The Kansas City Chiefs' edge defender room is an interesting one, with some excitement but plenty of reason for concern. Of course, on one side, the Chiefs have Frank Clark, who is the top edge defender on the team and one of the most talented edge defenders in the NFL. While Clark is coming off his least-productive regular season since his rookie season according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), having just a 10.5% pressure rate and eight sacks in that time (both Clark's lowest since 2015), he also had one of the most productive pass-rushing postseasons in NFL history, gathering 17 pressures and five sacks.
If Clark can even split the difference between his 2019 regular season and the subsequent postseason, that will be more than enough production from his spot. However, there's another edge defender that will have to start, and there may not be a clear answer there with the several players fighting for that spot.
Let's start with Alex Okafor, the seven-year veteran who joined the Chiefs last offseason looking to be the answer to this question after they traded Dee Ford and released Justin Houston. Before joining the Chiefs, Okafor played four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and two seasons with the New Orleans Saints, totaling 2,833 snaps, 178 pressures and 24 sacks. Okafor signed a three-year deal worth up to $24 million including incentives before the 2019 season.
In 2019, Okafor's production was lackluster as, according to PFF, he had a career-worst 8.5% pressure rate and a shocking 2.9% run stop rate, which is out of the ordinary compared to his 6.2% run stop rate in 2018 and his spectacular 12.6% run stop rate in 2017. Okafor did get five sacks, but the consistency in terms of creating pressure or affecting the run game was just not there. This offseason, Okafor renegotiated his contract with the Chiefs, saving the team $2.3 million in cap space and making Okafor a free agent a year earlier, turning his deal into a two-year deal that ends after 2020. This will be a very important year for Okafor, as he'll be looking to get a new deal next year.
Next up, we have Tanoh Kpassagnon, who has been with the Chiefs for the last three seasons after he was drafted in the second round of the 2017 Draft. After two seasons of playing fewer than 200 snaps, Kpassagnon was finally given a big opportunity, playing 856 snaps. In his playing time, Kpassagnon got lots of splash plays, but not much in terms of consistent pressure. Kpassagnon totaled six sacks and seven pressures (before 2019, his career total was two sacks and one pressure), but reached just 40 pressures for a lowly 7.0% pressure rate. Kpassagnon also missed nine tackles in just 37 attempts, giving him one of the worst missed tackle rates on the team.
Following them, we have Taco Charlton, this year's free-agent signing. Charlton was a first-round draft pick, going 28th overall to the Dallas Cowboys in the 2017 Draft. Charlton played two mediocre seasons in Dallas, playing fewer than 500 snaps and having a sub-10% pressure rate in each, and was then released after the Cowboys were unable to find a trade partner. Charlton was claimed off waivers by the Miami Dolphins and had a career-best five sacks, but still failed to reach a 10% pressure rate, finishing at 8.4%. Charlton was released by the Dolphins on April 30, 2020, and then picked up by the Chiefs on May 4.
The biggest unknown of the group is GM Brett Veach's first draft pick as general manager of the Chiefs, Breeland Speaks. Speaks has had an unfortunate and unlucky tenure in KC to this point. In 2018, Speaks played a solid 522 snaps, from which he got two sacks and an 8.2% pressure rate. While it isn't great, it wasn't too bad for a backup rookie, largely learning a new position as an outside linebacker in former DC Bob Sutton's defense. However, 2019 was a total loss for Speaks, as he was placed on the injured reserve for a torn ACL heading into the regular season and was then suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Headed into the 2020 season, Speaks has reportedly lost lots of weight, which has been a major concern with him since joining the Chiefs. Hopefully, Speaks can reach his potential and justify his draft placement in 2020.
The last one on the group is the only rookie, Mike Danna. Danna was selected in the fifth round by the Chiefs and a pick that I openly celebrated due to his dominant tenure at Central Michigan. At Central Michigan, Danna had a staggering 18.2% pressure rate in 2018, helping make him PFF's third-highest graded edge defender in college football that season. Then in 2019, Danna transferred to Michigan, where he probably got better training and coaching, but was relegated to a backup role due to the Wolverines having 2020 second-round pick Josh Uche, along with Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye, both of whom will be drafted in the 2021 Draft earlier than Danna's fifth-round slot in 2020. Danna also played far more interior snaps than he did with the Chippewas. Danna's numbers in his limited snaps weren't bad, getting an 11.6% pressure rate and having a PFF grade north of 80, but again, he got limited snaps. Hopefully, that season as a rotation defensive lineman at Michigan will be of great benefit for him. After being so dominant against small-school competition, it has to be humbling to take that backup role immediately after.
There is plenty of uncertainty surrounding these five players fighting for this one starting spot, and rightfully so. All five have shown flashes of being productive NFL starters. All five have also had plenty of forgettable moments. Okafor, Kpassagnon and Charlton had rough pressure rates in 2019, Speaks didn't even play in 2019, and Danna was a college backup in 2019. Unless they sign Jadeveon Clowney, it seems like it will have to be one of these five starting opposite Frank Clark, and the rest will have to take on a variety of impactful rotational roles. Whoever ends up in these various roles will need a better 2020 than how their last seasons went. It's not the end of the world, but this is still important and something to keep an eye on with the season just around the corner.