The Kansas City Chiefs' offseason in 2019 may be the single most pivotal offseason period in franchise history.
Hard decisions had to be made in regards to cutting players and letting players sign with other teams, most notably the releasing of franchise pillars Eric Berry and Justin Houston. However tough the decisions were, they were necessary nonetheless. A fresh start was needed on the defensive side of the ball, and it started with the hiring of current defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on January 24, 2019.
This shift allowed Spagnuolo to retool the defense with guys that he knew would change the attitude and culture of the defense, putting the Chiefs in position to win a Super Bowl. Two notable additions on that side of the ball were safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark — two major pieces to what would eventually be that exact Super Bowl-winning defense. Some similar additions were made in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The selection of Washington defensive back Trent McDuffie at No. 21 overall and Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis at No. 30 are quite reminiscent of the additions of Mathieu and Clark, but not from a talent standpoint. Mathieu and Clark were among the best at their positions before joining the Chiefs, although it wasn't just their talent that transformed the defense. It was their mindset and determination that led them to the promised land.
Karlaftis and McDuffie have similar desires, character traits and the overall tenacity that Mathieu and Clark brought to the Chiefs' defense in 2019.
“It's relentless,” Karlaftis said when asked about his playstyle. “I get after the quarterback, I stop the run, and I’m a three-down player. I’m an all-around player that can do everything and anything that's asked of him.”
You can see it on tape and in press conferences: Karlaftis enjoys physicality and will do whatever it takes to ensure that he makes a positive and winning impact — very Clark-esque, if you ask me.
McDuffie drew several NFL comparisons in his time at Washington, but he sees himself as a similar player to the former star Chiefs safety.
“Honestly, I look at myself as like a Tyrann Mathieu type of guy,” McDuffie said. “Someone who’s gonna be able to go in and play a bunch of different positions and just help out the team however I can.”
While the first-round picks get the most media attention and camera time, the later selections can be just as valuable with culture-building and on-field production. Second-round picks Skyy Moore and Bryan Cook will prove to be valuable rookies at positions of need for Kansas City while also bringing a lot of competitive juice and swagger to the table.
The most interesting player and possibly most reminiscent of the overall theme of the 2019 Chiefs free agency period was third-round pick Leo Chenal out of Wisconsin.
Chenal was a hard-hitting, ball-chasing linebacker with elite strength and speed in Madison. While his traits are certainly translatable to the Chiefs' defense, it's his killer mentality that could boost him into a starting role and possibly even a leadership role.
“I’m going to be one of the most violent guys on the field at all times,” Chenal said in the aftermath of the draft.
Violence is the perfect word to describe Chenal’s game and overall outlook on football. It's perfect, because he wrote “Death Row” on his arm for every game during the 2021 season.
While people are looking at the Chiefs' draft class from a scheme and talent perspective, looking at it from a personality and culture perspective reveals just how similar it was to a time that changed Chiefs football forever. Kansas City is hoping that this defensive retooling will yield similar results to the last one.