some options to choose from. Some potential options for the Chiefs to look at that could be helpful here are Zaven Collins, Nick Bolton, Jabril Cox, Dylan Moses and Derrick Barnes in the first three or four rounds and then Charles Snowden and Monty Rice a bit later than that. I would prefer that the Chiefs prioritized left tackle, wide receiver and edge defender with the first three picks of this draft, but if the linebacker they want is there, then that would be fine because it is still a need.

TDN LB Rankings 4 20 2021
TDN LB Rankings 4 20 2021 #2

Defensive Backs (Cornerback and Safety)

This area seems to be the strong point in the Chiefs defense as it currently stands. They have a dynamic safety duo in Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill, both of whom are big-time playmakers, and they have L'Jarius Sneed as their number one cornerback, who was spectacular in his rookie season. To go with Sneed, they have Charvarius Ward, BoPete Keyes, Rashod Fenton and Deandre Baker as the other top cornerbacks. The Chiefs also have Daniel Sorensen returning at safety, which should help in regards to depth.

Options at Defensive Back (Cornerback and Safety)

There are some free-agent options that I would not mind Brett Veach looking into, primarily Casey Hayward, who made multiple Pro Bowls in the last few years with the Chargers, Richard Sherman, who is still putting up good numbers after being one of the best cornerbacks in the league for a while, and Bashaud Breeland, who has been a Chief for the last couple of seasons and has been a solid piece in that time.

NFL Free Agent CB 4 20 2021

I think the Chiefs should focus on bringing one of these three in rather than drafting a player in the first few rounds to round out the cornerback room alongside Sneed, Ward and Fenton, and then leave the safety room as-is with Mathieu, Thornhill and Sorensen, forming a really formidable group. 

Conclusion

The Chiefs, I believe, have eight spots locked up on the starting defense with Jones, Nnadi/Wharton/Reed and Clark on the defensive line, Hitchens at linebacker, and Sneed, Ward, Mathieu and Thornhill at defensive back positions. They also have solid depth with the other two of Nnadi, Wharton and Reed at interior defender, Charlton at edge defender, Gay Jr. at linebacker, Fenton at cornerback and Sorensen at safety. It is a group that can contribute and help out in a Super Bowl run. I would like to see it get some more help, though, primarily at the second edge defender spot and at the second cornerback spot, moving Ward back to the third corner and Fenton back to the fourth. For the 11th and final defensive starter, the second linebacker spot, I hope to see Gay Jr. take it and really take his game to the next level alongside Hitchens. He has shown he has the capabilities for it, he just needs to make it an every-game habit.

For more Kansas City Chiefs analytics and analysis, follow @SIChiefs and @WichitaChiefSam on Twitter.

Read More: What Do the Chiefs Need to Add on the Offensive Line?