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How Can Carlos Dunlap Elevate the Chiefs Defense?

Dunlap has been a model of consistency and if that trend continues, the Chiefs will benefit greatly.

The Kansas City Chiefs acquired defensive end Carlos Dunlap on a one-year deal worth up to $8 million. Dunlap is a veteran pass-rusher who had been with the Seattle Seahawks for the last season and a half. Prior to his stint in Seattle, he spent the entirety of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals.

During his time with the Bengals, Dunlap racked up 82.5 sacks in 10.5 seasons. In his first few years in the league, he was seen as a pass-rushing specialist. Despite not starting a game during his rookie season in 2010, he still had 9.5 sacks. In his second and third seasons, he added a combined 10.5 total sacks.

Dunlap took over as a starting defensive end for the Bengals in his fourth year, and it was his best season to that point. Though his 7.5 sacks weren’t a career-high, he improved his game across the board and became a better defender overall. He racked up 58 total tackles and had 26 quarterback hits. Going from being a pass-rush specialist to an every-down player was critical in his development.

Dunlap had a career-high 13.5 sacks in 2015 and that led to him being selected to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2015 and 2016. He was the definition of consistency, averaging eight sacks per season the rest of his time with Cincinnati before the season he was traded to Seattle.

He continued that consistency with Seattle, where he racked up five sacks at the end of the 2020 season with the Seahawks. After a slow start to the season in 2021, he came on strong to close the year and added 8.5 sacks to his resume.

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Dunlap was being misused, to say the least, during part of his time in Seattle. When he was asked to drop back into coverage in zone blitz packages, that was not a recipe for success. Chiefs fans — though they may not want to — can remember the days when former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton would run similar packages with Tamba Hali or Justin Houston. 

Current defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will be able to utilize Dunlap as a pass-rusher and edge-setter, thus getting the most out of Dunlap. It should be anticipated that Dunlap could start the season in a similar role to what Melvin Ingram played at the end of last season. The former is a player that can bring a lot of energy and doesn’t need to be the starting defensive end at this point in his career.

With Frank Clark entering what is presumed to be his final year in Kansas City and a room full of younger defensive ends on rookie contracts, having a guy like Dunlap in the locker room will be a huge boost to the team. Rookie defensive end George Karlaftis can lean on another veteran for knowledge as he learns to elevate his game at the professional level.

Dunlap is the exact type of player the Chiefs were needing to add going into the 2022 season. They added plenty of pieces to the secondary and in the linebacker room as well. They got tougher and more physical across the board in those two position groups. Drafting Karlaftis was a start for the defensive line, but adding Dunlap solidifies a defense that was overhauled in a soft rebuild this offseason.

Should the expectation for Dunlap be eight sacks and 35 quarterback pressures like he had with Seattle last year? Possibly. It could be that he's more of a rotational piece in Kansas City’s defense, but he could see an increased role if Clark gets injured or Karlaftis struggles out of the gate.

The good news is that the Chiefs upgraded their defensive front before the end of training camp. It was a move that needed to be made, and Dunlap can be a vital piece to a defense that has championship aspirations. In order for Dunlap to have a successful season in Kansas City, he just needs to do what he’s done throughout his entire career: stay healthy and be a consistent force up front.